I’ve blogged a couple of times already about Simonseeks. I think it’s great to see innovation in the travel sector online. And I think there is a need for this kind of ‘inspirational’ content to help people research holiday ideas. But I also think they went about launching the site all the wrong way. It wasn’t remotely surprising that when they launched they attracted the ire of a lot of travel writers. The whole premise of the site is that anyone who can write a bit can be a travel writer now. Simon Nixon the guy with the cash behind the site (founder of Moneysupermarket.com so he has a few bob to spare) talked of a new ‘cottage industry of travel writers’. I still find it a bit amusing that there seemed to be such surprise that pro travel writers reacted the way they did.

Whether you can seriously earn revenue from writing for the site is - I think - decidedly unclear. In theory you earn 50% percent of any referral or booking fees that come to Simonseeks as a result of someone reading one of your pieces on the site.  At a blogger get-together at WTM last year the question was asked ‘has anyone earned anything from Simonseeks yet’ and I answered: "about £2.50". This was a little disingenuous as I only have a couple of features on the site – hardly enough to generate significant revenue. I did it to make a point and generate a laugh. Perhaps unsurprisingly Fiona Reece who handles the PR for Simonseeks who was also in the room was quick to counter my implied suggestion that you don’t earn much writing for the site, by saying that some people were starting to see earnings increase and that it was very early days so unfair to make these kinds of comments. Fair enough.

I was fascinated then to read an alert on Travmedia today from the editor of Simonseeks Nick Trend:

Editor's Alert: Simonseeks Seeks Destination Experts Sent at: 23rd Jul, 09:42
Simonseeks.com provides independent travel advice on destinations around the world. It is backed by Internet entrepreneur Simon Nixon, founder of leading price-comparison website Moneysupermarket.com.

We already have top-class travel writers in place as experts for some key destinations. We are now looking to rapidly expand our coverage to include the following cities and resort areas, and are seeking new experts for these destinations.

UK cities: Bath, Glasgow, Liverpool, Oxford, York. Overseas cities: Athens, Boston, Bruges, Brussels, Budapest, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Florence, Lisbon, Marrakesh, Milan, Naples, Prague, Seville, Vienna. Resort areas: Majorca, Ibiza, Menorca, Costa Brava, Costa Blanca, Costa del Sol, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria; Algarve; Sorrento/Amalfi Coast, Sardinia, Sicily; Corsica; Dubrovnik area; Malta; Cyprus; Sharm el Sheikh.

Experts need to have in-depth knowledge (including of hotels and restaurants) of the city or resort area they plan to write about. They should either live in the destination, or at least visit it regularly.

Being an expert for Simonseeks is a major commitment. Current experts are filing more than 20,000 words for most destinations, though some smaller cities and resorts may need somewhat less than this. As well as providing the initial material, experts are also expected to keep their pages up to date.

It’s a demanding role, but we hope the rewards will be substantial.

If you are interested in being a Simonseeks expert, send a brief CV outlining which destination you are interested in covering and your expertise and suitability, to experts@simonseeks.com.

It’s remarkable for a number of reasons:

1) They are now actively targeting pro travel writers (only pro travel writers can register for Travmedia alerts). This suggests that perhaps Simon’s ‘cottage industry’ isn’t delivering the real depth of knowledge and perspective that people looking for travel inspiration really need. Sure, anyone who can write a bit can turn out a feature on the highlights of their trip to Seville or wherever, but even if you get say 10 different people writing stuff about the place, is that enough? And is it on context? And is it totally objective and trustworthy. I’d suggest the answer is no. And this is why this role of ‘expert’ has presumably been created.

2) There isn’t the slightest hint of what potential earnings could be. Just the statement that it’s a serious undertaking to be an expert and that 20,000 words or so is the likely requirement. I just think it’s ridiculous that there is an expectation that a pro travel-writer will write 20,000 words in the ‘hope’ that they might make some money out of it. Most freelancers are struggling to make ends meet as it is. Additionally, the site has been up and running a good while now. In fact it launched just over a year ago. At the outset I can accept that it’s impossible to know how a project like this will work, but not now, surely? They ought to have at least some idea of what people can earn from an average feature on there. Frankly this is just arrogant. I’ve also seen no promotion of Simonseeks at all anywhere so far. Where’s the support? Where’s the commitment to the writers? Where’s the drive to get more traffic to the site? Maybe there’s been some, but I’ve not seen it.

It just feels like the writer is expected to take a huge risk with no idea of the reward.

To put it another way. It feels like Simon has invested in the premises, kitted out the shop, got the staff in to stack the shelves... and then just asked anyone who fancies to dust off their second-hand stuff or knock something homemade up in the garage and bring that along to sell it in the hope that people might buy it.

I’ve responded to the Travmedia ad and offered to be the expert for Seville – as author of a guidebook to Seville I know the place very very well. I’ve asked for them to give me some idea of what I could expect to earn from writing them 20,000 words. So far I just got an automated response (not particularly impressive) thanking me for applying. If they can prove to me what the earnings could be and they want me... I’ll happily do it and blog about the experience too. And let’s remember here that About.com has been doing something very similar for several years now and they offer detailed explanations of earnings and support the writer with direct fees to begin with.

So... Is anyone earning anything decent from Simonseeks?

65 thoughts on “Would you write 20,000 words without knowing the pay?

  1. Great post, Jeremy. One that *had* to be written. I think all your assumptions are correct.

    I've written 25,000 word guidebooks for 15,000 euros, with 60% payment up front (like you have too, I'm sure), so the answer is no, I wouldn't write 20,000 words for nothing, no matter what the income is I might eventually get.

    It's extraordinary that they don't even hint about what the income is and on something like TravMedia writers should be expecting to read something about fees. Appalling.

    1. Great post, Jeremy - I'm with everybody here - but I had to pick up on what Lara said.

      Lara: not that I'm doubting, but have you really written guidebooks which pay 60 euro cents a word? (UK readers - that's 50p a word, at today's rates, or around 40p/word when the pound-euro exchange rate was way down.)

