Gary is currently in , Washington (Aug 19th, 2014)
 

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2010 State of the Travel Blogosphere

NOTE: I don’t usually dive into issues of blogging, but occasionally I do. This is pretty inside baseball sort of stuff, so if it doesn’t interest you, feel free to skip it.

Overview

We are in the second inning of a nine inning game in the creation of a new form of travel media. If anyone, myself included, thinks they know how this is all going to end up, they are lying. (not that it will stop me from offering my opinion)

Old institutions are falling apart faster than new institutions are being created. Ask 10 different bloggers how they are trying to make money and you will get 10 different answers.

Freelance writers and seasoned pros are trying to figure out social media and what it is good for, while at the same time new travel blogs are sprouting every day, all trying to vie for limited attention.

Laste year at TBEX I expected about 20 people to show up. 120 actually did. This year the size of the conference tripled and next year it will probably double in size again.

We are in the early phase of a transition period in travel media which is going to probably last the better part of this decade.

Bloggers

Back in the olden days of ought seven, I was able to know many of the travel bloggers on a personal level. There just weren’t that many people. During the last 18 months or so, the number of travel related blogs and sites has exploded. Along with that has come the requisite lists of top blogs, awards and other crap that can be expected in any big niche.

As niches go, travel is pretty small. If you look at some of the monster blogs out there, they tend to be in areas that generate lots of news and discussion: politics, gossip, technology, sports, etc. There isn’t a lot of news in the world of travel. People tend to seek out travel information on an as needed basis, rather than follow blogs passionately like they do in other niches.

That being said, I’m seeing travel blogs hit traffic levels which took me a two years to achieve in less than half that time.

The weird thing is that the travel industry is enormous compared to the industries of the niches I listed above. From a monetization standpoint, the long term potential I think is huge.

How blogs will get monetized is still up in the air. I don’t think there ever will be a single, set way to make money online. Already you see people selling ads, leading tours, selling ebooks, selling photos, offering consulting services, selling real books, and probably things I don’t even know about. My guess, and this is only a guess, is that you’ll see a spectrum of different business models which people will pick and choose from, and use what works best for them.

In the meantime, I see some bloggers who are so desperate to make anything, they do foolish things which hurt them in the long run. They will get worked up over someone selling them $20 for a link, forgetting that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I don’t know what the world will look like in 5 or 10 years, but I do know that building an audience is the one thing you can do today that will pay off down the road. Doing anything over $20 is shortsighted.

Writers

This is a tough time to be a freelance writer. Rates are falling through the floor and publications are going out of business. Given the enormous supply of people who are willing to write and the reduction in demand from publications, I don’t think conditions will ever return to where they once were. While there will always be a few people at the top of the heap who will make a career out of freelance writing, for the majority of people, the exchange of cash for text as a business model is gone forever.

The division of labor in large publications meant that writers were immune from the business side of operations. Someone else had to worry about circulation and advertising, while they focused on content. Those barriers are gone and they now have to dirty themselves in the business of business.

Travel writers will need to put out their own shingle, start blogging and think of themselves as publishers as much as writers. Trying to stay pure to your craft and just writing will become increasingly difficult.

The future of freelancing (and this is just my speculation) will not be an exchange of money for text, but rather an exchange of exposure and audience for text. It will be more along the lines of the Huffington Post.

Newspaper travel sections are hurting. There are only a handful of full time travel editors in the US today. Their ability to pay for content is shrinking. Someone like me would gladly write an article for free for a major newspaper if it meant driving traffic to my site. If they can provide me the audience, I’ll worry about how to make money from it. I think this will happen because it will be the only choice available when the option is removing the travel section altogether. The economic incentives for someone like me with a blog is totally different than it is for a pure freelance writer. Unfortunately for freelancers, people like me are driving the price to zero and that is the world they have to live in.

Freelance writers have a huge advantage over bloggers like me, however, insofar as they have connections and contacts in the industry they can use to help quickly grow traffic to their blog….if they know how to take advantage of it. There has been increased interest in blogging and social media by some very serious travel writers this year. I expect that to continue.

