Here's the second of two guest posts from Mike Gerrard about making money from travel websites. Make sure you check out his first post about making money with Adsense too if you haven't already.

I added an ebook hotel guide to our Pacific Coast Highway site in March 2010, as an experiment, and it sold just under 1000 copies in its first year. No ‘real’ publisher could afford to put something that only sold 1000 copies, but if your website has built up decent traffic, you can do it. The ebook was only short and sold for $4.99, but almost all of that income comes directly to you. Not long after I did the ebook, Amazon launched CreateSpace in the USA, which allows you to publish your own printed books using Print on Demand. They then allowed you to upload your own books to the Kindle, and other publishers followed suit. So the experimental little ebook went onto Kindle, into print, onto the Nook, into the Apple Store, and sells several copies a day from those various sources, on top of the ebook sales direct from our website. I recently updated and expanded it for a 2011 edition, which is already selling better than the 2010 edition.

So even if someone has never heard of or visited our website, but goes to Amazon and searches for something about the Pacific Coast Highway, they’ll find our book alongside Lonely Planet and the rest.

Affiliate Income
Affiliate income is where your website receives a commission for income generated by a click on your site. The amounts paid vary enormously, but they can generate another healthy income stream. The way they work is simple. You apply to join an affiliate scheme, such as Amazon, and then the link you put into the page which takes the visitor to Amazon also includes your personal affiliate code. This ensures that if the visitor then buys the book, you get a percentage. A book may not earn you much, but if someone books a round-the-world flight or an expensive hotel room for two weeks in New York, it is money well worth having. There are many companies operating affiliate schemes, which enable you to put ads or links on your site from numerous big names like BA, Air France, Expedia, or TripAdvisor.

For me, affiliate income doesn’t work yet. The perceived wisdom is that you need to have something in the region of 100,000 PVs a month before you notice anything significant, and we’re not quite there yet. I do have some affiliate accounts but the income has been minimal. However, other people do report success on much fewer PVs than that. One colleague recently made £350 from one affiliate flight sale, and David Whitley, who publishes both www.AustraliaFlightBargains.com and www.Bestflightsales.com, does make money this way.

Book Reviews
When I first added some book reviews with an affiliate link to the book’s Amazon page, I earned nothing for months. I almost gave up bothering. But eventually the income did start to come in, and almost every day now I earn a little something from Amazon. What’s important is that you get a commission on everything that someone buys in the Amazon session generated by the click from your site. So if they decide to buy a netbook and a netbook case for their trip, along with a guidebook, then you get a commission on everything. And that did happen to us recently. I’ve also earned commissions because people have bought things like cat litter, Yorkshire Gold Tea, 365 Sex Positions, a box of 100 screws (not connected with the previous purchase), The Modern New Testament, Michael Jackson CDs and re-usable ice cubes. Unfortunately you don’t know who bought what, so there’s no chance to add another income stream - blackmail.

I don’t chase adverts for our websites, but that’s because it’s not something I want - or have time - to do. But it is another way to bring in income. Elsewhere on Travelblather Chris Caplow, who publishes www.andalucia.com, says that private advertising sales are far more valuable to him than AdSense. Even so, I was approached by a whale-watching company who wanted to advertise on the PCH site, so while it only amounts to $400 a year, that’s not bad for something that only took me about 30 minutes to implement.

So there you have just some of the ways you can make money from a travel content website. I haven’t even touched on some of the other important factors for me. One is the independence it gives you from editors and publishers. I haven’t pitched a story idea to a newspaper or magazine for ages - at least a year, probably longer. Another is that the whole adventure is great fun. I love building website pages, writing my own stories, and watching the income grow. Not long ago Tom Brosnahan told me that he was now a very happy man, as he got to do the two things he enjoyed most in life, alongside travelling - building websites and spending time with his family.

What’s not to like?

Mike Gerrard has written guidebooks for publishers including National Geographic, the AA, Dorling Kindersley, Michelin, Insight and Thomas Cook. His print work has appeared in the Times, The Express, Wanderlust, Men’s Health. a collection of his travel writing, Snakes Alive, was recently published by Blue Sky Books (i.e. himself).

