Logo-beta Tomorrow (Thursday 18th June) a new travel content website launches. Simonseeks.com is a new travel website, backed by Simon Nixon, the founder of moneysupermarket.com and

There's a hole in the market for quality travel content that works for people who are in the research phase of holiday booking and tour operators have been way too slow to fill it. Simon Nixon reckons he can fill that gap and has deep pockets too. Some say he's worth £295 million.

Similar in approach to thetraveleditor.com, Simonseeks will offer writers who contribute to the site a share of advertising revenue. I was quite involved in thetraveleditor but decided to not participate in the end, feeling that the revenue share wasn't sufficient and that they really didn't know too much about SEO - which is pretty crucial.

I think this is where simonseeks could be different. I've contributed a few articles for the launch and they are using a formatted template that requires writers to add meta-data and makes them tag their features too. Unsurprisingly the team at simonseeks know a thing or two about how to make websites work. They've also signed up Nick Trend, who has a lot of travel writing and editing experience for the likes of Which?, The Telegraph and Conde Nast traveller, to be editor.

The press release talks about a 'new cottage industry' of travel writers working from home earning money by creating content and taking their share of the ad revenue - which as I understand it will be a fairly decent 50%. I've just discovered from Fiona Reece who is doing PR for the launch (and sent me the press release) that 300 writers have contributed 1000 articles already.

Part of me hopes they are successful and that maybe I get to share in that success... but there's concern too. I don't like the idea of being part of a 'cottage industry'. I have a writer profile on the site which has a mark on it saying 'Travel Professional' but the strap line for the site is Travel Guides for you, by you. That for me speaks volumes. Professional travel journalism as those of us in the profession know it is pretty much finished now. Here's some more detail from the 'about' page.

Anyone can do it, and make money out of it. You write your own
articles, or guides, post them up on the site, and we will do the rest.
Although we will always check that any guides submitted are up to our
high standards of accuracy before we publish them, the site is open to
all - whether you are a professional journalist, an expert in a
particular field of travel, a student, publisher, or simply someone who
loves travelling and wants to share your experiences with others.

Let's face it, I'm a bit of a snob. I don't know that I want my writing alongside that of wannabetravelwriterbackpacker or whoever. This is the market at its most aggressive and brutal and its scary. I know a thing or two about SEO so maybe I can manipulate features that I contribute to be more visible and hence attract more ad revenue? But there's a limit to the number of features they'll need on Seville for example - I wrote a guidebook to the city so I know it well - but there are 10 features on the site already about Seville that are written by other people.

I wonder too if there's a finite number of features that you can have about a place before there are just too many? Will there come a point where there are too many features about Seville and the mass of information becomes a bit overwhelming?

One thing that I'm not so sure about is the fact that along with all the other UGC sites like TripAdvisor etc there's no attempt at niche here. The intention is to cover the complete universe of travel opportunities. How doable is that? I'd love to know how many days a week Nick Trend is working on the project... it could be a 24 hour editing job. I'd also love to know more about his web experience... I don't know if he has that much of it... I can't find a personal website or a blog for him. But does that matter? (Maybe not.)

So.. do I throw my lot in with them and hope that my years of experience will mean I become one of their most read and valuable travel writers or do I create a small niche site of my own about stuff I'm a real expert on and try and build something myself... and keep all the ad revenue for myself too? I don't know that much yet about monetization, but if Simonseeks has thousands and thousands of pages the value of the ads on each page will be very small I'd imagine, so to make it work it will be a volume game.

What would you do?

26 thoughts on “Simonseeks.com… the final nail in the coffin for professional travel writers?

  1. Excellent topic and excellent analysis, Jeremy. I decided a long time ago that I'd rather develop niche content in an area where I can't be beaten. I'd rather have 100% of the revenues, rather than 50% of someone else's measure of "net" revenues. I want to own the whole asset (web site) rather than have a share in someone else's virtual property. It's been working out well for me.

    I do currently blog and create other content for a tourism promotion website owned by someone else, in addition to my own websites and blog, but I don't earn a revenue share, I earn a contracted amount (and a fairly generous amount at that).

    I suppose everybody isn't cut out for building their own web site from scratch, so creating contend for a site like examiner.com or simonseeks would be the way to go for them.

    Some might wonder what the big difference is in owning the whole shebang vs. owning a share of revenues. It's this: If you own the site, you can sell it one day. If you own a share of the revenues, I'm betting that it's in your contract that you can't sell your share. I'll also bet that when simonseeks sells out one day, the writers won't be in line for any share of the profits. (I could be wrong, but I'd be very surprised).