Advertising

What is the force which motivates most people in most companies? It isn’t profit maximization, customer service or sales. It is not getting fired.

So much of business world makes sense if you know that people take actions to not be fired. The best way to not get fired is to do what everyone has always done. There is an old saying in technology circles that “no one ever got fired by hiring IBM”.

Circulation and subscription numbers for magazines are total BS and everyone knows they are BS, but it is BS that was mutually agreed upon by everyone in the industry. No one has a clue how many people actually read a given ad in a given issue of a magazine, but advertising decisions are still based on that inaccurate data. Online data is far more accurate, and that actually scares some people, because you can’t hide behind the numbers like you can in print, TV and radio.

If you had $100,000 to spend in an advertising budget, which option is least likely to get you fired?
A) call up Conde Nast Traveler and buy $100,000 advertising, or B) develop a marketing campaign using social media and bloggers and constantly get feedback to improve the campaign.

Of course, you do A because no one will bat an eye at buying ads in a magazine. Even if a new media campaign cost 1/4 the amount and had a better ROI, it will bring a great deal of scrutiny from higher ups, which is something no one who works for a company wants. A few risk takers might try to hit the home run, but most people are happy to just not get fired.

Things are slowly changing, but the day when an ad buy in a print publication is considered the more risky move is still a long ways off. The willingness to dump tens of thousands of dollars on a single ad in a single issue of a single magazine is sort of indicative of how far things have to go. Properly spent, I’m sure that same amount of money spent on a single ad would have many time the impact if spent online.

Public Relations

I am of the opinion that public relations still is rather clueless with respect to dealing with bloggers. The inverse might be true as well, but I’m writing this as a blogger, not a PR person.

I was shocked, and I mean shocked, at the level of ignorance I’ve seen this year with some PR people I’ve met. They had no idea there was a small army of people online writing about travel. As I said above, they are happy to keep doing what they’ve always done so long as they don’t get fired.

I get the impression that everyone in the business knows at a superficial level they need to understand this ‘Twitter and Facebook stuff’, but they really don’t know what to do beyond that. Moreover, their clients are more in the dark than they are, so they have little incentive to really push things.

I also get the impression that many bloggers are just lumped together in their minds and they are all sort of the same to them. If they do a blogger press trip, they just need some bloggers to tell their client they had “bloggers”. Traffic numbers and audience size don’t seem to mean much right now, because I’m not sure that most PR people have any sort of way to evaluate what is good or bad, or convey that to their clients.

I should add that I’ve met some very serious exceptions to my cynical view of PR. I met a few PR people at TBEX who very much do “get it”. It is my hope they multiply and spread over the next few years and that a few of them take the leap to start their own PR firms. The PR people who “get it” should be showered with glowing recommendations by bloggers so they can quickly climb the ladders in their respective firms.

I predict that in 2 or 3 years, most PR firms will have a person in house who’s job is just to work with bloggers and new media people. In 10 years, that role will be unnecessary as everyone will be doing it as part of their day to day work.

On a similar note, I don’t want to leave bloggers off the hook. There is, and always will be, a wide range of bloggers. There will be the consumate professionals and the weekend amateurs looking to just snag free trips. The low barrier of entry ensures that you will never see a uniform level of professionalism in blogging like you do in print. PR companies will have to take the time to find out who is who, and given the large number of bloggers, that is no easy task.

Institutions vs Personalities

Even if I have no clue what the end game looks like, I am fairly certain of one thing: the future is not in large institutional media. The future is in personality driven media, or to borrow a phrase from Jeff Jarvis, entrepreneurial journalism. Trying to replicate magazines online with high cost structures simply will not work. If you want a recipe for failure, just get some offices in midtown Manhattan.

Almost every successful blog you can think of, regardless of niche, has a single person, or at least a dominant personality behind it. They could fire the entire staff of National Geographic tomorrow and people would still read it, because they are buying the brand, not the people. If Perez Hilton, Andrew Sullivan, Mike Arrington, Heather Armstrong or any other successful blogger quit their blog, however, it would probably never be the same.

