Adapt or die – the choice for guidebook writers?

How should guidebook writers deal with the impact of the web on travel writing?

The future of the guidebook – a series of guest posts by Mark Henshall

This is the fourth in a series of five guest posts – today answering the question:

How does the changing guidebook marketplace affect guidebook writers and how do they need to adapt?

The different ways in which a writer can now get their work read have never been greater. There’s opportunity now to experiment with different products/formats as never before. As traditional media (e.g. print newspaper travel sections) suffer with a decline in advertising and the move to digital quickens, other avenues spring up. These are not obviously always easy to monetise, but for those prepared to work hard it’s a pioneering time in travel publishing.

The move to digital means guidebook content can be updated more frequently and a good travel publisher will seek out the top writers to help achieve this. I think the old mould of one writer going to numerous countries and reporting back has now been broken and the overall trend is towards more local writers. However, it’s still about getting the best writer for the job. A local writer has the advantage of economy of travel and local insights, but a good writer coming into town always has a fresh set of eyes, too: both scenarios I believe can work.

The business is evolving rapidly, so if we’re talking about new writers entering travel writing, they need to be adaptable and get the basics right. In print or digital, editorial rigour is vital. You need to be able to write for different platforms to make it work. But, of course, there’s opportunity there to go it alone, experiment and endeavour as the guidebook concept evolves, innovate as travellers demand information in new ways, figure out different partnerships, and find a path that works for you. I see multiple models of working, including writers self-publishing and getting picked up by traditional publishing houses.

Any publisher working in travel will be looking to develop new skills in people passionate about writing and travel, but dedicated in the digital arena. Being digitally aware, competent and having some affinity for it is certainly crucial in the next wave of publishing. Being technically savvy will give you a head-start, but as long as you’re willing to learn, good writing will be the foundation on which to develop I’d hope.

As the migration to digital rapidly increases I still see Publishers as very much a part of the picture. There will be an increase in self-publishing, smaller publishers entering the market and non-publishing outfits emerging as covered in my other posts, but I think the partnership between a Publisher and author can still produce something of high-quality and is worth pursuing. Both Ian Rankin and Anthony Horowitz have commented on this recently. Publishers willing to adapt rapidly and seek new spaces to develop travel content can still form innovative partnerships with good writers.

I back writers as well. I back good writers to be imaginative, innovative entrepreneurs and force change themselves - as has always been the case. Just as Publishing is evolving, content is transforming, and Publishers need to evolve and experiment, freelance writers acting as small businesses will make it happen by asking why? Why can’t I write in this particular way? Partner in that way or forge a new and unique relationship like this? They will question and find unique ways of approaching travel.

Demand for content won’t just come from Publishers, of course. Various other media/companies (e.g. SMEs) and sources will look to distinguish themselves, and writers will be able to meet this need with engaging, creative and inspiring content from words online to video on a tablet. A few of the people who have commented on these posts have already worked on these kind of innovative projects such as the Grantourismo/HomeAway Holiday-Rentals collaboration and Round the World Flights blog content.

Again, I’d reiterate, it’s not one standard business model, cookie-cutter future we’re looking at, but something much more varied and stimulating.

Image: laverrue

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