      Wow. Who pays that? I've worked for several guidebook companies, doing projects long and short, and I've never been paid more than half that. 50p/word is a top-end newspaper fee in Britain, even moving out of editorial rates and into PR copywriting rates.

      Sorry for going off-topic...

      1. Matthew, yep, written for lots of newspapers (UK and elsewhere) and mags too, of course, so, yes, know from experience what abysmal rates some of the papers pay, but not all guidebook publishers calculate fees on word rates.

        The publisher I'm referring to (and I'll tell you off-line as I'm sure there is probably some kind of law that prevents me from doing so publicly) based their fees on a combination of factors, including the estimated period it would take to write the book (the book I'm referring to was a 1st edition city guide and took eight weeks to research and write), and, if it was an update, what kind of shape it was in, when it was last updated, and how much work would be involved to update it.

        They also took into consideration how experienced the writers were. Terry and I had worked with that editor many times before, but interestingly another editor from the same company, based on a different continent, offered us about US$5000 less to do a 1st edition of a similar book in the same series. We'd never worked with her before - so to her we were "new" writers, despite having written or updated about 25 books for this company by then, and she also argued that the cost of living was lower in the destination where we were to research and write the book. In fact, it wasn't, and for various reasons it was going to be more challenging to do, so we had to make a case for the same fee as the earlier book which we did, and we got.

  2. I saw the post on Travelmedia and asked myself the same questions, Jeremy. I used to apply to these types of "job ads" just to find out what their rates were and what the workload was. I've stopped doing it, though, because the answer is always the same: some sort of variation on "This is a great opportunity for exposure," or "The potential to make money is fantastic," all the while offering a sum so meager I almost choke on it.

    I, too, love innovative thinking and new endevours, but not at the expense of the people providing the "meat" to the project (ie. writers). Above all, I just hate people wasting my time. I do look forward to reading about your experience, though!

    1. Lori, I generally find most of the 'ads' to be legit on Travmedia - good editors of magazines offering stories with fees most of the time - but I get these offers from online companies almost every single day. I used to respond with "what's the fee?", nothing more, and then when they responded again with the "exposure" crap, I'd simply forward my email signature with the long list of credits and the discussion would end there. I've had a few arguments, though, depending on my mood, but I just can't be bothered now. *Most* (not all) of these user-generated sites end up with appalling content that I doubt anyone really uses - I think it just looks like the content is getting 'used' because people are logging in to write their own garbage reviews.

  3. So how is a travel writer to earn a living? Here we have SimonSeeks full of Eastern promise. I think I remember reading when SimonSeeks launched that there are certain marketing fees/expenses fees deducted before writer get their 50% of revenue from leads.

    I read yesterday that Huffington Post want unique travel pieces and rights to your photos (but no press trips allowed) for no pay (but they presumably make plenty revenue from their site ads) just for the honour of being on their site and the hope of increased traffic to your own site/blog.

    Don't think it's any easier to make a living as a travel blogger, where your sole source of income is from ad revenue. I get at least one offer a day of "free" content from travel/PRs companies with links to their brand/clients (so they won't have to pay for advertising).

    Yes I also get offers of free press trips but then I give up a few days of my time to go on the trip and do the write ups with links to the brand/destinations. The schedule is so packed I don't have time to keep on top of my editorial duties.

    If you are a freelancer who sells stories to various publications on a press trip, you may earn some money. However if you're mainly writing for your own blog and you weigh up what it costs to host you on the press trip and the value of exposure and links that the brand/destination receives, spending this time on a press trip may not offer a good ROI for you.

  4. All very good points. I used to look at PeoplePerHour but got fed up with posts offering about £10 for jobs that would take at least half a day and required professional-level skills.

    I emailed them about it, telling them that in the long run this would damage their site's value, but heard nothing back.

    Controversial though it is, writing for peanuts did get me some exposure(and more work) when I first started, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

    It seems with SS the onus is all on the writer. The editor needn't spend time agonising over which content will be popular - because if it's not read, it's not paid for. And it's a third party which will pay anyway.

    But then isn't that what this sort of web model is about; setting up a site where effectively 'buyers' and 'sellers' trade (click-thru's being the commodity) and you skim off a commission for hosting them?

    Cue retirement to the Bahamas; logging-on once weekly to tweak said site.

    There are a few e-books knocking around detailing how you can do this. Though it has been suggested that books telling people how to create such sites actually make more money than a site would. Like the Gold/Silver Rush in California where the guys issuing the bonds and selling the shovels made more than the prospectors themselves.

  5. I think Simon Seeks has had a remarkably easy ride so far - partly due to the PR and marketing behind, and partly because many writers are so in need of new outlets that they're prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.

    In any other industry, a company that didn't tell you what the pay is - or even how the pay would be worked out - would be regarded as little more than a scam. If Simon Nixon started a clothing business based on people slogging their guts out for pathetic reward, would people go so easy on him?

    To me, if you're even considering whether Simon Seeks is worth working for, then this one page should tell you all you need to know:


  6. I was part of the launch team at Simon Seeks and got paid for the 15 guides I wrote (and my husband got paid for his images). I also won one of their writing cash prizes, so I initially did quite well. Since then, I've stopped supplying guides after they stopped paying writers to write them, and my revenue has been about £27. While it's useful for people to see some of my writing on the site, I now leave Simon Seeks to the "travel enthusiasts" who fill it with pieces that the small team hasn't got time to edit properly. The results are plain to see - if you can wade through the spelling and grammatical howlers. The web is full enough of them as it is.

    1. Hi Mary
      Thanks for giving us some real detail on the numbers here. It's really great the way people are prepared to share stuff like this. :-)
      Ultimately I just don't understand the smoke and mirrors in place here. Inevitably people can only assume that the model isn't really working and people aren't really making money. Your numbers certainly seem to suggest this is the case.

