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.

21 thoughts on “Earn money writing for websites? Can you? Really?

  1. "Stuff like this smacks of people taking advantage of aspiring writers."


    I think saying something like "I know writers earning six figures writing" as a reason for people to get into the trade is a bit like using Tiger Woods as a means to get someone to go into competitive golfing. No doubt there are people (very few I'd hazard a guess) making that kind of dosh, far more earn far less and the majority may well have a great balance in "kudos points" but unfortunately at the moment Tesco doesn't accept kudos points for a pint of milk.

    If you're going to ask people to write for you, pay them -- in real money -- even if it is a token amount.

  2. Hi Stuart.
    Thanks for commenting. I completely agree. You'd kind of expect the guys at Written Road to be promoting the idea that travel writing can earn you big bucks as that's what their readers want to hear. I quite like the site and I think it is genuinely useful for a lot of aspirational writers, but I think there needs to be a healthy dose of reality injected in there from time to time!

    Worse still are the courses promising to provide people with a fabulous career in travel writing if they just sign up for a distance learning course. Scandalous.
    I blogged about this a month or two back.


  3. I'm glad I followed the link to your blog. I found your reply to the article on The Written Road to be honest and refreshing, rather than dangling a carrot (money) in front of an ass (me) to motivate me to pull a cart (of BS). To be honest, thus far I've found most articles on blogging, and writing itself, to be incredibly superficial with an obvious intent to point folks in the direction of paying for something with more substance. At least, that's been my experience since thinking, perhaps erroneously, that there might be some kind of future for me in online writing or related content. I'd love nothing better than to write about the places I go to, get paid for it, not to mention my expenses.

    I'll keep on with my travel experiences, and maybe it'll even inspire me to go out and have more of them. But, I think you're right when you say there's not much chance of getting something out of it online aside from the pleasure of just doing it.

  4. Hi Steven
    Thanks for your comments. Whether you are writing for print or on-line some basic principles apply for at least moderate success. I think I'll post on them properly in a couple of days...
    Thanks for stopping by and yes, in some ways if you can travel and just enjoy the experiences, that's a great thing. I found when I was freelancing full time it really became like a job... I was so focussed on getting my story and then moving on to the next place and getting the next commission that the pure joy of just being somewhere new was almost completely lost for me. Now I am doing other stuff and travelling less frequently, I am enjoying and appreciating travelling so much more. The occasional piece I am writing is much better too. More passion, better observation, less cynicism.
    Best wishes

  5. I found one!
    About.com. If you can get a gig writing for them (the site is owned by the New York Times) and work hard at it, the pay is genuinely quite good. Unfortunately it's very much for a US audience. There are a few openings there for local writers with top notch knowledge of places, but only US cities. http://beaguide.about.com/applynow.htm

  6. Jeremy,
    Again, just want to clear up that the editor comment at Written Road was not written by me or any other writer/editor at the site. I certainly do not make six figures and I don't think we have ever told anyone they could make big money as a travel writer. In fact, we usually say the opposite. By the way, we don't make a cent from Written Road.

    On a side note, I do think that there is earning potential in publsihing your own website, though very rarely from writing for websites. I have found a few websites that pay well, though they are rare. Some independent travel planning websites with 10,000 of pages do earn six figures a year. I don't doubt that.


  7. Jeremy (and Nicholas), thanks for this discussion. Reality is an under-appreciated quality when it comes to the dream of being a travel writer.

    Also, the mysterious "Editor" talked about writers making six-figures online. He never said what currency...

  8. Had I known you could do that with netvibes, I'd probably never have gone to the trouble! I'm still in beta-ish form at the TravelSum, in an effort to try to make some sense of the tons of great information that comes out of the travel-based web everyday. I've added the blog to the list and picked up a couple others I'd missed off your netvibes page.

  9. I wrote about this over the summer (especially the vagablogging gigs) here:


    and got tons of feedback. Some people were really defensive about the not writing for free thing.