Institutions came to be because the high cost and barrier to entry in traditional media necessitated a large corporation. All things being equal, people would rather trust and follow a person, but that just isn’t possible for a daily newspaper. It is possible online, and that is exactly what you see.

Conclusion

I think when TBEX ’11 takes place next year in Vancouver, the landscape in travel media will look very different. Some of the things I mentioned above will be fixed or at least addressed. There will be some scandal with some blogger on some press trip. Doors which are now shut will be open to bloggers, but which doors and how wide remain to be seen.

More bloggers will figure things out as experiments in monetization succeed and fail.

I have no idea how it will end up, but I do know it is going to be one helluva ride.

  • 61 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. I definitely desired to deliver a quick concept to thank you for the nice tips and hints you’re posting on everything-everywhere.com . My time-consuming internet appear up has now been rewarded with helpful strategies to exchange with my family and friends. I’d claim that we readers fact are truly blessed to dwell in a helpful community with incredibly some great individuals with insightful points. I really feel really grateful to get discovered the webpage and appear ahead to a lot of additional entertaining moments reading right here. Thanks a good deal again for a good deal of things.

  2. When it works for us, we love trad media and all the doors it opens and adoration it brings (cept we never ever get a string of comments like this, which is amazing and really ,isn’t it supposed to be about starting the conversation or interjecting in a cosmological one not static one way here’s the article, read it?) Trad media’s endless quest to be hip doesn’t bother me or pr people since I work both sides of the desk it’s the tourism droids and their computer says No (tho I know, I am exceptionally well endowed, with their benificence, so I am told, and not just great breasts) if they stopped their entire ad budget and just got their arses out of conde nast and nat geo they would get a glimpse at the bigger picture, like plato’s cave dwellers, and dole out the dosh and flights where they should be doled which is into the pockets of scribes, whether cyberscribe, print or broadcast. storytellers breathe life into the world always have always will. readers/voyeurs don’t get excited about a picture of a dinosaur in drumheller they want to follow you on the journey to the bones in the centre of the earth with the dust up your nose, a rattlesnake underfoot and a prairie duster torquing up your chakras. (no slight against trav alberta, who gets it. about the scribe’s primordial role but really bct needs to have a major shakedown of dead weight) btw, my dude says that my constant “they don’t get it” is adolescent speak, so thank you, i will send him your blog. and thanks lori for clicking your magic heels from your dancing awesome site. we ain’t in kansas any more that is for sure. see you in sask when you get bored of europe, as if.

  3. Very interesting.
    The way I see it is that the media are at a Gutenberg-type of point in their history. Would Gutenberg have foreseen the Reformation? Possibly, in a sort of way. But the birth of the yellow press? Or Playboy Magazine?
    The only thing that seems safe to predict, I agree with you, is that people who have so far been copying bibles by hand should look for alternative employment. Shame for all those beautiful illuminations, but there you go.

  4. conner says:

    Get me the rope, Im ready to hang myself.

    - Conner, talented freelance writer and blogger, untalented businesswoman, and soon-to-be artifact.

  5. bunsongpayat says:

    Since travel is one of the most expensive hobby one can have, earning from traveling is the first possible way one pursue to have to sustain the hobby so that it will become a hobby and work. Earning from traveling is a challenge considering the number of bloggers who want to have a piece of bucks from this industry. And as you have said, it still getting bigger. This is very true to my social community. New travelers are coming from the age of 20s, people who have just graduated from a degree and happened to be thirsty on the freedom that traveling can offer. These people are the very people who are almost updated with the latest networking sites and a office salary to back the travel expenses up. These people are coming into the industry.

    Im trying to get into the industry. I even started to consider earning from travel photography but I think the market is to congested that I dont want it anymore. I am more afraid by the pressure it will leave on me everyday because I dont have enough bucks for the next travel which might dictate the amount of food I will eat. I think I will just focus on the passion traveling is giving me and the urge to share them. Earning from it might be too impossible for me to take. If God blesses me with an opportunity to travel with no expense, that would be the greatest opportunity I can have.

