I had an interesting evening at the British Guild of Travel Writers monthly get together last night. I was speaking with Alastair McKenzie and Simon Ward Wanderlust's web editor about all things web 2.0.

We were preaching to a quite sceptical audience. And I can see why. There remains little money to be made for pro travel writers in writing for web... and next to nothing from blogging or tweeting.

So why bother?

Well, one thing we all agreed on was that it's getting ever harder to make a proper living writing about travel and the net is very much to blame. Falling ad revenues for print media are directly related to reduced reader numbers - because people are reading stuff on-line for free and not bothering to buy magazines and newspapers in the ways they would have done before the net existed. The future looks pretty bleak for old school freelance travel writers.

Some key points I tried to make about why being part of the on-line world matters (and I hope I succeeded)

  • Blogging allows you to publish whatever you want (within legal bounds) - and that's immensely satisfying - indeed liberating. No need to worry about the whims of an editor.
  • Being active online - blogging, tweeting and more - also establishes your profile. People use Google to research all kinds of stuff these days. If they're looking for a travel writer chances are that's the phrase they will Google and if you aren't there, they won't find you.
  • Most editors are now experimenting with social media - and if you're present in the online environment you stand out immediately as plugged in, in touch... ahead of the game... smart.
  • Most writers love to get feedback - and in print it's a real rarity. Editors don't have time to let you know they liked something, reader letters to the publication often don't get forwarded on to the writer. On-line it's a whole different world - people can react, respond, comment right there. It's fascinating... and for me anyway, it's why I write at all - having a sense of an audience of people who (at least to some degree) value my opinion.
  • Developing a readership - as I seem to be doing - means that suddenly your voice matters. Today I got offered a Press Trip to Sydney (yep, Australia) as a blogger - on the understanding I'd blog about the experience. That's a seriously big deal. More on this and what it means in another post

None of these will make anyone any better off as a writer and if I were freelance right now I wouldn't spend more than an hour or so a day doing it... but that hour will be time well spent.

Of that I have no doubt. (And actually it might be quite fun too.)

27 thoughts on “Blogging for travel writers – Why bother?

  1. "The future looks pretty bleak for old school freelance travel writers."

    Yes, agree with you Jeremy, but I think the future is very bright for writers in general and anyone who can produce quality audio, video, photo AND written travel content for EITHER the Web or print.

    There is a huge demand for Web content, as there will be soon for mobile as the iPhone and other smartphones make increasing inroads. If you want to play in this field, you need a certain skill set. It's not too late to get it, not at all, but start sooner rather than later.

    I just came off of one press trip for specifically for bloggers, I'm heading out on another one at the end of May and an offer for one landed in my email IN box today that I can't fit into my schedule.

    Some are starting to figure out that a "one and done" print article in a magazine that is read a single time and then tossed (should the publisher not have enough sense to also put the article online) is beginning to have decreasing value compared to the wired writer who can produce destination-related content in blogs, on Twitter, by using TwitPics, by uploading photos to Flickr, by uploading video to YouTube, by using StumbleUpon and Delicious bookmarking sites, etc.

    Truly, bloggers are a different breed, but as described in this one post from a small Kansas town that hosted bloggers, the far-reaching, long-tail coverage that we provide has tremendous implications for travel (or any) content.

    Where's the pay? Excellent and quite valid question. I am hanging on by my fiscal fingernails, frankly, but I know I'm in the right place for the future.

    Thanks for your post and your efforts to educate.

  2. Interesting debate. I agree it is significant that travel PRs are beginning to invite bloggers onto press trips. I imagine this is partly because - with travel sections rapidly shrinking - they are running out of print journalists with firm commissions.

    But the dusty old scribblers at the Guild do have a point. It's all very well getting invitations to jet around the world, and being plied with free food and drink, but if you're not being paid to write about it, the model doesn't work. Unless, of course, you have a private income.

    There are many high-profile travel writers whose names appear regularly in national newspapers yet are barely able to scrape a living (I know at least one who meets PRs just to get free meals). For a blogger whose only revenue is from a couple of banner ads, making ends meet is impossible.

    Yes, this has levelled the playing field and allowed non-professional travel writers to enter the market, creating greater diversity and ever more "content", but I'm not convinced it's a good thing for journalism.