  7. I was approached before SS launched to provide articles. The concept had me feeling uneasy from the outset. I love the comment about making clothes above but I wonder whether we should be considering another question: do professional travel writers have a right to exist? Plenty of professions have come and gone and I am beginning to wonder whether travel writers are going the way of basket weavers and blacksmiths. Those that remain will generally be following that career out of love rather than because it makes financial sense.

  8. Nice idea, Mark - but basket-weaving and smithing only died because most people stopped wanting baskets and stopped using horses. By contrast, from the evidence of the web and the bookshops, more and more people want travel-writing - informational guides, personal accounts, what might be termed travel literature, the whole lot.

    It's just that suddenly everyone's decided they want their horse shod for free - or, rather, that they don't care whether a qualified experienced blacksmith shoes their horse, or just some bloke down the pub who says he could do a better job anyway than those ripoff fat-cat blacksmiths... Better, still, let's get Cliff Richard to do it...

    I was also approached by SS and said no. I do enough "money yesterday, money tomorrow" work as it is, writing paper guidebooks for a certain global travel publisher that rhymes with Tough Hides.

    1. Matthew, I totally forgot you worked for them... I only did one book for them, and contributed to another glossy inspirational type travel book (which was a nightmare as well but that's another story), and that publisher does in fact pay the lowest fees of all guidebook publishers. I only did the guidebook, knowing the lousy fee, because I had submitted an outline for another 1st edition book I really wanted to do for them (frustratingly, they had already given it to someone else without telling me!) and we really wanted to revisit these places and we had other magazine commissions we knew would make it worthwhile.

      It's funny, one of the magazine commissions paid twice as much as one of the chapters that took one month to research! I don't know how they calculate their fees, but they are indeed the lowest, and for that reason and a few other factors, I wouldn't work for them again.

  9. Out of sheer professional vanity, as I can't bear to be thought of as stupid or desperate... As one of the original team of nine simonseeks 'experts', I'd just like to make clear that we are getting paid proper market rates to produce this content. We all write regularly for national papers and magazines and have no need for 'exposure' or 'platforms'. We're all professional full-time travel writers who need to make a living and this is a nice chunky bit of work, thank you very much. But whether simonseeks will be offering the same deal to future 'experts', I can't say....

  10. This is a similar scheme as Suite 101, a site I recently 'applied' to for a travel writing position. They stipulate that you write minimum 10 articles every 3 months and earn money through their advertising. It just sounds so sketchy to me. Anyone here wrote for Suite 101 and made decent money?

  11. Okay, time to balance the scales a little in favour of SimonSeeks. I wasn't one of the lucky ones who got paid to write articles pre-launch. I started writing for SimonSeeks just over 12 months ago. I've written four guides in total and I've netted in excess of £75.
    Okay, it's not going to allay fears of poverty-stricken old age, but in my experience, that's better money than can be earned on most other revenue-sharing sites.

    There are a couple of points I would make.
    Firstly, if you don't want to write for SimonSeeks and feel that they're a rip-off, the simple answer is - don't write for them.
    Secondly, although there are lots of professional travel writers on SimonSeeks and many of them are familiar names from the pages of UK broadsheets and travel sites, it's nice for those of us who aren't 'in the club' to be able to get published on a high profile site.

    I agree that writing 20,000 words without knowing what the financial rewards will be is a risk. But if it's a risk you're not prepared to take, Jeremy, how come you applied to do it?

    One last comment before the barrage of rotten tomatoes begin...Re: David Whitley's link, I'm not sure I understand it. If I scroll that list of writers (unfortunately, being only ranked a lowly #57 I didn't persevere long enough to find myself) I see mainly travel writers and celebrities which looks pretty much like the travel supplements of most UK newspapers nowadays...am I missing something?

    1. Hi Andrea
      Thanks very much for your comment - great to hear the other side of the story. And thank you for being prepard to share this info. I completely agree that SS offers a great opportunity for people who aren't full-time travel writers to get published and paid... that's great.
      Couple of points in response:
      Sure, I won't write for them if I don't like the way they remunerate, absolutely, but my point was that they were using Travmedia and asking for 'expert writers'. In other words they are approaching pro-writers. Sticking out an ad like this without an indication of remuneration is just asking for trouble... particularly the way it was worded. Write 20,000 words in the 'hope' of significant earnings. Nuts.
      And... I offered to write for them in the hope that they would give me some more info about what I'd earn. I just pinged an email to see what came back saying I could be their Seville expert, but they'd need to explain more about the potential earnings before I'd even consider it. I was curious to see if they'd engage with me. I know they have paid some writers and I wanted to see if they'd offer me a deal or not.
      The context for the link from David is probably the sighs of despair I used to hear from a good friend who used to edit the travel section of the Daily Mail and would spend all week having to totally re-write the crxp that celebrities had submitted. I'm not for a moment saying Cliff Richard can't write... maybe he can... but the celeb travel writer thing is another subject that kind of hacks of pro travel writers a lot. Here's a post I wrote a while back on a similar theme:
      Thanks for commenting. Sorry that your comment got stuck in my spam filter for some reason... hence it took a while to go live as I had to approve it.

      1. Hands up. Ok, I admit it. I was the journalist that ghost-wrote Cliff Richard's piece on Barbados for Simonseeks. See, it wasn't him at all! And I got paid a reasonable amount for it. But that was in the pre-launch phase when they were paying. I've earned nothing for guides I have written since.