    My social circle are starting to travel and I wont be surprised if in 2 years time, almost all of them will get into blogging also.

  6. Interesting comments, Gary, but please get rid of the black background! It’s so hard to read that I had to stop reading in depth at one point and just skimmed.

    Having a difficult-to-read blog is a good way to lose readers.

  7. I guess the question is whether the advertising dollars which are moving away from mainstream publications, meaning they can’t pay freelancers, are going to move over to social media or stick with the online versions of the bigger publications (which will then pay even less, because after all, there is so much great content available for free)…

    It’s interesting as a n00b to see how many successful bloggers have a high-tech background. And, to be honest, that the travel blogosphere is sufficiently sized to generate a conference devoted to the topic.

    Thanks for this. It’s a really insightful piece.

    • Gary says:

      I think the advertising money will move somewhere. The question is where and when. Many people have been expecting display advertising in print to move to display advertising online. The truth is that display advertising might not be the best form of advertising on any platform.

      As for when it will happen, I guess it already is to some extent. Inertia is powerful force and you will see institutions sticking with what they have done for some time yet.

  8. Lori Henry says:

    Great post, Gary. The “state of the travel blogosphere” scares the #*@&! out of me and excites me at the same time. I’m a full time travel writer with 2 travel blogs and I ask myself everyday, “How can I make this work better?” I love the flux of the unknown and the fact that no one else knows, either; it also keeps me up at night as my mind spins incessantly about what I can do to ensure I will continue doing what I love in the future. What a crazy trip this is. I’ll see everyone at TBEX ’11 in Vancouver next year!

  9. Todd says:

    Hi Gary, nice thought provoking piece. I wish I could have made it to TBEX this time around to to hear people’s thoughts in person rather than spread out around the internet.

    I hope that travel companies and PR folks get their heads around social media soon. I have been increasingly surprised that they haven’t already and things we take for granted (twitter, facebook, stumbleupon …insert here) are such mysteries to companies that they are hiring social media experts (who are really just us with a shiny new title attached).

    There certainly seem to be more travel bloggers out there today but it might just be that some have wised up to SEO. I blogged for 2 1/2 years with very small readership before I reoriented my blog to a wider audience and started increasing my profile a bit. Luckily I have another job that keeps me traveling so I don’t have to worry about using blogging as a way to sustain myself or my family. But I am happy to add it as one aspect of my working life.The fun part comes in figuring out how to make blogging work for you. I have a feeling that everyone will string together a bunch of different strategies based on how they travel, their interests, and what the are looking to sell (if anything).

    Thanks for the nice food for thought.

  10. Abi says:

    We live in exciting times – and just as cinemas had to adjust with the arrival of television, so traditional print media will have to adjust as online media continues to grow. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen…

  11. Federico says:

    I still reimember the first time I read a blog. It was in 2002, and in fact it probably wasn’t even a blog but more of a diary of this middle aged lady who had quit her job and was travelling overland from Spain to Beijing. She would write something every week or so, sometimes every two weeks, but it was fascinating and an inspiration to my future long term travels. She didn’t use pictures, no ads, no fancy format,no links, no trackbacks…nothing but words.

    Today it would not work. There are a few blogs out there with excellent writing and a few pictures, a few links and little else, but those are not popular. They probably wont even make it to the 20$ sellout category you mention. But they have fun.

    Most travel bloggers today want attention (necessary), traffic and eventually compensation. Be it money, prizes, a free stay somewhere…it’s a reward to your time and effort, which in any case has been spent with genuine passion and dedication. Travel blogs are not personal diaries because they are out here for everyone to read, and in some way bloggers need to feel valued. Our work has to be appreciated somehow.

    I believe that many (if not most) travel bloggers have an ultimate dream: to make a living out of his/her blog because this would mean making a living through the passion we all share. Unfortunately most will not achieve it and will eiqther quit or accept the blog as a simple hobby. Our fellow bloggers are competition, and we have to choose if we view other blogs as the enemy or as a friend. I choose the second. And I don’t know where my travel blog will take me to, but in the mean time I expect to have as much fun as I can and being valued via comments, questions, rewards, press trips…or 20$ for a link.