  3. I became a full-time freelance travel writer a few days before 9/11 - quite possibly the worst piece of timing in my career. The year that followed was incredibly difficult but I managed to scrape a living...just.
    The current environment feels worse as far as I am concerned. There are fewer commissions out there, the pay is the same or worse than in 2001 and there are far more people desperate to do the work in my place because they have recently been made redundant.
    I personally feel that the freelance travel writer business model is broken and that a lot of people still have to realise that. Diversifying into other areas and embracing new technology are not just sensible they are survival strategies.
    With print travel sections getting smaller, some travel PRs are suddenly starting to realise that there is no God-given right to coverage in print and that it may not be the best thing for their clients in any case. A story that stays on the web forever with deep links to a booking page on a travel company's website is far more valuable.

  4. that golden age of alan whicker style travel writing was over before i even got there. in my 20 or so years the old literary quality of newspaper travel writing has plunged. it's rare to read anything negative in a newspaper now and in all papers there seems a strange correlation between major advertisers and frequency of editorial coverage. it's all about round-ups so as many adveritsers as possible can be drawn into the target zone. so it was an easy gravy train for a few well-connected hacks in the old days? i'm not sure many readers will miss it.
    for writers the net offers much more variety and freedom. as JH says you can write what you want without having to pander to some travel editor or advertiser. and i bet most readers orefer it too.
    and the greatest fun is writing loads of pieces on something like thetraveledtior.com or suite101.com and then seeing which ones get the most hits. that's direct interaction with readers - they vote with their fingers. we'll get proper money out of the net in the end... i hope.

  5. As current chairman of the 'dusty old scribblers' (who range in age from 24-100 and are anything but dusty, by the way), we set up the web discussion that kicked off this debate as we recognise that the world of print is changing very very fast in the wake of the credit crunch and unless we all change too, we will all be as extinct as dinosaurs. To me, Jeremy is absolutely right when he says there is amazing freedom on the web to set up blogs and write what you want - brilliant to have the shackles taken off. And of course the PRs are going to love the bloggers, the longevity of postings and google searches, twitter cascades etc.
    However, none of this addresses the issue of how you actually pay professional people to do a professional job professionally. If people want authoritative copy, guidebooks (or web guide content) that are reliable, to know that when they are reading a travel writer's advice they are getting something they can trust. In this brave new world of free publishing for all, we are not just fighting for our paycheck, we are fighting to preserve a role for serious objective journalism. And in travel, a subject which is traditionally regarded as 'fluffy' in spite of being the world's largest industry, we really have our work cut out. The issues are far far bigger than who gets the next freebie.

  6. I missed the meeting due to being on a fjord at the time, but I'd have liked to have gone.

    I've increasingly found that my commissions are coming from the web, and while my print outlets haven't been too badly affected yet, I know I'm pretty lucky on this. Competing publications in the same markets have slashed their freelance budgets completely.

    One common misconception is that you can't make money writing for the web. This is a myth - there are plenty of sites out there that pay decent-to-good rates. It's a mistake (and one that many writers make) to think that web writing is all about blogging, social media and broadcasting how you had your eggs for breakfast on Twitter.

    There are sites that pay well, and many have big budgets. What's more, there are more springing up all the time, often backed by big companies. I've seen the beta stages of one very interesting one that is due to launch at the end of June for example; they're doing some very interesting things, but they're also paying writers good money for articles written in a way that suits the site.

    But the real opportunities are there for those that can think with an entrepeneurial mindset and use their expertise to solve problems, carve a niche and turn their knowledge into a business. There will always be some work available for those who just write, but those who can turn editor and publisher on their own site have amazing opportunities.

    Identify that niche (be it Albania, pet-friendly hotels, or - like the Man In Seat 61 - European trains) and there's money to be made. It'll take a lot of hard work, a lot of content and a few new skills to be learned - but every freelance travel writer CAN make good money from the web.

    And often the beauty of it is that a lot of these niches are just the right size. They can generate enough money for one or two people to live comfortably on the proceeds, but they're too small to make the effort worth it for the big players.

