Earn money writing for websites? Can you? Really?

I was asked to do a short interview for travel writing website The Written Road It generated an interesting comment from the Editor. I think the debate will continue and it will be lively!

He and I seem to differ radically on whether it's possible to make money writing travel content for websites. Personally, I think for now it's a hopeless cause (that could change, but no time soon in my opinion.) He suggested that it's quite possible - and often easier than writing for print. He suggests that some people he knows earn six figure salaries... which I find frankly, laughable. (Though he then suggests that this kind of money is more about running a niche blog than contributing to others' websites. Maybe it's the guys who run the Written Road who are making six figures??)

There are certainly stacks of travel websites out there trying to fill their pages with content, chasing potential (often pretty elusive) ad revenue and definitely not able to actually pay their writers.  A few examples from Written Road:
Vagablogging: Writers will be expected to write 1-2 posts a week on vagabonding type
topics of their choice; everything from destinations to the latest
online booking tools. The positions are unpaid, but writing for
Vagablogging offers valuable experience and exposure to the travel
writing world
The Bloggersguide: Our bloggers earn "kudos" points based on their activity on the site
and most importantly the popularity of their posts. The highest ranking
bloggers will be invited to become editors of a particular city section
and the published guide book. Editors share in the advertising revenue
of the site and will be paid royalties on the sales of the guide books.

Stuff like this smacks of people taking advantage of aspiring writers. Writing for nothing is bunk. End of story. In my opinion it's completely devaluing your writing. Do it maybe a handful of times to get some stuff published then stop. (If you can't attract payment for your writing, maybe it's not good enough.)

I've yet to find a travel website that pays a decent amount for writers or cuts a decent deal (that you can actually understand) on the ad-revenue. And I'm not surprised because none that I know of are really making very much money. A good example is Tim Leffel's excellent Perceptive Travel. Slowly he is upping his rates of pay from $50, to $60, to $80. Great stuff. And the product he is offering is genuinely different, well worth reading. But for around 1000 words, $80 is still peanuts compared with print media.

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