  2. Very interesting, although I've learned to be sceptical about such sites. It may look different, but really what is it doing that's different from Suite101, Examiner, Thetraveleditor etc?

    For the user, there's probably too much information; too much to choose from. That said, most will probably come from Google searches - and my experience in this area is that it's hard to get many Google searches to a specific travel article unless it's on "budget airlines that fly to X", "train times from X" or something similarly dull and detail-heavy. Similarly, speaking to online editors, it tends to be list-style articles spread across a variety of destinations (ie. World's top ten most dangerous animals and where to see them) that get the most traffic. Destination-specific pieces tend to do quite poorly.*

    I'd also question the positioning of the advertising. Fine from a design point of view, but for the writer wanting to make money, it's perhaps not prominent enough.

    The terms of use (http://www.simonseeks.com/terms-of-use) is also very vague about how you get paid and for what. The tracking of revenue doesn't seem particularly solid. And 50% of 'net' revenues is going to be considerably less than 50% of actual revenue...

    As you say, there's clearly money behind the site, so it may well work. Sheer weight of content can make it work for Simon Nixon. But will it work for writers as well? To me it seems highly doubtful - the Seville expert is probably better off creating their own extensive site about Seville.

    I'll be interested to see what happens, but I struggle to see travel writers making more than a pittance over a long period of time.

    David Whitley

    *Others may have different experiences here - I'm just going with what the editors of my five or six online outlets tell me.

  3. Thanks, Jeremy, for another cracking post. I was approached to write for simonseeks.com - and politely turned them down. I already put my faith in one company who offer - how can I put this? - modest upfront payments offset by the promise of good returns over time (Rough Guides, one of the few guidebook companies to have stuck with a writer-friendly system of royalties - which, on the whole, delivers). I figured one is enough! I forget the exact fees offered by simonseeks - but to accept an 70-80% pay cut in the hope that loads of people will click on banner ads at some indeterminate point in the future seemed bonkers to me.

    I am no expert on how to make a website like simonseeks successful - but in content terms they're already missing the boat. Having just checked their one & only page on Jordan (my specialist subject), I found ten or more problem patches - either factual errors or misleading descriptions. I write a lot about the Middle East, and am constantly fighting an uphill battle trying to overturn misleading impressions about the region. If simonseeks will pay me a going rate to correct their submissions, I'd be delighted - but I don't want to contribute original material that will only end up in an amorphous swill of misinformation.

    Seems to me that's just about the only asset still in the hands of the traditional travel media such as the papers and guidebooks: readers trust those brands to deliver reliable information, while they know to take online information (whether simonseeks or tripadvisor) with at least a pinch of salt. Somewhere underneath, in an unacknowledged mental nook, that's because I humbly believe Mr & Ms Public still recognise the value of professionally written material. Everybody wants to publish 'What I Did On My Holiday', but nobody wants to use somebody else's bibble as the basis for a holiday of their own. They don't trust it.

    There's hope for us yet...

  4. Great article and comments so far. Agree with both David's comments. Will be interesting to see how professional they keep the contributors and also to see if their pages start popping up in Google.

  5. Very interesting. But let me get this clear. Is the idea that you write for free, and then try and get as many people as possible to read your piece, so that you get money from punters clicking ads?

    If so then this is what I call the "Compulsive Gambler" model of new media - "I'll invest in this and maybe I'll make a load of money... oh, nothing much yet, but mustn't give up trying, that big payoff is just around the corner I'm certain ...let's invest some more...and more..."

    This is the way Suite 101 and others operate. It seems to me that these systems treat writers essentially as production units scrambling for pennies, and the only SERIOUS money is made by those running the site.

    Not something a professional should get involved in, I'd say.

    It leads onto a wider question of what those of us working in the print media ought to be doing as the traditional models implode. That is a truly difficult question, but I feel that the Compulsive Gambler models are not part of the answer.

  6. An interesting subject. I too started to contribute to The Travel Editor... and get about £5 a month for the few articles and reviews I've put on there. It's OK if you've got stuff you can't recycle.

    Whether we like it or not, the print media is dying - you only have to look at the state of the regional newspapers (eg redundancies) to see that. Not to mention the problems at ITV because of the fall in ad revenue.

    It would appear that the way forward is the web - but how to make money from it? Develop your technical skills and develop a niche subject? Time for a 'techo travel entrepreneur' revolution, I think.

    Someone once gave me the advice to 'get famous or well known' which I took as flippant at the time. But, if you want to get anywhere in the times we live in, she was absolutely right.

    As a professional travel writer how do you make yourself stand out from the hoards? The market is saturated - you only have to look at the freelancers on Gorkana to see that.