  12. Timely topic but perhaps SimonSeeks is just a higher profile example of what's become an ongoing pattern for online start-up sites that want the content immediately but have no capital to budget for it? Whether you choose to name names or not, most of us can think of other recent or current instances of having either first-hand encountered or heard of through colleagues about would-be site entrepreneurs who come into it from one of three basic budget circumstances: (a) they have just about enough budget to cover a team of writers for about a year; thereafter, when the site still isn't making sufficient income to pay out on a conventional basis, they fall back on some form of viewership or ad click model to determine what pittance you get paid. I've actually fallen into this trap in the past, the bait of course being the certainty of the monthly flat fee; the "switch" they perform at the end of the year period is baeed on the assumption that the writer will be too desperate to walk away. At that point also, there's lots of preaching about this being the "new model" for payment online and that it's incumbent on you to drive traffic to your pages via new media tactics. What they don't count on, is that many people will in fact walk away, take their content and their skills and use them in a better deal elsewhere. (b) People doing start-ups with lots of money to their name but wise enough to draw a time line on how far they'll extend their cost of starting up - meaning, they will either back out of the enterprise or revert to tactic (a) above. There's a reason why the rich stay rich in lean times, after all. (c) People with trulyno money to their name, who are just dreamers or financially incompetent beyond belief, and who actually believe a start-up can get its engines going by playing the shell game of relying solely on advertising revenue to immediately generate the income needed to pay the essentials they can't wiggle out of initially -- usually, website designers and site providers. Writers of any kind of course do not belong in the prior group - actually, they can be used as not only a cheap source of content but also relied on to provide other functions like advertising leads and deals. So really, perhaps SimonSeeks is attracting a lot of adverse heat, but compared to many instances out there that attract less ire they keep their noses relatively clean.

  13. I'm surprised no one has mentioned The Travel Editor (Jeremy, I believe you've also covered this one in earlier posts). It's another website that pays professional travel writers not by the word or even per booking but, in this case, per view. I admit it's controversial but I write for the Diaries page and am now one of the site's top ten most-viewed authors and have had nearly 60,000 page views in one year. I noticed that the guide view totals for Simon Seeks' top-ranked travel authors are nowhere near that total. My Travel Editor views earn me £15 to £20 per month. I hope that information is useful.

    I'm not going to pretend that this is an acceptable rate - it's not - but I don't write specifically for The Travel Editor. All of my articles have also been published elsewhere so money earned from The Travel Editor is beer money (I don't drink much). I decided to write for The Travel Editor to gain exposure and it has worked to some extent. I've proved that my SEO and social media techniques are effective and I was able to use my page as a portfolio to gain other freelance writing gigs. But, as Simon Cole said above, you have to draw the line somewhere.

    1. Hi Emma
      Yes, I did discuss the Travel Editor a bit in my previous post about Simonseeks. I was involved in TE from the outset actually, but there was a fallout between the launch editor whom I trusted and the entrpreneurs behind the project so I decided not to participate. (I also felt that just as for SS it simply would never offer high enough earnings to be worthwhile.) Very interesting to learn the views to earnings ratio. Thank you for sharing this info.
      I felt the guys at the TE were less web-savvy than those at SS too. The TE guys had little understanding of SEO in particular whereas the SS guys do (well, some anyway).
      To be fair to the TE set up, they did at least attempt to put some numbers into a projected earnings spreadsheet - forecasting an annual income in the 30k income for successful writers... BUT the numbers were ridiculous - page view assumptions were very very ambitious indeed (in the 100,000s).

  14. Great discussion, and interesting numbers.

    So Emma says The Travel Editor pays £20 a month (£240 a year) for her 60,000 page views.

    And Jeremy says initial forecasts claimed successful authors could earn as much as 30k (presumably, £30,000 a year).

    Which means that writer would need 7,500,000 page views a year.

    Ambitious? Yeah, you could say that.

  15. It's nice to finally see behind the curtain in terms of what some are earning there. There was a lot of talk about them last summer, but little since. I signed up and only submitted one guide last year. This netted me a grand total of £3.74 so far.

    I guess if you are re-purposing content there it's better than nothing but my exp of them was that they wanted their pound of flesh too. Rewrites and 'can you squeeze in another 3 hotels', that sort of thing. And they make their editors' notes publicly visible which just looks unprofessional to me.

    Another niggle is that I think their min payout is £50, so the likelihood is that most contributors will probably give up after a few guides and possibly never get to claim what little revenue they earn.

  16. Hi Jeremy, I have been a fan of your blog for a long time but found this post and subsequent comments especially fascinating. Thank you.

    I am an entrepreneur of sorts and have been developing a travel platform for a little over a year which is due to launch into a 'private beta' in the coming weeks. When Simon Seeks first entered the market, my co-founder and I were somewhat nervous, wondering if we should bother pursuing our development at all due to the reputation of their founder and the money in his pockets to attract credible travel writers. After further investigation of their business model and having read many of the guides over the last year, I can happily say that we now feel no threat at all (other than the vast amount of money the founder has to plough into marketing and SEO). Not only are some of the SS guides badly written in both grammatical and informational terms, their business model doesn't seem to offer any real incentive to producers of authentic, high quality content which is of value to the traveller.

    The platform we are developing is more of a self-publication model where the author can set their own price for a guide and will take 70% of each sale (initially we will offer 100% while we build momentum). We feel it is vital to be transparent about this from the start so that the author knows exactly what they will earn per guide and with a combination of our marketing efforts and utilisation of their own networks, believe they can make a very healthy number of sales to warrant the effort. We believe this gives more of an incentive to the author than the hope that somebody will click an ad or book a hotel as a result of reading their guides. (I am generally averse to clicking ads and always visit the hotel site directly to see what offers they have before booking).

    As someone who travels a great deal but sadly doesn't have the capacity to write professionally, I rely on finding great quality content on the web in advance of my trips from people who know the destinations well. I am so completely fed up of sites that buy in rubbish, ill-thought out content or 'mash up' everything they can find from other platforms to form some kind of hotchpotch 125 page guide which has absolutely no relevance to my preferences or the type of experience I want to have.

    I hope that when our platform launches it will offer something different and of value to both the traveller and travel writers. It's great to see there is so much support from professional writers towards new innovation and fresh thinking in the travel sector online, it is very encouraging indeed.