    The future isn't dark for freelance travel writers - in fact there's a world of opportunity out there - but a slightly different midset could be needed. And I'd argue that being obsessed with increasing your profile through blogging, social meeja and (ugh) Twittering, is not the right mindset.

  7. David says: "I'd argue that being obsessed with increasing your profile through blogging, social meeja and (ugh) Twittering, is not the right mindset."

    Agree. No need to be obsessed with it. It's not the main job (nobody suggested it was). It's just part of the job prep...

    Buy printer ink - pay telephone bill - write proposal email to Guardian Travel ed - buy batteries for camera - tweet about next planned destination - pay BGTW subs.

    It's just part of what travel writers should be doing, because as Jeremy said: "Most editors are now experimenting with social media". [That's why BGTW has an RSS feed (http://bit.ly/mA0CI) for members' news, so they can say where they are going, what they are doing, where they are coming back from, what stories they have.]

    One minor thought. Sheila's comment: "Some are starting to figure out that a "one and done" print article in a magazine that is read a single time and then tossed (should the publisher not have enough sense to also put the article online) is beginning to have decreasing value...".

    I absolutely agree with the need to use those SM tools, but to be fair, I can't think of a professional travel writer I've met in the last couple of decades who didn't know how to spread-write. ie write five articles for different publications off one trip. So the only mind-shift required is to think 'cross-platform' as well as 'cross-niche'!

    BTW, Guild Twitterati (not many, yet) are listed at http://www.bgtw.org/bgtw-twitterati.html

  8. As a professional journalist who is already earning part of my living from the web, I find that the down side of all this is the time it takes to cover all the necessary bases.
    Today's online journlist is expected to be an editor, a photographer, a video camera person, a search engine optimization specialist and a participant in an ever increasing number of social media networks and blogs.
    Part of me loves the buzz, but mostly I long for the good old days when someone else did three or four of those jobs and I had time for a real - as opposed to a virtual - life.

  9. What separates blogging from old-style “vanity publishing” is the fact that professional writers are happy to give it a go - even if it’s largely on a just-in-case basis at present. Their contributions add weight to the medium. But these writers, of course, were trained largely by the print-press. Who or what will hand on, create, or support the tricky disciplines of writing and reporting online in future?
    All that to one side, I write a blog because it reminds me that travel writing is a more liberated form of journalism. When I find myself sitting there in an evening writing a blog that no-one may ever read, I rediscover the pleasure of writing for its own sake, which isn’t a bad thing in itself.

  10. Apologies for the wierd 'name' above. I logged in using my Google account and that's what appeared automatically.

    I agree in particular with what David said. Mark commented that he didn't think all this was a good thing for journalism, but then the quality of print travel writing has degenerated enormously in the last few years. The ability to do some 'real' travel writing on your own website or blog is one way of counteracting this, though of course you have to balance it with the Google-friendly pages that attract a wider audience.

    And don't forget the opportunity to also do your own travel content website as a way of making the money flow. That's why I started http://www.pacific-coast-highway-travel.com. I was delighted to see yesterday that we had a new daily record for visitors, and for page views, of 800 PVs. I aso write on Suite101 where yesterday's figure was 1100 page views. So in just two places it means almost 60,000 people a month are reading something I've written. That's quite satisfying, given the readership is very targetted, and is steadily increasing. As is the Google AdSense revenue.

    Microsoft also recently announced that they are launching a rival to AdSense, which is about to go to beta stage, and I've applied to join that, partly just to keep in touch with what's happening. There is no doubt that travel writers have to embrace the web, but it surprises me how reluctant many of our colleagues seem to be. Personally I don't blog, twitter or use Facebook, but we all need to do our own thing and approach the web in whatever way we prefer... but approach it we most definitely have to.
    Mike Gerrard

  11. And now I'm signed in by my real name, and can't edit out the initial comment on my own posting, which no longer makes sense. Damn internet....

  12. I agree and I fully intend to join the fray myself - I am in the process of setting things up. But I am also painfully aware that while we also rejoice in the freedom to write - and, as you say, there are some extremely good writers blogging - there is a real danger that in the future there will be no training ground, no formal editorial control process, no way for the public to assess who actually knows what they are talking about or has bothered to put in the proper on-the-ground research that takes time and money. Ideally the two will sit side by side and as Mike Gerrard and David Whitley point out, as the internet grows up, there will be greater opportunities for properly paid and edited copy. After all, the opportunities are awesomely exciting if you are prepared to be imaginative.