    My experience has been that's it's possible for just about anyone to make $1000 a month writing content. You just have to write at least 10 articles a week and be willing to spend many hours promoting it on social media sites so it gets high traffic.

    There is NO ONE making 6 figures writing content for other people. Perhaps he meant someone who built a web travel portal, but that's less of writing and more of owning a small business. 10% of your time is writing, the rest is setting up affiliate deals, getting traffic, running promotions, doing techie things etc. Not quite what most writers have in mind, I would think.

    It's been 6 months since I wrote that article, and the only thing I'd add now, is that I think those guys trying to pump out quantity over quality to scrap together a living based on $5-25 per piece fees are actually hurting their writing in the long term. They aren't building stronger writing, they're learning how to take short cuts and after a year of busting their ass they have hundreds of worthless clips.

    Just like anything worth while, there are no short cuts. You have to write, you have to get published somewhere of high enough quality that they can afford to pay you and you have to put in the time.

  10. Hi Jeremy and co,

    I'm the editor of The Bloggers Guide website that you quote. The old writing for free chestnut is always a divisive one and there is much merit in the argument on both sides. The bottom line whatever your view is that there always be writers who are willing to write for free, even if just from a vanity point of view, so if a commissioning editor cares more about content than quality then so be it. That said I agree with you that "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.) Genuinely talented writers may need to offer to write for free for short time - if their stuff is any good they will soon be earning from it.

    In our case we are paying the top writers, the kudos system is in place to enable us to allow the writers to rise to the top. The whole ethos of our site is based on the fact that there are currently many amateur bloggers who are currently blogging for pleasure that are far more talented writers than their professional counterparts. We are trying to identify them, encourage them to write more and pay them for it. They do not have to write for our site - they can promote their own blogs on our site and if the content is good enough we will pay them for the rights to print it in our guidebooks.

    Or using their own blogs they can enter our competition which has over $5000 in prizes. http://www.thebloggersguide.com/wbc - even if they do not win the competition they still have the chance of getting payment for anything that is used in a guidebook.

    I think this is about as fair as we can do it. It is a slightly different approach but one that is predicated on ensuring that those who are currently writing genuinely quality content are rewarded for it appropriately.

    I checked out the Perceptive Travel site you mention and whilst I like the site very much - I don't share your enthusiasm for the pay structure.

    "It may sound snobbish, but only articles from authors with book(s) in print will be accepted. This is partly a "who has a following already" filter and partly a submission management filter. The main reason, however, is that this requirement differentiates Perceptive Travel from the infinite number of other travel sites out there and allows cross-promotion that is of mutual benefit. The article you write will prominently feature your latest book(s) and will provide a link to your web site in the bio. Because of your platform and following you draw visitors to our site. Everybody wins."

    For a professional travel writer who has published a book, $80 for $1000 words is laughable. To me (and I have a book in print) that smacks of taking advantage of the author's difficulty in promoting their books.

  11. Hi folks and thanks for your comments!
    @Christine. Love your site and what you are doing. I'm assuming you're gaining that $1000 a month from ad revenue usin google-ads? You might well not want to divulge too much, but if you're happy to, would be interesting to learn a little more about how you do it. I'm really underwhelmed by the paltry amounts I get from the ads (google-ads) on my blog here
    I couldn't get the link you left here to work? Would be great to see that post so do please re-post it on here...