    Excellent post- I almost skipped when you suggested doing so, but I’m glad I didn’t.

  12. Emily says:

    Great post, Gary. Very interesting thoughts and predictions. I’m extremely curious to see how things turn out. My background is in print journalism; in college, I interned at two major regional magazines and was the editor-in-chief of a student newspaper. When I got out of college, I was shocked that I couldn’t find a print job in my state–I had to take a job as editorial assistant at a niche personal finance website. I saw the world of blogging and social media expanding, so I helped them get on board with that, and those two things have become an integral part of everything I do. But it’s sad to me that so many of the freelance writing gigs I get are for SEO, or are free in exchange for a free hotel stay. I do still get gigs for online journalism, blogging, and the occasional print piece, but you’re right—it’s getting more competitive as the publications die, and the pay is getting lower (or becoming nothing) because so many writers are now willing to work for nothing. Anyway, I’m very anxious to see how things progress. I too look forward to PR people learning how to better work with bloggers.

    • Gary says:

      I think the age old way of young people paying their dues might just shift to a new method of paying your dues. Instead of slogging away at a low level position for years, you might just have to toil on your own website in obscurity for years until you get a break.

  13. Nastasha A says:

    This was an great, well-written post Gary. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights. That said, it’s amazing how stimulating even the comments section is! It’s an incredible read; if you need to read one post about travel and new media, this could be it I think. Also, I am SO pressing to share these points to everyone who’ll listen (particularly, for example, old-school journalism folks) who haven’t really gotten a grasp of how the new-school stuff is alright, and getting to intern at top news agencies isn’t the be all end all. (specially looking at 4-page travel sections, published weekly, in newspapers now…a full page advertorial, rehashed travel stories, 3/4 ads. Just – wrong.)

    Kudos again!

  14. To make it even more complicated and inside-baseball, it all depends on what you think a professional writer should make as a living wage.

    My long-term view is that journalism is going to top out as a $50,000 a year career. While that might seem like a lot of money to some, it’s not to someone who is used to a salaried position at a big city daily or national newspaper (or anyone who lives in a major metropolitan area).

    I know many freelancers who earn more than that. But they do technical writing or other highly skilled freelance work, such as medical writing. Many travel writers never approach that level, from what I’ve gleaned from SATW conferences. Many of those writers cobble together other assignments, or have a spouse who provides the main means of financial support.

    In some ways, that type of salary cap isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Journalism has always favored the young, and most of them don’t mind the low entry-level wages. Heck, when I started at my 36,000-circulation daily, I was happy to make barely more than minimum wage. I was young and hungry and living in the middle of nowhere. I had nothing to lose. There will always be an army of 20somethings who are willing to make those trade-offs, as all of my friends did.

    Many bloggers are in the same position. They’re ready to work for low wages, in exchange to do something fun and exciting. And other bloggers fall into the travel-as-a-lifestyle category. Money isn’t an objective or concern, and they have a built-in audience (because as Gary said at TBEX, it’s all about the travel porn – who doesn’t want to read about other people chucking it all and hitting the road? It’s a fantasy with time-tested appeal).

    It gets more complicated if you’re in the middle, or if you have a family, or if you simply can’t shake your practical streak. Those are the writers who feel that they are being put into a corner or being forced to make hard decisions.

    Anyway. I love posts like these that take a step back and look at the big media picture. But then I’m a geek. :)

    • Gary says:

      You are right. One of the reasons I can do what I do is because I have no wife, kids, or debt. I am in a unique situation that most people do not find themselves.

  15. CanCan says:

    The way blogosphere has changed, has also changed my blog. I started in 2000 so my family would know i wasn’t off the deep end in China.
    It has been a crazy ride and i can’t wait to see what comes next. Whoop. This article makes me want to give you a high five. *insert fistbump*

  16. RobertKCole says:

    Great article Gary.

    I share your inability to predict where things will end up, but I have a few hunches.