  13. If I might put in a plug for "not dead yet!" narrative travel writing...one of my blogs is an offshoot of the Perceptive Travel webzine, "travel stories from wandering book authors."


    Editor (and travel writer/blogger himself) Tim Leffel does pay for stories, albeit a small amount, and I admire his determination to carve out a home for work that is snubbed by many of the major glossies and newspapers.

    Glad to see a lively discussion thread here; it's important to understanding the publishing maelstrom all around us.

  14. I love reading what travel writers have written - and I'm one of those people that buys those books! I also got to participate in the FAM tour for bloggers. I found it a great experience and think it provides an opportunity for bloggers to give an unbiased opinion on what they are seeing - and of course the long tail that comes with it.

    I'm not a travel writer, but I am a writer and believe others like myself can provide a different insight here. We are the guys/gals that want to take 3 days and spend it somewhere being wined and dined. It's an opportunity for us to see if this is an avenue of writing we can pursue. It's an opportunity to expand our circle of influence and in turn help a community expand theirs.

    Sheila Scarborough was one of the travel bloggers on the trip I made. I learned so much from her - about documenting the things you see, how to translate that into readable copy, what video can do for your travel stories. I'll be reading/watching her closely.

    How about some suggestions (websites, blogs) where you've written? I'd like to read them - and better yet, share your stories with my friends.

    Thanks for this great thread of conversation!


  15. My own feeling is that the answer may in the end lie with a more formalised marriage of genres: not the newspaper-plus-website cobbled together mish-mash we have at present. Something more elaborate. Newspapers leading the way to ever more sophisticated layers of online writing and information, depending on what level of subscription is paid. It's all a bit loose and flabby (and unpaid, pretty much) at present. I'm thinking of newspapers as an essential bonding vehicle,a rallying point, a real gateway. One underlying problem, of course, is that reading is such an intimate process, and screens are hard to cuddle up to. I'm very glad to see these points aired, anyway.

  16. Learning how to use all of the tools that go along with travel writing on the Web (SM, video, photos, etc.) is, as some already pointed out here, a matter of survival in the new marketplace.

    Pay is a real issue whether you still have old-school print clients or are out there trying to get a fair price for your time and talent. I find that opportunities for writing online jobs have begun seeking me out, but getting a fair price and fair offer for the rights to your work can be quite a different matter.
    As always, writers have to make sure an offer doesn't take away all rights to their work while offering pay that doesn't even begin to cover the time and effort it took to produce the work and promotion most places expect you to do these days.
    Traffic is increasing on my own blog, and I recently signed on for an ongoing paid blogging gig. I believe the opportunities are out there--it just takes time to find them, and not be afraid to turn down something that isn't right for you.


  17. where will the writing education come from? you obviously haven't tried to post on suite101.com like mike gerrard above. they have the most rigorous copy checking system i've seen for decades. their writing guidelines and style pages are immense and a great education for anyone thinking of switching to writing on the web. and they continue it with weekly emails picking up on points of writing skills. the trouble is it has turned their site into a rather boring 'write-by-numbers' sort of thing. but it's an easy example of how sites will evolve to try and win business by working on their style and content.
    incidentally, i'm a journalist of many years experience, written for all sorts from the splash for the news of the world to web stuff for jeremy head's bunch - but when i submitted a travel piece to suite101 is was immediately rejected as not being up to their high editorial standard.

  18. I'm all for posting my work online, but it's infuriating when a big newspaper which should know better
    assumes it's ethical to lift an article to enhance one of their own, which they bill under the umbrella
    byline of two staff members. A case in point is their current article on the World's Top 50 Restaurants. I guess I am one of the few English-language writers to have visited Noma in Copenhagen, which was ranked no. 3 this week - since it's my work which comes up when you take up the Guardian invitation to click on no. 3 and "read the review". OK, it's a link to work which is out there on
    http://www.thetraveleditor.com, and my byline appears on the review, but my contention is that they would have no article without a review of each of the 50 and could at the very least have asked my permission to publish on their own site. Isn't that what British copyright law is all about - ensuring that we freelances own
    our own intellectual property and are entitled to decide where to publish?