    @Will. Devisive indeed!;-)
    - If a Commissioning Editor cares more about quantity than quality he won't be around for long and is fooling him/herself! Ultimately you need readers coming back to your site/blog. They won't if it's filled with waffle.
    - I don't personally think there are 'many amatuer bloggers that are far more talented than their professional counterparts' out there. There are plenty who are genuine experts about stuff that most people don't know too much about who write blogs that are consequently super-useful for a select readership. There are also gazillions pumping out stuff that is tedious and rather inward-looking. Nothing wrong with that in itself of course, but it sure is not great writing. Great writing ought to really stand out on-line as there is so much dross out there to compare it with. (Does it? Hmm)
    - You suggest that Perceptive Travel's pay is poor, but I still have no idea what you pay on Bloggersguide. It's very vague. At least Perceptive Travel makes clear what you will earn and lets you choose. And they've upped their rates several times which makes clear the commitment to do so. For me as a writer who might consider contributing I can see that it could be worth getting on board now. Far better than vague maybes like winning prizes or earning points and being judged by people whose opinions and qualifications I don't know anything about. I also don't think you'll get people rating stuff. There's the old 90%/10% rule - only 10% of readers actually interact with blogs the rest just read and watch.
    Don't get me wrong. I think your approach is different and interesting. A creative approach.
    As a guidebook writer (have you written a guidebook?) I'm a tad miffed by the intro to your blogger's guide page: "Tired of the same old information overload from guidebooks written by people who breezed into town for a free lunch?"
    Actually - you clearly have not written a guidebook if that's a genuine a opinion!

    Thanks for your comments... have you seen what Dave Siffry is up to re: creating books from web-content. Some similarities.

  12. Well, since my Written Road comment and Perceptive Travel site seemed to spark this discussion, Jeremy alerted me that I might want to chime in here. Yes, I do know a fair number of people making six figures (US dollars) writing for the web. To clarify, they run their own show. They are NOT writing for someone else's site. In all cases, they have set up a niche content site focused on one subject or destination and have become the best resource out there. They are obviously more entrepreneurial than the old print model required: "I send you an article you send me a check." But still, most of their time is spent writing, traveling, and working with other contributors. The ad work doesn't really take that much time if your site is popular.

    I also freelance for websites that pay as much or more than many print publications. No, I'm not listing them here because the editors contacted me, not vice-versa. Plus let's not forget that pay at many print publications is actually going DOWN, not up. I'm currently working on an article about the decline of airline magazines and many have just reduced their pay to 45 cents a word, from $1.50 to $2. Why? Their advertisers are moving most of their dollars to the web and their clients---the airlines---are struggling.

    For now though, it's a transition. Web advertising is cheaper than print advertising, so the pay is often not as high for freelancers at websites. Also, there's no physical limit on ad inventory or content like you have in print. No paper costs, no printing schedule, so you can constantly be adding new pages to infinity.

    I would love to keep raising pay at Perceptive Travel, but we are a rare site that requires reading and patience, not one that just offers up top-10 lists and charticles to pull in traffic. Most of our authors sell a number of books though and others have gone on to win awards and get published in "best travel writing" anthologies. I'd like to think that's worth more long-term than a slightly higher rate for a print article that's gone next month.

    And besides, how many magazines are left that are going to pay you that $2 a word rate for a good narrative travel story? One or two in each country maybe? And you had better be in the elite echelon of writers to even get the assignment. Send all your friends to PerceptiveTravel.com and tell them to do their travel and gear shopping there. Then our pay will rise. Still, we just celebrated our third anniversary, all the while attracting some of the best travel writers in the world, people that do get those plum print assignments on occasion, so we must be doing something right.

    On a final note, I am a realist too. I helped set up Transitions Abroad's travel writing portal (#1 in Google for "travel writing") and wrote The Seven Myths of Being a Travel Writer:

    On the other hand, my two blogs I write myself more than pay my mortgage each month and I have $2,400 in assignments from online publications lined up for the remainder of January. So I'm a strong believer in writing for the web. Ignore the medium as a writer and your future is increasingly grim. The writing is on the wall; ask anyone who works in newspaper or magazine publishing.

