There was lots of interesting debate about Simonseeks the new travel content site last week, so I decided to pitch some questions at Simon Nixon himself to get some further detail.
Here are my questions and his answers. Some useful responses. A few observations and niggles which I summarise after the interview.
This is a first for Travelblather. So.. welcome Simon and thanks for taking the time to contribute!
1) Why did you decide to launch Simonseeks?
I came up with the idea last Summer. It was really as a result of my own passion for travel and frustration at being unable to find quality free travel guides to suit my personal travel requirements.
2) The URL is quite generic. Could you see Simonseeks branching out into other industry sectors?
Absolutely, there is scope to take this model into other sectors. However at the present time we are focusing on travel as we see there is a global opportunity. This is a relatively new concept and we realise we need to listen to feedback from our visitors, our authors and also our travel partners to ensure the success for all parties.
3) Is there any connection with Travelsupermarket? Will Simonseeks review content for example be made available on TravelSupermarket? I'd always assumed that Simonseeks was about providing a content vehicle to support TravelSupermarket, but it looks like I may be incorrect?
Simonseeks.com is a completely independent company to Travelsupermarket in everyway. We are looking to develop partnerships with aggregators in the future as this will be an useful tool for our visitors to the site. As we are independent we will speak to all the companies out there and partner with the most appropriate ones for each sector of travel.
4) Can you clarify exactly how writers earn from the site. Is it only a percentage of sales from bookings made as a result of reading someone's review or is there a cut of ad revenue as well?
There are two ways you earn money from the site – from an equal share in revenue from sales commissions through people reading guides and clicking through to our recommended partners and making a booking. There is also an equal share in the display advertising revenue.
5) Do you see a finite number of writers for the site? And a finite number of reviews for a particular destination?
Not at all. The most important thing for authors to focus on is writing quality travel guides from first hand experience. Through our editorial team we will ensure that the quality standards we have set out are retained in order to continue to attract visitors to the site who are going to find the information useful and keep coming back for more and recommend us to their friends. We have a target of 1 million visitors per month within a year of launch so there is tremendous scope. In addition, it is important to ensure that the guides are kept as up to date as possible for our visitors. The guides which have been updated or uploaded most recently appear ahead of older guides to ensure we encourage this.
6) If a writer decides they no longer want their content on Simonseeks, am I correct in understanding that Simonseeks will retain copyright and will keep that content live on the site anyway? Or can the writer ask for it to be taken off the site?
If a writer decides they want their copyright back, they can ask for us to transfer this back to them. However, the condition is that the writer will no longer earn revenue from the guide at this point of transfer and they will provide us with a royalty free, worldwide licence to use their guide. So it will stay on the site, though the writer can use it elsewhere.
7) How do you plan to keep content on the site up to date?
As I mentioned above, we will be ranking the guides which have been updated the most recently ahead of older guides to encourage writer to keep the information relevant and fresh for our visitors. Posting your travel guide on simonseeks.com should be seen as a ‘dynamic process’ and as the author you have the ability to edit and update your content to reflect this.
8) According to James Dunford Wood - comments on my blog - "the value of the content on Simon Seeks has nothing to do with the accuracy or quality of the information, and all to do with the search popularity of the subject and the SEO efforts of the writer/site". Would you agree with this comment? How do you strike a balance between content that ranks well for Search Engines (like top ten lists) etc v. content that is more niche but likely to have more real value for serious holiday research?
We have set up the site to strike a balance between delivering travel guides which people find interesting and useful for their holiday research, as well as encouraging authors to post their travel guides on simonseeks.com and earn revenue. This is why we introduced the concept of the community reviewing and ranking the travel guides so that we can ensure authors who are writing the most relevant content for the simonseeks.com audience will appear ahead. Also, we have a powerful search tool as part of the site itself so that visitors can search for the most relevant guide for their requirements under location or interest, or they can simply let us inspire them with some choices.
9) In a recent interview with TTG it's claimed that you've suggested that 'Travel Agents are being encouraged to contribute to the site as a way of publicising their businesses and driving traffic back to their own sites'. Doesn't this conflict with the idea of having the site as a place to come to for impartial advice and information?
The feature in TTG made reference to the fact that simonseeks.com is also a potential outlet for travel agents to share their knowledge through writing travel guides on their favourite places and earning revenue, in the same way as professional and amateur writers for the site. We don’t see this as a conflict for impartial advice, merely an additional revenue stream for them to exploit.
10) How do you see content on-line evolving more generally? Do you think, as has been mooted by Rupert Murdoch recently, that ultimately readers will have to pay if they want quality content on-line?
The simonseeks.com model shies away from the pay per click strategy which you refer to. We feel that we can deliver quality content to our visitors, free of charge, through clever monetisation of the content. The secret lies in cross-selling advertising that is directly relevant, and closely matched, to editorial.
Some interesting stuff here.
Volume of content - I think the fact that he sees no ceiling on the number of features about a place makes it clear that this is a volume game that's more about building ad revenues than serving readers in the final assessment. I question quite what role the editor will have in this - it feels more like he will be simply weeding out any really duff copy and subbing stuff that's OK. No sense of editorial direction for the site on a broader level?
Quality control - I also wonder about the idea that voting and recentness of copy will do the job of ensuring the better, more accurate stuff rises to the top of the pile. I could rehash a piece I wrote 5 years ago and post it now... for a while at least it would be billed as 'fresh content' and in theory better...And will people bother to vote/comment etc? I'm not sure.
Conflict of interest - I also really don't think he answered my question about agents and operators being able to contribute too without the danger of bias. Saying 'we don't see this as a conflict for impartial advice' seems genuinely surprising to me. I wonder if they will have a 'tour operator' or 'travel industry professional' mark next to these profiles to make clear that this is the case? Allowing operators to contribute means that the dividing line between advertorial and editorial is totally and utterly erased... once and for all.
The site - very interesting that there's no link with Travelsupermarket. I am really surprised by this. Meta search engines do a great job of finding the lowest price deal... but there's little to distinguish one from another beyond price... I think that ultimately the likes of Travelsupermarket will HAVE to offer unique content and useful tools to make people come back to them rather than go to a competitor. (Indeed they are starting to do this already... with their use of experts) A site like Simonseeks synched with Travelsupermarket could be incredibly powerful... and I really assumed that was the strategy all along.
What do you think? Any surprises here? Good stuff? Bad?