    First, the web drives the democratization of information. This applies equally to both the travel and journalism sectors.

    Years ago, only travel agents had access to flight schedules or the ability to transact a booking electronically. Only travel writers for major daily/monthly publications or guide book authors/editors possessed the capability to write about travel experiences and communicate them to a broad audience.

    Now anyone can do it. However, that definitely does NOT mean anyone can do it well.

    The lines between traditional news or feature journalism and blogging will disappear. Traditional compensation models will also disappear.

    A large number of people who are not professional journalists or blogging for their livelihood are now writing about their passions and providing great value to their readers without any form of monetary compensation – they simply love writing about their subject of choice and some have become quite accomplished in that endeavor.

    On the other hand, with the barriers to entry being virtually eliminated, there is one other certainty: the introduction of poorly edited, low quality content into the ecosystem

    As a result, there will be great writing and awful writing, with a lot falling somewhere on the spectrum between those extremes. Similarly, there will be consistently good writers and consistently bad writers, mixed in with those who may sporadically produce good work.

    The laws of supply and demand still apply. The supply of writers has increased. While demand may have also grown, the financial models are forever changed.

    The main question will not only be what premium will be paid by publishers for consistently good travel journalism, but what compensation level will be used as the benchmark for that premium? The ability to consistently produce quality work in a timely manner obviously deserves more than $0.00.

    What if a Pulitzer-worthy writer is happy to provide consistently great work for free? Perhaps an extreme example, but the burning question becomes how does a professional writer compete against a highly skilled hobbyist who may have the benefit of time and/or alternate sources of income?

    The good news is that social media provides a valuable tool that can help individuals in search of quality travel writing locate great journalistic work. Unfortunately, this alone will not prevent low quality work from becoming wildly popular due to luck, timing or clever promotion.

    Of course, the one business reality that may not change is that crap work produced by hacks may be paid handsomely compared to masterpieces painstakingly crafted by more deserving individuals.

    It’s not fair; it’s not right; it’s just the way it has always been for anyone involved in creative pursuits.

    • Nastasha A says:

      Excellently said, Robert. As a journalism student who wants a career (albeit a fledgling one) to look forward to, the points you’ve brought up scare me greatly. Add to that the fact that I dream of being a travel writer and I can pretty much just curl up, be an armchair traveler! But that ends sums it up well; it’s always been this way for anyone involved in creative arts/producing creative content. The challenge is in finding ways to go around the barriers and make a living from your efforts.

  17. Not necessarily with in the travel blogosphere, but with in other such communities (particularly music) I have have found that PR companies really don’t have much of an idea of what is going on. It is really quite frustrating from a writer/blogger/publisher perspective because you can have these huge companies (with fancy offices in Manhattan, like you said) and they are spread so thin they don’t have a chance to get to know the communities that they’re trying to work within. The less and less money companies have, the more work is put on the shoulders of someone who is wearing multiple hats with in that company.

    It is quite a blow to aspiring writers who have yet to jump start their freelance careers. Many (including ones I know personally) work jobs they despise and that suck up their time for writing because no one has a budget to pay freelancers. But at the point, getting pieces published for experience is a great start-like laying the tracks for a train. The life of a freelance writer is often romanticized and I don’t think people really think about the fact that it is not a lucrative career, despite being told plenty of times.

    I think the best advice I can give and have been given is to learn as many aspects of the business as humanly possible. As much as someone might like writing and despise marketing, not learning these other skill sets will most likely only hurt you in the long run.

  18. Sharlene says:

    I definitly agree that photographers have it worse than bloggers which is why I try to combine my photogrpahy work with my writitng so I don’t have to give up either passion. Plus, as you mentioned at TBEX, it helps out with the whole “travel porn” concept. As someone who has only been blogging for abotu 2 1/2 years, I have actually had very good experiences with PR. The majority are enthusiastic about working with me and the websites I have represented. I think that in one year we will see big changes but I am much more excited to see what is in store for the travel writing community in 5 years. I love being part of the Wild Wild West!