  19. I'm thinking of changing my name by deed-poll. Carlton Reid is soooooo last century. Henceforth I'm to be known as @carltonreid

    Don't knock twitter! It may not yet have a revenue model to plug into but if some of your postings are plugs you can dig up some of your own revenue. I've sold a few signed copies of my new cycling book, at publisher's list price.

    Twitter is also excellent as a personalised Google. When you reach a magical number of followers you can ask questions that Google would struggle on. And the answers can be numerous, and from genuine experts. I get great quotes for articles this way.

    I also find Twitter is a good way to be available to be 'found' by travel PRs. I've just come back from a trip to Scotland. I twittered about the destination and got followed by the Twitter feed from the local tourist board. This led to 'direct message' contact and loads of great info and advice. Twitter works for me big-time (and it also pays, I got a few hundred quid for a business mag article on Twitter, which then led to travel commissions).

  20. Lol! But not everyone has your twitter-stamina, Carlton! I get exhausted just reading you. Is your pda mounted on your handlebars, btw? How do you tweet when you are 15 miles into your journey and cycling up a mountain?

  21. iPhone, one-handed. And now that I've discovered FiRE iPhone recording and on-the-fly MP3 uploading via audio sharing site SoundCloud.com, I could - in theory - post my uphill panting to go with the tweets and twitpics.

  22. see - that's what I'm talking about! A couple of great tips in one sentence. I love twitter too. I have created a database from the followers I enjoy reading, working with and traveling with. It's a great resource tool for me.

  23. What kind of database can you build from Twitter? I'm puzzled.
    Just like how Carlton could post a whole article on Twitter - was it in several consecutive

  24. Hi there - just winding up a weekend at the Association of British Tour Operators to France (Abtof) conference in Reims when I came across Jeremy's post. That happened because Jeremy was a Tweeter at a Travolution conference last week, to which he enthusiastically participated (as did Mark Frary and Mark Hodson). I am far more aware today of which freelances are now embracing new media, as much as typewriters/PCs and landlines/mobiles were to someone of my generation (51, since you ask). Yes, the question of how to make money is paramount for freelances, as much as cutting costs is for traditional media. And yes, the decline in, quotes, of traditional journalism is rightly mooted - but as Mike G points out, I think the model has been receding for some time as more and more freelances and Editor's mates pile in and swamp a very saturated market in a declining media. What I do applaud is the reaction to a dying market by able freelances - and in reading the posts above, there are many who are willing to give it a go. Online is not a 'new' market for freelances in an old media - it's out there in new forms which we are all beginning to discover. Do not rely on print paying for features - it is a rapidly degenerating model. Equally do not rely on new media as the panacea - as ever, it's somewhere in between and for the individual to work out. Good luck! - Steve Keenan.

  25. Hello everyone!
    It's been fantastic reading all the discussion going on here. Fascinating! I feel quite honoured. There's an oft-quoted stat out there somewhere that only 10% of people who read blog posts comment, the other 90% just watch the conversation. So thank you for taking the time to comment too. (Average time on page for this post is now over 8 minutes!)
    Lots of interesting stuff here for follow-up posts too.
    I agree with the general tone of most comments that embracing the web and all its fascinating facets is absolutely the way forward for travel writing...(but maybe we are all preaching to the converted?)

  26. I just wanted to say thank you to Jeremy and Alastair for speaking about the subject and making it such a clear and easy to follow process. Inspired, we sat on the train going home from the London meeting to compose the first of our blogs. Its up and running and by the time we are dead it may have made a shilling or so. But that is not the point, what is the point is that we write to get widely read and to get read you must be published. Every avenue must be considered and where advantageous, taken.

    Truthfully the best thing I have done in my writing career to date is to join the British Guild of Travel Writers <">http://www.bgtw.org/> and I commend all freelance travel writers to do the same.

    Michael J Howorth

  27. Some of us might not like it but the web and social networking is definitely the way forward. It has been my biggest earner for the last five years and the marketing potential of twitter <">http://twitter.com/Kathrynliston> etc is vast. Unfortuntely, out with long lunchs have gone long commissions - the 5,000 word travel business feature is definitely extinct.

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