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 email@example.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?