  7. Hi Jeremy,

    You mention 'monetization' at the end of your post. Had a quick look and it appears as if the accommodation recommendations in the articles are CPA based, so you'd earn a % cut of the total booking fee. If they drive high volumes of traffic into the front end of the site (qv Moneysupermarket marketing strategy) then the most popular guides could earn some very good income indeed. CPA is scaleable so the more traffic they pump in, the more you/they earn. I assume the professional/celeb content (gah!) will rise to the top of the rankings which will ensure the perception of quality. If this is what they do it could also drive some nice traffic to the niche project you mention. Given management background, don't discount the appearance of CPA flights, insurance, the list goes on.

    I have to admit I think this site has prospects despite the fact that most new ventures fail.

    Apologies if this is a 'granny to suck eggs' response btw: purely intended as a response to the 'monetization' reference.


  8. Oops - apologies for the dodgy link.

    As I've said/ endlessly ranted on about elsewhere, it's a mistake for travel writers to think that the revenue-sharing model is the only way of getting paid to write for the web.

    It most certainly is not - there are plenty of sites out there that will pay good rates for travel articles. Print media may well be dying, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the likes of Simonseeks.com are the future.

  9. @ Victoria - yes, I figured Traveleditor.com really wouldn't offer much in the way of income. And yes indeed, Ferne Arfin was commenting on this post - http://travelblather.com/2009/04/blogging-itravel-writing-reputation.html - just a few weeks about how nowadays as a writer for About.com she is expected to be all things - not just writer, but SEO person, a photographer, a video camera person, and a participant in an ever increasing number of social media networks and blogs. The skillset of the travel writer is ever expanding now.
    @ James - on the contrary... I know very little about monetization and want to learn more so your comments are most useful! If what you suggest is correct then the earning potential is possibly quite good I guess... but the temptation to just write copy promoting hotels will be huge... so a real danger for editorial impartiaility.
    I agree... this of the brace of new 'content-based' entrants if the most likely to succeed so far...

  10. OK - the Moneysupermarket floatation document is packed with info on revenue streams/business models which will be relevant (I assume) to this venture. There's a mix of revenue streams in that business but from memory mostly CPA/CPC, hence comments above. If you mail james at picturetheuk.com I'll send it over.

  11. I'll soon be launching a "pay peanuts for content" travel site. I'm thinking 1001monkeys.co.uk, with the tag line - "We pay you peanuts. Exploiting naive travel writers since 2009".

  12. Great conversation guys! I'm hoping to actually put some of these questions to Simon Nixon directly and publish the answers here in a few days. (I've had a fairly positive response from his PR about the idea)
    Anything else people would like me to ask him?

  13. A few additional snippets from the British Guild of Travel Writers forum (with permission to reproduce here from the author - Anthea Gerrie)

    "I wrote some of the initial Simonseeks articles for which they paid a small fee upfront, but have yet to get clarification on how their revenue-share model will compare with those of thetraveleditor.com and travelintelligence.com, where I have been posting previously published copy.
    I suspect it will take a long time to catch up with the upfront payments offered by websites like Sky Travel,who pay fees on the same sort of scale as print publications, but who like simonseeks, buy up full rights in all copy.
    This copyright issue is mega... maybe more profitable to post work already written on a website to earn more money down the road than on one where you have to specially create content you can't reproduce elsewhere. Sky Travel pays properly for this privilege, so it's worthwhile doing the work, but I haven't so far seen evidence that simonseeks will. And they do devalue their brand from the start with their "written for you, by you" tag, suggesting contributors are not professional travel writers..."

    "...[but] I suspect there's a place for us to write for these sites when it suits us. In the case of my piece on foodie trends in New Orleans, for example, couldn't get anyone but Simonseeks interested in running that piece, which I passionately wanted to write - and now I have a showcase for it I can merchandise to all those who helped me get to the places I wanted to cover."

  14. Another great post Jeremy. I guess your answer to the question I posed on our blog about SimonSeeks being the possible solution to revenue from travel blogging is still a 'not sure' then?

    Surely the major difference between SimonSeeks and TravelEditor is the that there IS something to click through to? According to Travolution they're going to be working with Lastminute and Opodo etc to create a real 'bookability'. Could turn into real revenue there... And I know from a PR/marketing perspective that's what really interests us, the holy grail is a nice feature that a reader can click through and buy right there and then! Maybe you could ask Simon about how the revenue model would work then? Will contributers somehow get more for creating not just a click through but a booking?