    This has been a really interesting post and it's great to hear the thoughts of the travel writing community on this subject. I hope my response hasn't come across as some kind of self promotion - nonetheless, any feedback is most welcome! ;)

  17. Jools, £3.47 for a year from SimonSeeks is pretty low and at these rates, if you don't submit any more material, and earnings remain constant, you can look forward to payment of £50 in £14 years time!

    Sarah, I am correct in thinking that you'll earn revenue from your new site soley by the sale of travel guides, of do you plan to have ads? So really authors don't know what they'll earn, as it depends on the number of book sales achieved. Is your business model different in any way to GuideGecko? Do you think that readers are willing to pay for travel information when so much, albeit it often shoddy, inaccruate etc., is available free online?

  18. @Karen Yes, this is very true! They really need to change their min payout or none eof their previous writers will bopther with them. An article of the same length (800-1000 words) would typically fetch what, £100-£250 in a mag or paper? But of course ss will argue that we should compare it instead to tripadvisor, virtual tourist and other review sites where punters get Bo Diddly for their contributions.

    They may want a few travel writers on board for credibility's sake but really their competition are the UGC sites. Interestingly they come up pretty high on a google search for travel reviews, second only to TA.
    But sadly this is the way that paid content is going, see this article from wired about content farms, scary stuff:


    1. Hi Jules. I read that Content Farms stuff with real horror. Awful. Meant to post about it, but didn't have time... If that's the way the web is going we are all doomed!
      Thanks for your comments!

    2. Jools - David/Matthew above can probably provide current UK newspaper rates, as I haven't been published in a UK paper for over a year and other writers have told me that they've dropped slightly, but I have been published more recently in US magazines where I can often earn much more than what you quote, anything from US$1-2 a word. The rates you quote a more akin to digital media rates and Asian publications.

  19. Hi Karen, yes i can see the comparison with GG and while there are some similarities, our platform serves a dual purpose firstly as a recommendation engine providing information on places to go that are structured specifically towards the type of experience a traveller wishes to achieve (eg, eco) and secondly as an open market for guide publication and sales. It is also solely focused on cities.

    A small percentage of our income will come from guide commission as it is important to us that the author has the lion's share, the rest from licensing deals of recommendation content within the wider travel industry. There will be some ads but we are working with specific partners who offer relevant services to our community rather than affiliate ads and click-throughs. We want to keep the platform as relevant to the user as possible. You are correct that an author can only know what they earn in terms of the number of guide sales, but at least they know the amount that each individual guide will bring and how many sales they need to make the effort worth while.

    I am certain there is a place for paid travel content if it means getting the right advice and information that will make the experience of a new destination more enjoyable and save time in the research phase. I for one am sick of wading through page upon page of inaccurate, shoddy material. If it saves me time to get the information I need from someone who knows what they are talking about, I will happily pay for it (and have done so with very pleasing results).

    1. Sarah,
      Apologies if I'm late to the party - would you mind mentioning your website (or if that's against the rules here, e-mailing me personally)? I could be considered an expert on Seoul and/or Korea, and would be interested in learning more...

  20. I thought it would be useful to clarify some of the areas which have been discussed in these posts regarding simonseeks. Hope this is helpful.

    The Simonseeks expert concept was announced back in April when we launched with a series of nine destination experts.

    Phase one of the site which launched last summer focused on travel inspiration, encouraging writers, both amateurs and professionals to share with the community their favourite places. This next phase really focuses on more detailed travel information, with our experts giving informed recommendations in areas such as hotels, restaurants and attractions in the most popular destinations, and being committed to keeping their information up to date so we can offer ‘real time’ travel guides.

    The writing community travel guides will continue to feature on the site and will co-exist with the destination experts and they will benefit from each other. We will cross promote relevant guides within each expert guide, and vice versa to offer users as much information as they need.

    For both our experts and writing community we have adopted the same revenue share model. We will go into more detail about this when we reply to each potential expert individually. I don’t think it is that uncommon not to have full details on initial job alert posts.

    The site continues to develop and the team are working hard on the functionality of the site to further optimise the monetisation opportunities so that everyone benefits. I hope you understand we can’t really go into the full details of our marketing plans but we do have a major advertising campaign planned later in the year so more on this later.

    Anyone with further questions then do get in contact with the team and they will go through this with you experts@Simonseeks.com.


    1. Well that clears everything up then...

      I appreciate that you've got a hospital pass of a job smearing lipstick all over this particular pig, but that does read remarkably like: "No-one's making any money, and we're desperately trying to hide it."

  21. Thanks Jeremy, love your blog and have been lurking here and on Alex Bainbridge's one for a while. (I know it's not cool to say so, but thought I would anyway.) It makes a refreshing change to all the many very American 'get rich travel blogging' sites out there. Very useful discussion this for all involved I'm sure.

    I might give ss another whirl anyway if they sort out the min payout and keep editor's comments private, not on the guides themselves. What do you think Fiona?

  22. Great discussion, but discussing cheap labour for travel writers is like talking about SEO agencies that offer £10 for permanent text link ads to bloggers and also want us to publish "unique content" for free, with SEO links within the content, on our blogs.

    While everyone is fighting for that cherry on the pie, someone will try and take advantage. Simples!

  23. Never write for a website if you don't know what you're going to be paid. About.com does pay contributors based on pageviews, but everyone has a monthly base that they start with. About also gets about 2,000 times the visitors Simonseeks gets. And that's the big problem with these shared-payment sites: Nobody visits 99% of them. Simonseeks and peers like Suite101 will likely never get the same level of traffic as established players. Even if they make a deal with the devil and get traffic it will be even longer before they can attract any decent non-Google AdSense sponsors, because few legit ad buyers want to be associated with un-reliable, free content.