7 thoughts on “How to make money from travel content on-line

  1. Mike highlights a really fundamental message for traditional and new, journalist & bloggers.

    With the old media gatekeepers struggling to earn any kind of a profit and unable or very unwilling to pay old style commissions any more, freelance journalists and bloggers are turning to self-publishing online... but usually they do it as a 'marketing exercise' - still hoping it will generate commissions.

    Those who take self-publishing seriously (listen to blogger Keith Jenkins talk about researching his audience and putting a proper value on his website's 'real estate' http://bit.ly/jjEx3Q ) are beginning to find that their own "small" websites are worth an awful lot more than they realised. Especially if they focus on a niche and develop themselves as a 'centre of authority'.

    Mike has spent a lot of time trying to get that message across to colleagues (his & mine... and Jeremy's until recently! Come back!) in the British Guild of Travel Writers (BGTW.org).

    I'm pleased to see him spreading the message here.

  2. I have made a bit of money from my blogs but there is still so much more I can do. Perhaps the greatest thing is that my blog has been responsible for my last two freelancing jobs so I still count that as income from my blog.

  3. Hi Mike
    Thanks again for sharing so much useful information!
    I'm curious about the eBook. How did you go about creating it? I had a look at the cover on Amazon and it looked pretty good. Was it easy to do? I like the way you seem to have incorporated Google maps in there too.
    I am on the verge of publishing an iPhone app and I'm struck by the potential of reworking that content and creating an eBook. For the app I keep 30% but I'm guessing if I was selling an eBook instead I'd keep far more too!

    1. Thanks, Jeremy. Sorry for the delayed reply. After you told me the post had gone live, I forgot to subscribe to the comments. I thought it was quiet.

      The ebook is just a Word doc saved as a PDF, and sold through a service called e-Junkie. You upload the PDF to them, they give you the links and little 'add to cart' graphics, and process all the payments. For this they charge the outrageous sum of $5 a month.

      One irritation is that they pay you through PayPal, and PayPal take about 10% of each payment. But it still means we get just over $6 for each book sold direct from the website, and it's selling 1-2 per day.

      Interestingly, the slightly more expensive print version, sold on Amazon, is selling twice as many even though it lacks the colour photos and maps. For those, done through CreateSpace, we get just under $3 per book. It also sells roughly one a day on the Kindle. Again, small numbers, but if you multiply small numbers by 365 it adds up to money worth having.

      I did the cover using Amazon's CreateSpace cover creator. I think you can still only use CreateSpace in the US, but that's the advantage of living in two countries, as we do. I then borrowed just the front cover and used it for the ebook. That was easy to do - the only time-consuming thing was finding the right photo out of the thousands my wife's got of the Pacific Coast, and experimenting with font options and colours and layout, till we were both Reasonably happy.

      We only did it as an experiment, but it has definitely been worth doing. I figured in the first year that it was like commissioning myself to write 14,000 words at £100 per thousand. I spent maybe two weeks updating and expanding it at the start of this year, and the pay rate is now more like £200 per thousand words. We desperately want to do another one, we have the idea and we're sure it will sell, but finding the time has been the problem. At the moment I'm turning the hotel guide into an app.

  4. Thanks for the plug Mike :)

    I do make a bit from Affiliate ads, yes, but it's very sporadic for the most part. The nature of my sites means that when someone does buy something after clicking through an affiliate, it's quite a decent chunk at once - even 1% or 2% is nice to have when it's a £1,000 flight. However, some affiliates (such as Cheapflights and Skyscanner) pay by the lead (ie. when you click through to their site, then through to another which is paying them), and they can bring in a steadier stream, even though you're looking at peanuts for each lead. Get enough peanuts, and you've got a Snickers bar...

    1. "Get enough peanuts, and you've got a Snickers bar..."

      I like it. I'm the same with hotel affiliate income, which I've only recently built up enough traffic to get into. For the last few months I've been trying booking.com, who do give a percentage of any bookings - but there my earnings still stand at £0.00.

      A few days ago I switched the links to TripAdvisor, who instead pay per click, and it's quickly gone from $1 to $2 to $3 a day. But $3 a day is $1000 a year, which will be welcome. And we still don't have many hotel links on the PCH site at all.

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