  19. Lynn Clark says:

    Just an hour ago I was talking to my intern (I do PR for a research program) about the fact that most PR people don’t ‘get’ bloggers, and how building relationships with bloggers in your topic area is as critical as building relationships with the few newspaper reporters who are left. I think PR people feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of bloggers, don’t quite know how to find them or how to know who is influential or up-and-coming, etc.

    I know that if I were doing travel PR, my firm would have a blog, and I would be reading/commenting/participating and pitching to bloggers like you and the commenters here.

    On a personal note, I really enjoy your blog, read it via Google reader all the time.

    • Gary says:

      That is a big problem. There are a lot of bloggers and they are changing all the time. I’d spend a few hours trying to identify 10, 20, 50 or whatever number of blogs who have been around for a while and have established themselves as being real. It isn’t really that hard to find out. Then reach out and talk to those bloggers with no agenda.

      Then just keep your ear to the ground and keep on the look out for other bloggers who are up and coming who you should pay attention to. If PR firms just make it a priority, they can do it.

  20. What a great and insightful post. I think you set the tone for what others should expect as it seems you’ve been ahead of the curve since you helped to set that curve in the first place. Who knows what the future may hold, I just hope to still be around and possibly have a little more presence on the blogosphere then.

  21. Joel says:

    The future of freelancing (and this is just my speculation) will not be an exchange of money for text, but rather an exchange of exposure and audience for text. It will be more along the lines of the Huffington Post.

    Well, let’s hope the future has higher standards than Huffington Post…

    • Gary says:

      I wouldn’t take the analogy too literally. There is a lot about the Huffington Post which has really gone downhill, but they never have to worry about people providing content.

  22. Srinivas Rao says:

    Hey Gary,

    I’m a blogger myself and run two blogs, TheSkooloflife.com and BlogcastFM.com. As a byproduct I got tasked with building our company travel blog and I think you brought up some really interesting points.

    1) Social Media vs. Conde Nast: One thing that I’ve been really fortunate to receive was a budget for blogging. I definitely go the route of choice B. In fact, I hired a bunch of blogger from my personal network of bloggers to write for our blog and we’re compensating them well. The results have spoken for themselves and in the first week our site has received over 500 visits.

    2) Institutions vs Personalities: After running my own blog for over a year and looking at other successful bloggers, one thing became really apparent to me about most company blogs. They had absolutely no personality. That is a big part of why when I looked for writers, I looked for bloggers with well established blogs with an audience that loved them. I think the more human a company blog is the more it’s readers fall in love with it

    3) PR: My job here at the company is social media strategy/blogging, and the largest part of my marketing efforts are going to be driven by connecting to the travel blogging community because I think that’s where the future goldmine for any travel company is. The question is will they get smart enough to realize the power and value of the blogging community.

    Really interesting post.

  23. jessiev says:

    i am glad to read your article, gary. i think that there are a few who are truly interested in turning their travel sites into a business. there’s room for everyone, though. for me, it would be all about meeting like-minded people (heading to tbex again). it’s fun to have a community!

    for us at WanderingEducators, we are happy to be a travel library of sorts, for readers to find all kinds of great sites and information. i like finding sites with a unique voice (like yours) and sharing them with our readers.

  24. Keith says:

    Very interesting and sobering post. All of the comments have been great and I especially enjoyed Pam’s comment and your response. I come from the writer camp and have found it challenging to balance time spent on stats/marketing/PR vs. writing.

    The internet has melted the divisions in roles (i.e., writer, editor, publisher, PR, etc.) so that we’re seeing people who would normally have fit one role in the world of old media now needing to wear all those hats. As Mike mentioned, perhaps only those individuals who can excel in all areas will survive in this landscape.

    My site is only 7 months old, but my question is am I a late adopter or still in the vanguard of travel blogging?

  25. Debbie Ferm says:

    Hey Gary,

    I, too, appreciate the thought provoking post.

    I agree with you that this entire space is a place where there is money to be made and enough attention to go around. It’s just a matter of finding the right business model. Also, creating multiple income streams is a way for bloggers/business people to piece together things that are working for them to create a living. To me, that’s more security than you can ever get working for someone else!