    It makes me feel dirty to say this, but even content mills like Demand offer money for a freelancer's work (a measly $15 an article to start with). They also offer a share of ads on certain articles. Demand also has the benefit of harsh SEO rules for freelancers and a mastery of search analytics that Simon, et. al. can't begin to match.

  24. "It makes a refreshing change to all the many very American 'get rich travel blogging' sites out there.."

    Indeed it does, Jools, which is why I find it ironic that anyone goes so far as to single out a British site as one that is "putting lipstick on a pig" when so many on this other side of the pond are indeed into get-rich-quick-scheming under the guise of running your own website that's heavily trafficked not by SEO optimization but the even murkier proposition of belonging to their little "community", or participating in events like TBEX where the mantra was that it's this particular model of community-intense self-blogging which is the only one that can be pursued in future media. There's an old American tradition of snake oil salesmen emerging to sell a bill of goods to a desperate world in bad times, and that's what's happening in the U.S. yet again.

    1. Hal, yes the snake oil salesmen, or as I like to say, sell the shovels, don't dig for gold.

      The old mantra that content is king is not quite true when you're up against the SEO skills of the big boys in travel.

  25. That's the thing, we're less used to it here in the UK. I've never met anyone in real life here who's even heard of ehow, hubpages and all the other ones. You only have to pop over to something like the absolutewrite forum to see how many folk are scrabbling about there trying these sites without much joy. With ss I think their celebrity pr guff didn't help them.

    There is an interesting paid travel blogging opp on the problogger forum though, they're promoting it virally. See the penultimate post on my blog about it, if that's not too spammy a thing to say here! :-)

  26. @jools - I'd gladly look in, but when I googled it comes up as a paid membership site (www.problogger.com). The other one that claims to be "free" (www.probloggerforum.net) then tells you that "registration is disabled" when you click to register for free). Odd.

    @Karen - I know what you mean about the shovels and the gold. Issues about SEO aside, I wouldn't mind content being king if it wasn't so much also a case of people having no inkling about quality of content and in fact not even slightly caring. When all things are equal, then literally crap is as good as gold in their world.

    1. I had a look at Flightster and was appalled, not only do you have to link to their blog to apply for the job, you have to tweet about them, become a Facebook fan and subscribe to their blog.

      No wonder they are paying an appealing rate to applicants, because for the SEO benefit they'll receive from the flood of applications, it's a very shrewd investment.

      The cherry on the top is that when you leave a comment on their blog, you don't even get a link back to yours site.

      OMG what you have to do to earn a crust as a travel writer/blogger. Give free exposure for a crack at a writing gig, wait 14 years to be paid by SimonSeeks, if you earn £4 a year (as Jools said he has) and the payment threshold is £50.

  27. I dunno Karen, nothing wrong with a bit of canny viral mktng, we all do it in one way or another surely. Reminds me of that job 'caretaking' an Aussie island, they got great publicity out of that, all free. But then again maybe I've been working in mktng too long!

  28. @Karen - I know what you're saying there, but if you put it in a wider context of what's out there then you'll see that Flightster is actually not as bad as sites that are clearly either not monetized sufficiently to be able to pay out a flat contribution rate or not monetized at all. In any case, many want you to do all the types of things that Flightster requires plus even more busy stuff that really brings a new meaning to the phrase "content mill". I'm thinking of one I was enslaved at myself last year called Planeteyetraveler that had no money after a year online but then acquired an editorial director who made the content camp feel like a concentration camp: daily emails demanding we must do reddit, stumbledupon, friendster, and whatever else she'd just heard about. I won't get into personalities, but why was I not surprised to learn she's also a devoted Teabexer? - that stood to reason given her attitude. And to put the cherry on that one, they kept on and on changing the terms of participation, changing and breaking their own contract. The only thing that didn't change was the fact that you weren't going to ever again be paid a flat monthly contributor rate.

  29. Perhaps 'we' are the answer. Our only hope is that by taking ourselves seriously and separating ourselves from UGC, it will be our skills that set the standard.

    Perhaps an established copywriting qualification could help? It would need to integrate teachings found in NCTJ quals or similar. Now I'm sure the established, ex-journos (who still set the standard online) will baulk at having to sit it - so perhaps they should be exempt?

    What it might achieve, perhaps backed up by an industry body (unfunded, where we all offer a little of our time) is a benchmark.

    It will also recognise that great content can be sourced from social media and perhaps attract business, for which we set the rate.

    I'm suggesting this here as we are all increasingly aware of the problem; so, is it not time to look for the solution?

    Let's face it, we don't aspire to write for aggregated/ UGC sites, so all we need do is demonstrate our quality and differentiate - hence the qualification/ industry body thought.

  30. Hi Jeremy. Really good to see this article, and the ensuing debate. It is extremely timely for all travel-writing pros and puts a lot of valid questions (and some potential answers) out there, not just on SS but on a variety of online sources, which do seem to think that travel-writing is on a par with road-sweeping in terms of profession:pay ratio (in fact, we'd probably get more sweeping the streets these days!). Increasingly, Susan and I are of the opinion there is absolutely nothing to be gained in terms of short-term revenue from these sites (and, without short-term income, there is no long-term job), hence we need to be more creative in how we find decent paying work.

    There ARE opportunities out there of the paid blogging/tweeting/content-providing variety but they aren't to be found in any obvious way or through marketing shout-outs on Travmedia and the like.

    Look at your specialities; look at who is providing them online; then look to convince the provider that you can do it better/smarter/more accurately (as many sites are often done in-house by over-worked non-specialists). That way the real pros will continue to thrive and Joe Public will get the best info they can get (unlike some of the examples pointed out above!).

  31. Hi Simon
    I pretty much agree completely with you. Both I and David Whitley have explored the idea of writing directly for travel cos which is kind of where you're going with the idea of looking to your specialities and offering to do stuff for providers. Couple of posts in particular - me describing the concept:
    David discussing the realities and challenges of doing it:

    1. Jeremy - as you know, my husband Terence and I were contracted directly by a travel co., HomeAway Holiday-Rentals (AKA HomeAwayUK) for one year for a special project we called Grantourismo! http://grantourismotravels.com/ to create evocative content for travellers to inspire them to choose a holiday rental over a hotel, local travel over ticking off tourist sights, experiential travel over sightseeing, and to generally travel more sustainably.

