by Durant Imboden, Europe for Visitors
And not only the Timeses: The Chronicles, Tribunes, Presses, Heralds, and Travel Holidays are changing or disappearing, too.
Fact is, the classic freelance model of "I submit article, editor sends money" is becoming less sustainable in today's publishing environment. Traditional print markets are shrinking, and for a variety of reasons (some legitimate), online markets typically pay less for articles than magazines and Sunday newspapers do or did.
Similarly, guidebook publishers are struggling to preserve their traditional print franchises while searching for new revenues online--and when publishers feel pinched, writers get squeezed.
Bad news for freelancers? Of course. But there's an upside, too: As long ago as 2004, the U.S. Travel Association reported that two-thirds of all American travelers were online, with some 63.8 million U.S. travelers using the Internet to plan trips. A recent article on the European Travel Commission's NewMedia TrendWatch site stated:
"Most people begin the holiday research process by searching for destination guides (typically through Google). Often, these in-depth guides either don't exist, or consumers don't realise that they exist, on major travel booking sites. By not offering this extra level of information, travel sites risk people leaving and finding this information elsewhere."
That's where we, as professional travel writers, come in: We can be that "elsewhere" by leveraging our expertise to create best-of-breed travel-planning sites about specific destinations or travel experiences. Because we're travel journalists, as opposed to travel marketers or publicists, we can approach our topic--whether it's New York, Newcastle, or New Age karma camps--from a traveler's perspective.Just as important, the Web makes it possible for any writer (or at least any writer with editorial and publishing skills) to profit from being a writer and a publisher. On the Web, production costs are minimal, distribution is free, and monthly operating costs--a.k.a. Web hosting--can be less than you'd pay for dinner for two at a chain restaurant.
What's more, if you focus on "evergreen" travel-planning content, your backlist of existing content will earn money day after day, week after week, year after year with occasional updating--and each new page will be an additional source of revenue (unlike freelance assignments, which typically replace the one-time fees that you earned last week, last month, or the month before).
- There are no guarantees of success. Just because you've written for newspapers or magazines doesn't mean you're ready to be an editor and publisher. There's also more competition than there was 15 years ago when I created my first travel site, or nearly 10 years ago when my wife and I launched our current family of sites at Europeforvisitors.com.
- Even if you do succeed, you won't get rich overnight. Depending on how much time you can invest, it may take two years or longer to build a site that generates significant income. Web publishing--like book authorship--is more like running a marathon than sprinting: It's an occupation for writers who have patience, stamina, and long attention spans.
On the brighter side:
- The publishing landscape isn't static--in print or on the Web. Whenever the owner of an existing site dies, retires, sells out to a competitor, or loses interest in updating the site's content, there's an opportunity for a new Web publisher to step in and attract an audience.
As the Timeses and Tribunes change, are you ready to change? If so, you could find yourself earning more money and enjoying more editorial freedom than you ever did as a freelancer. Or your efforts could fail miserably--just as an effort to write and sell a book or break into new freelance markets could be a flop.
In my experience, the rewards of self-publishing a travel-planning site outweigh the risks, but--to internationalize a popular expression--your mileage or km/L may vary.
Next article: "Pick the right travel topic"