  15. Jeremy,

    Simon Nixon - if they are using a CPA approach, ask him if the conversion to booking from a content site is going to be anywhere near the conversion to booking on a direct transaction site like Moneysupermarket. Put another way, does he think the people using this content site will use it for inspiration/discovery or for transaction to booking a flight/room or both? If the content gets in the way of the booking, the rev share will go way down. And if you can get a figure for the conversion rate of unique visitor to booking ...

  16. Hi - great discussion. I know that the press release for SimonSeeks claims this is a first re. the rev share model, but I claim that honour for myself with the advertising rev share I pioneered at Travel Intelligence in 2000, before it became more of a hotel booking website, which it is today. The most we ever paid out to the writers - and they were all professional travel writers, vetted by us - was 1500 GBP/year, with the majority getting 200-300/year. The model DID NOT work for the writers on the basis of making them rich, it worked because it was a secondary market for already published print material, which they recycled with us. Only the Times and CN Traveller in those days claimed to own electronic rights to this commissioned material. Very few spend energy giving us original material - mostly it was what we called 'evergreen' editorial that had never been published online.

    On the question of 'what would you do as a professional travel writer', the value of the content on Simon Seeks or the Travel Editor 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. So as was mentioned above by Matthew Teller re Jordan, if you have valuable inside knowledge about a destination, then it's way better to launch a niche site all about that destination, rather than give it away cheaply - you will attract readers and revenue because of your authority. A good example is Tom Brosnahan's turkeytravelplanner.com - ex Lonely Planet Turkey writer on Turkey, he gets 200k+ traffic a year and makes a very good living, much more than he ever made from LP. Site does not look great design-wise (sorry Tom if you are reading this!), but who cares? If you are going to Turkey and want the inside track, you go to TTP. However, what you need is patience, lots of hard work, and time - at least two years to get traction.

    As for CPA monetisation, my experience at Travel Intelligence and more recently at Worldreviewer.com is that these are travel research sites. People are at the planning stage, not generally ready to book. Now I know the Nixons (Simon and Chris, the commercial director) will do a great job of squeezing as much as they can out of affiliate revenue, and will try and position the site closer to the booking stage, but CPA won't be a magic bullet.

    Still, the site will be successful, no doubt. But not for the professional writer looking to supplement her dwindling print fees. But for reasonably competent part-time writers with a passion for travel, who are canny enough to concentrate their fire on Malta and Cyprus and can SEO their articles, I'm sure they can make some useful additional revenue. Whether they will actually add anything useful to say about Malta - that will be the challenge of SimonSeeks editors to recognise, (presumably with the help of the users' votes) if they want to stand a chance of giving the site any authority.

  17. As a journalism school graduate and professional travel writer, I get a chuckle from the press release noting, 'new cottage industry' of travel writers working from home earning money by creating content and taking their share of the ad revenue.

    A sad state of affairs for professional travel writers.

  18. Really interesting post and discussion here - insight into a part of the travel industry I know nothing about. However, it seems to me, from a tour operator perspective, that the more information with no 'reliability qualification' the more ultimately confusing for the consumer and thus the more opportunities for us travel providers and you travel writing professionals to fill the gap by providing quality filters to help cut through the nonsense.

    Anecdotaly, I speak to well educated, well informed clients every day with a big interest in travel (almost by definition.) They seem to be increasingly savy - taking Trip Advisor and other UGC with large pinches of salt - but as a valuable research tool to go alongside their quality travel reading and professional advice. There is a sea change in their response to Trip Advisor from a year ago when they mostly thought they had discovered something very clever and treated it as gospel (sigh!).

  19. My advice would be to become your own cottage industry and create your own Seville/Jordan or wherever website. That's what I did with the Pacific Coast Highway and I'm pleased with the way it's going:

    You can make a living from your own website if you work hard enough at it and give it time. Pioneers at this include Durant Imboden at Europe for Visitors, who told me he now earns more from his one website than from any other job he has ever had in his life (and he used to be Fiction Editor for Playboy), and Tom Brosnahan, who moved from writing Lonely Planet's Turkey guidebook to doing his own Turkey Travel Planner website. Tom told me he now earns just as much from his website as he did from the book. Plus he has total editorial control as well.

    Selling e-books from your own travel website is also apparently lucrative, though I haven't had time to do that yet myself. One website owner who has a site about the Australian Outback said that her e-books were earning her about A$2000 per month, in addition to her advertising income. So it can be done.

    Print as we know it is definitely dying, so anyone with any sense and a desire to keep travelling and writing has to adapt. Then it doesn't matter whether WH Smith stock your book or not!

    Otherwise I love Jake's idea - way to go!