      We were fortunate in that we discovered (through TravMedia if I recall correctly) that HomeAwayUK wanted to embark on a project similar to one we'd been developing for a while, so we had similar goals and were able to work together. We're six months through and we're starting to reflect on the project over at the site. See this post for starters http://grantourismotravels.com/2010/07/23/reflections-from-6-months-on-the-road-grand-tour-travel-tips/

      I think your readers might find it an interesting case study: we asked for a monthly fee based on industry word rates; our accommodation, communication and some other expenses are covered; we have complete editorial control; and while we're sharing content and some rights, we ultimately maintain ownership over our content, something we could rarely say about 90% of our writing for other publishers, print and digital.

      We agree with you and David that this is definitely a model that's worth greater exploration by writers and travel companies.

  32. This is a great post and a remarkable thread of comments. I see it from both sides. SimonSeeks, being a business located very close (geographically) to me, did inspire my imagination and, to some degree, enthusiasm – until I was knocked back due to the “quality” of my – erm – “work”. Ouch!

    Anyway, the reason for my interest at the time was the financial model that SimonSeeks was using. I fly my own flag here in declaring my now proven suspicion of their rather ambitious claims that anyone (other than themselves – of course) would ever make a genuine return from a shared-revenue model like theirs. Black & white it sounded viable, reasonable, professional and achievable but in the real World there are parameters and influences completely out of the control of not only the contributor, but also the business itself.

    My opinion is that whatever happens, SimonSeeks ends up the ultimate beneficiary with the press, PR, recognition, brand, gossip, etc. (and long chats on forums all about them by a group of intelligent, professional people!)

    Now, onto my feelings on the “exploitation” of the contributors. Well, hard as this may sound, I don’t actually think SimonSeeks set out to mislead or exploit anyone at all. I think their intentions (at the time) were honourable. However, as in all business, when the pressure is applied at the top, those at the bottom feel the full force! It has become more a survival mission than an evolving, growing, sustainable business. New mechanisms need to be investigated. New revenue streams sought. The problem is, rather than doing this in a conventional board room with a factory outside full of overhead-burning employees, they can do it using the workforce they have – many hopeful, enthusiastic and talented writers! This often leads to what can be perceived as exploitation of the workforce – in other words, as they have no cost, they are expendable.

    Two years ago I was fortunate enough to fall on my feet one evening during a networking event. It was a moment that probably will only happen once in my lifetime but two high net-worth individuals with high public profile lives came together completely by accident whilst simultaneously over-hearing a dream I was about to embark on. They invested in time, cash, commitment and resources that fairy tales are made of and I’m currently enjoying the roll out of a potentially global business that affiliates tourism attractions and destinations together. Why tell you this? Well, it all happened at the same time SimonSeeks launched and I decided, as a contingency, not to let my original skill and passion for travel subside – so I set up a travel website called The Dinky Guide ( http://www.dinkyguide.com ) under a simple business model of “faith, trust and belief”.

    Unlike Simon Seeks, I never wanted to commercialise this with shared profits or revenues, BUT, like SimonSeeks, I wasn’t in a position to truly realise the potential and, therefore, the returns. I decided to go about it differently – some would call it arrogant, others silly and occasionally, even stupid – but never-the-less, I jumped feet first into a model that relied on a low overhead, “test the market” basis. This removed the conventional pressures of business and allowed me to experiment properly with a formula that I had yet to find – the “golden formula”! For any business to succeed, and, more importantly, sustain success it needs not only market-lead advantage but also a unique selling point. My network allowed me to procure qualified, accredited writers (now known as the Dinky Family) and that gave a USP immediately. I was able to build a travel site with credentials and strong I.T. foundation (using my new-found seemingly unlimited pit of resources). The task now was bringing it together in an environment of honesty and integrity to allow the "golden formula" to be sought.

    We are all aware that times are hard – and probably harder for the travel writing industry than most. But clinging on to the past in the hope that good times will return is useless. I absolutely applaud those entrepreneurs who tried SimonSeeks (and similar) because it is those pioneers that will succeed - eventually. If you don’t take risk, you will not reap reward. Taking risk means trying things, and often falling down 1,000 times before success is found. SimonSeeks could have worked, and those who took a punt could have been laughing their way to the beach in their Porsches now – but it didn’t. So now we know.

    Conclusion: http://www.dinkyguide.com is currently receiving what I believe is an unrivalled respect by the CONSUMER (let’s not forget them in all this!) for not filling the real estate space with adverts and providing strong, well-written copy. I am currently in negotiation with a number of initiatives that may well provide un-paralleled revenues that the Dinky Family have invested their time in. Those that currently write for the site are those that have grabbed the moment and have pledged their trust and belief that perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll deliver success.

    1. Hi Peter
      Thanks for your comment. I'm totally confused by it. What is your point? It seems to me that you're saying you got a bunch of writers to write for you completely for free on the off chance you might manage to find a pot of gold at the end of some far off rainbow. There's nothing technically remarkable about your site as far as I can tell. I don't see it. It's built using a free WordPress theme. A couple of hours to set up. So where's the amazing business with the unique USP?? I'd say that for the writer this is worse even than Simonseeks who at least attempted to offer a formula for payment. As you say, I don't think they set out to con writers in any way. I am sure they believed (and still do believe) in the financial model they are pursuing. Your 'perhaps just perhaps' final sentence sounds exactly the same as Simonseeks' sentence that they 'hope that it will generate significant income' in the writer release I quote in my original post.
      Of did I miss something? Do please clarify

  33. @Simon Veness - yes, that's absolutely true about the productive market gravitating towards content for sites being presently maintained by overworked non-specialists. The challenge becomes finding the needle in the haystack as it were, unless you come up with an effective strategy for finding and marketing yourself to the types of decision-makers that are now the people to reach for striking such deals.