  13. Hi Tim
    Thanks for your really insightful comments. I'm always amazed (in a good way) at how Seven Myths keeps bubbling up on Delicious and various other places... still getting lots of traffic many months after it was written. And rightly so as it's very good advice.
    Charticles! Not heard that before... spot on!
    I completely agree with pretty much all you say. Print payments are indeed static or declining. I wonder if it's harder to make a blog pay here in the UK for now though? I attract a fairly decent amount of traffic on this blog, but very very little ad revenue - to the extent that I am thinking of just canning the ads completely.
    What is clear is that it's not really enough to just be a great writer in the new world of writing for the web. You have to be a self-marketer and technically quite competent too. New skills that certainly aren't taught in journalism schools yet. But I bet some of them will be finding their ways into curriculums soon.
    Best wishes

  14. Hi Jeremy. I concur with most of what people say above, but there is money in working for the web. Most of my income comes from it, and while I'm not on six figures, I'm not doing too badly either.

    The key is finding well-funded sites that do something as well as travel.

    I've written about the subject a couple of times on my blog:


  15. Hello Jeremy, this is interesting, a Blog post and some comments where people are honest. I started my Travel Blog in 2003 when I went to Iraq, I have posted over 4000 Blog post. A person earns about 10 U.S. Dollars per 10,000 visitors, so this is the measure writers need to know. I have traveled for over 10 years and visited 79 countries?

    I am on the sites of Forbes.com, New York Times, Guardian, About.com and Budget Travel, and about 1000 other sites as a Blog to read.

    If a person asked me today, can a person make money as a Travel Blogger, I would say NO. I know I am the 1 in 50,000 travel blogs that makes enough money to live and buy a house, and travel to Switzerland, the effective answer needs to be no, it is now pie in the sky.

    I have both a website and a Blog, and the Blog is my fun game.

    I am doing an experiment, this year I am going to run my subscribe by email readship up to about 40,000 readers. I find RSS feeds to work against me making money, it is like a bookmark, they just do not open the page and read, while an email in in the box.

    Check in on my site, and I will slowly comments on how I make money in this year, I cannot disclose much specific because of Terms of Service and other problems, but I can sure help.
    Thanks from Andy of HoboTraveler.com Travel Blog

  16. Thanks for your comments guys... really great to have so much debate!
    @ David - really like your blog - anyone else thinking about being a travel writer have a look at it... lots of really pragmatic and real advice there. I will add you to my blog roll soon!
    @ Andy - thanks so much for offering some real data. very interesting. would you say that - as well as posting regularly and writing interesting struff - you have first mover advantage too? having been doing it for so long? And... are you planning to drop the RSS feeds then so people have to sign up for email? I subscribe to loads of RSS feeds using netvibes and I DO read lots of the posts. the challenge of course is to write a really attention-grabbing headline! I get avalanches of emails and very rarely open them all... so for me as a reader RSS works much much better

  17. Thanks, Jeremy, for the frank assessment (and also to Tim, for his Seven Myths of Being a Travel Writer) of the realities of online travel writing.

    I've had a much harder time than I expected making money from traveling and writing, and am starting to really reconsider my naive plans to "get paid to travel" - at the end of the day, there's a million other people out there just like me, with the same goal, and the travel editors and travel website owners know it.

    I'm not going to stop writing, but I've certainly revised my expectations for my own blog's success down to a more reasonable level.

    -Andrew of http://www.ibnibnbattuta.com

  18. Maybe one reason travel doesn't pay much online is that there's too much of it - too many websites, too many writers, too many pictures, no quality control, no guarantee of impartiality, too many wannabes, too hard to find what you need on Google, etc. etc.

    Lots of fun, but if I want to find out what a place is really like I go to the archives of the newspaper travel pages!

    That leaves the question of who reads the blogs or sites that make loads of money, and why? Some sites are specialists, and hence probably appeal to minorities. I don't think travel is a particularly popular subject in itself, (at least not if my experience of Suite 101 is anything to go by) but my guess is that blog popularity is not so much about the content of the blog as about whoever's hosting it - like a party. When there's enough of a buzz, people want to be there and join in, no matter what everyone's talking about.

    Jenny of http://www.jabberwock.co.uk

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