  20. Sorry, I missed the fact that James Dunford Wood had already commented on Tom Brosnahan's website and earnings. But I'll back James up that design-wise, it's pretty bad. Durant Imboden's site (http://europeforvisitors.com/) will not win any cutting-edge design awards either - but it doesn't matter. Travellers want travel information, and both sides provide it by the ton. And both websites reap the rewards for themselves, not for anyone else.

  21. As all the above excellent comments already say there is nothing very unique about Simonseeks. If you just stand back and look at the site from a purely objective point of view each article seems to have Google ads and one large banner ad. I know from my experience this will be difficult to generate significant revenue to keep the authors interest for long.

    If the site is going to produce high quality content then the contributors won't last very long if the payments are not at least equal to other travel websites paying a per post rate. What I think will ultimately happen is that non-professional travel writers will start hashing up old list style articles which get higher page views than the real content (we have had this debate elsewhere). We already know that the quality destination and guide content struggles to compete against long-established content for key search engine terms and so therefore those same articles struggle for page views. If authors are just re-posting content they have previously produced then this is not going to help the search engine traffic either (duplicate content is in fact penalised).

    Revenue sharing to those that produce the content is a great idea - but it is a bloody hard model to make work and keep everyone happy you could not get a better viewpoint than James Dunford Wood). And you certainly can't agree with Simonseeks PR that there is a lack of online content for travel planning - the Internet is literally swamped with it, from good to bad. I agree with you Jeremy the value is in providing high quality niche content.

  22. > Revenue sharing to those that produce the content is a great idea - but it is a bloody hard model to make work

    Agreed. I think a lot of traditional print travel writers are simply not getting what writing for the web is all about. If you want a showcase for your work then fine, stick up your traditional print-type articles and give people the URL. You'll have to give them the URL because no-one will otherwise find it by Googling.

    But if you want to earn money, you have to go at it totally differently. It's a bit like writing an article and then sending it willy-nilly to any editor, whether it's suitable or not, and hoping someone will read it, compared to pitching ideas targetted at specific publications.

  23. Really good article and quite a lot of really great, insightful, articulate, and accurate comments (one of the benefits of reading an article that is a few weeks old, getting to enter into a conversation that's been going on for a bit).....

    The problem as I see it is twofold: First, we all acknowledge that the industry of travel writing is shifting away from traditional print media and to internet sites such as SimonSeeks primarily because more and more travelers are turning to the web to research destinations, period. If they weren't, there'd be plenty of assignments to go around still for all of us. And since these sites will accept (for free, paid, ad-revenue-sharing, whatever model they offer) content from just about anyone, that leaves established professional travel journalist competing for publication with any never-wrote-a-word-before beginner who's just been on a holiday. Sadly it's the future we are facing so we need to learn how to adapt to survive in our profession. And it can be done.....more on that after my second point....

    The other part of the problem is that the internet has opened up a whole new niche of travel writing that is growing leaps and bounds, which is location-based (writing about your own town/city/state/region) - as Matthew Teller eloquently pointed out, there is a great deal of inaccuracy in content written by non-professionals, who may likely have only visited a destination once and not adequately researched it before regurgitating a "review" based on their memory. And as James Dunford notes, location-based travel content is gaining popularity because it is written by someone who knows the area well, being a resident, thus an "expert" and trusted source.

    So am I recommending we all stay home and write about our surroundings? Maybe.....thankfully many PR Firms are still working primarily with professional journalists and have requirements for previous clips, a proven publication record, or documented site traffic levels, so finding one (or several) destination niche(s) in which you can be an expert author can - online anyway - boost your credibility and audience to the level that you can be attractive to PR firms looking to fill Press Trips.

    Can you make money this way? Yes, but not in the traditional way. If you're the "go to guy (or gal)" for information about Malta, as James says above, then that opens up all sorts of partnership opportunities with merchants looking to promote Malta as a destination, or services on Malta, hotels, tour charters, etc.

    The future will bring fewer paid travel content opportunities, but with well-written and expert content as the lure to bring visitors to your site, the opportunity to earn affiliate revenue from partnerships is how we'll be able to stay in the game and compete with Mom & Pop travelers who dream of being travel writers.

  24. Hi Trisha
    Thanks... a great summary! I pretty much agree with all you say here. I guess the thing that disappoints (on a bad day it does anyway) is that as you say, the writer needs to work on affiliate revenue streams, partnerships, selling ads etc in this scenario. I could do that and maybe even make it work(?) But sometimes I think I'd rather justbe writing! Gone are the days when a travel writer could just come up with great ideas, pitch them, travel and write... now he or she has to be an ad sales person, affiliate deal negotiator, web designer, SEO specialist too... Quite hard to keep up!

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