    Could it be that WTM or other travel industry events can become a more useful real forum for writers in this type of quest? Would love that if Jeremy did a blog sometime about that, sort of "why writers nowadays need to budget more for travel trade events and other related conferences rather than just writer's conferences"!

  34. Apart from anything else, Simonseeks.com is a mega crap name.

    Promotion might have got over this stumbling block, but apart from a couple of press articles at the beginning, I've not seen much on the company, the concept or the website.

  35. Jeremy I too read Peter's comment, with a quick look at the site and was left wondering what was this mythical USP? As it was quite late at night, I thought I probably wasn't very receptive but it looks as though we both missed it?

  36. Jeremy, Karen, Alas, I'm afraid all I can really say is if my post failed to spark some imagination...if the 4th cylinder didn't quite burn...if the 3rd cherry didn't roll in , then your valuable time is probably better spent blogging about, dissecting and interrogating opportunity rather than getting on with carving out a future. Not meant as an insult – just a piece of observation. Good luck.

  37. Hi Peter.
    No insult taken. I haven't a clue what you're talking about. But I hope that future you're carving out for yourself brings you all you hoped for.
    Best wishes and thanks for commenting

  38. Hi Jeremy,

    I enjoyed reading this post and the resulting debate - it's good to hear things from a travel professional's point of view.

    I am one of the "travel enthusiasts" who contribute to SimonSeeks and have been involved since June 2009, so can give you and your readers some perspective from the other side.

    - Last month I was paid £29 for my 16 stories.
    - The pay is improving month by month, although it's not going to pay the mortgage just yet.
    - Writers have been encouraged to promote our own guides using twitter etc.
    - The criteria have changed since the site started - now, to get a good rating, and to get as many views as possible, writers are asked to write 'guides' that are useful, with plenty of tips, rather than 'stories' that may be entertaining but are not too useful.
    - There is no minimum withdrawal limit (someone mentioned £50) - a good job, as I wouldn't have been able to withdraw my £1.84 payment in the first month!

    It would be good to see some more guides from you lot on SimonSeeks, so why not give it another chance?


    1. Hi Richard
      Thanks very much for sharing this information with us. I really appreciate it. Very interesting. As you say, not a mortgage payer, but I guess if you had 160 stories on there and were making £290 a month that would begin to look interesting - and I guess that's totally feasible.

  39. knocking SS is fine. it's like the chelsea of the web, all that money, all that talent but lacking heart. they bought in nick trend and fred mawr, two of the best consumer travel people out there, but that boring front page is the worst on any travel site. and cliff richard? of all the celebs you could use...

    anyway, i thought i'd tell you about those SS expert destination guides you applied for. they offered me one and the money was about standard for guidebook work. okay dosh if you're really struggling, not so good if you've got a lot of good work on, as i have right now.

    and the other strand of this, is about being paid on the basis of hits. lots of sites pay on hits and i like that model if its genuine and generous. it focusses your writing on what people what to read. sadly, long colour pieces about a walk through the faroe isles are not going to make millions, ten top beaches in devon just might pay the mortgage.

    after sticking on everything i could find, write, regurgitate and chop up, i now get a decent monthly sum from thetraveleditor.com purely on the basis of pay for hits. i can't say exactly as there are lots of other writers on there who may not make the same or who may make more. but it's unlike any of the figures mentioned on here so far - it does pay the mortgage. i've had more than 600,000 hits on TTE. my pieces on simonseeks and travelintelligence don't get as many.

    and what i like about thetraveleditor.com is all the things i don't like about SS: it's a crazy, chaotic, madhouse of writers' opinions, put together by two nice blokes with no staff or offices in their spare time who think the whole thing is a great laugh. their SEO is, by the way, the best in the business - top of google page one most times.

    so i say don't knock simonseeks for the payment model. it can work and they are paying experts standard money. knock it instead for not being good enough.

    i'm sure there will one day be a site that IS blooming brilliant, makes money and pays well but i suspect it will be a niche travel site not a huge travel database.

    good blogging as usual though. keep it up!

  40. Hi Simon.
    Thanks for your comment. Very interested in your opinions re TTE. I was there at the outset and decided I didn't trust them after they dumped Jane Proctor the launch editor without so much as a by-your-leave. (Having said that, she has a reputation for being difficult to work with... so who knows.) At the time, I felt they hadn't a clue about SEO and that also put me off. So... go on... What are you making? It would be great if you could at least give us a ballpark number. Are you making hundreds a month rather than tens? I admire you for having the faith and the perseverence to get that level of content loaded up there. I'm just too lazy - if I don't know there's payback for sure I just won't do things at the moment.
    I totally agree. SS ought to be much better. But I bet it's all rather political internally. Shame. I bet Simon is trying to stick his nose in when he should just let Nick et al get on with it. The name of the site kind of suggests it's a bit of a pet project. But who knows...

    1. i can't really go into that jane proctor thing here but let me just say i know and like the guys who run it and they've been really straight with me from the start.
      but equally i know and like nick and fred at simonseeks. i suppose it's just that i feel more useful and welcome at TTE while at SS you are just another name among all those amateurs.
      sorry, i can't say what i'm making at TTE but i do have more articles on there than anyone else, writing as myself and 'the kitmaster' reviewing travel gear. it's a three-figure sum monthly, every month for as far into the future as i can see - even if i never write for them again. why don't people like that model? it could be my pension.

      as for politics at SS. there's stuff going on clearly. simon's brother chris who was actually running it has just walked away this month. i daren't ask nick or fred and they wouldn't tell me anyway. my suspicion is that the income isn't what they'd hoped for and this expert thing is the last big push. if that flops who knows?

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