    I think it’s exciting to be in a world of so much change and uncertainty.

    Thanks for sharing your opinions!

    Debbie Ferm

  26. Travelhugger says:

    Interesting post Gary. I’m still a newbie when it comes to travel blogging. I’ve tried to approach my blog as a start up business. Just with any new business it takes time to see any profits. In terms of blogging, it takes time to increase traffic to your site as well as monetize from it. I know that it will take time to increase traffic to my site. I agree with what you said in terms of bloggers that are desperate and they will do anything that will hurt their blog in the long run. But it happens, people get caught up and lose focus. I think if bloggers keep their focus and always focus on creating good content, people will follow. Thanks for sharing your ideas on this topic. As a newbie, I’m excited to be part of the travel blogging community. See you next year at TBEX 11.

  27. RumShopRyan says:

    Nice write up Gary. I was in the newspaper business for a time and it drove me crazy that business would plop down the money they were when you couldn’t track the ROI from those ads.

    Then when I went to people to advertise on my site (at that time) they were scared because it was online. I offered them ad tracking and they froze up. Maybe I’m the worlds worst sales person I don’t know.

    My Caribbean Lifestyle blog is a passion project that I’m in love with. Yes blogging has exploded, but I think it is still in the 2nd inning like you said. This new form of media is going to keep become more and more of a force.

    Cheers!
    http://www.RumShopRyan.com

  28. pam says:

    I sometimes think that what we’re seeing is the pop culture-ization (not a real word) of our niche. On the one hand, I love the mainstreaming; it creates opportunities. On the other, I’m kind of Groucho about the whole thing — “I wouldn’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member.”

    As a writer, I appreciate that you’re making that distinction here. And as a person with an absurd number of years blogging, I think your marathon analogy is spot on. It’s a long slow slog, but all work is, really.

    Personally, I’m sad about the devaluation of writing, no surprises there. And it’s not entirely because of the pay, not entirely because it’s not worth my time to write for 10/15 post.

    It’s because of the quality. When publishers don’t pay their writers enough to produce good work, they get what they pay for. You’re self described as “not a travel writer, not really a writer, even.” (I hope I’ve got that right.) So cheap and/or struggling publications are giving me work by folks who aren’t writers AND they’re eliminating the editors that used to make sure what was published was worth reading. An advantageous arrangement for those seeking their rewards in traffic, but what’s it do for readers? We get factory farm “content” instead of real food for the mind. I think that’s bad for us, but I’m a self described intellectual snob.

    It IS going to be interesting. You got your dinosaurs, your artists, and your game boys who are just in it to win. I’d like to see a collaboration between the artists and the game boys, but I also think the smart money is on the game boys.

    • Gary says:

      Here is a question I haven’t seen many writers asking: how much of what they produced is written for their peers and how much is really written for the public?

      The only people I’ve seen lament the decline in quality are other writers. The only people I see talking about famous travel writers, are other writers. I never heard of any of the “famous” travel writers before I started blogging.

      The biggest problems I’ve seen with many writers is that they want to be above the business side of things, which is probably the exact opposite problem most bloggers have. Right now I think the bloggers who are business oriented tend to do better, and I’d agree that quality might suffer as a result.

      Personally, I know I often get so caught up in the stats, marketing and other stuff involved in running a site, I’ll look at my front page and find that I haven’t written anything in over a week.

      I think the single biggest thing that writers could do to improve their lot is to start thinking as publishers, not just writers. If they view their blog as a publication, doing what needs to be done might come more easily. Blogs are foreign, but publications are familiar.

      • pam says:

        Actually, I’ve heard it from READERS too, but I’ll admit that I spend my time with bookish types, I’m not closeted about my literary dispositions. I think the ‘how to’ types are focused on a more general audience — the public — and that literary types — both readers and writers — will always be a smaller percentage of the population.

        I actually agree with you 100% that writers can benefit from using better business/publishing practices. I think it’s why traditionally, agents have been able to take their pound of flesh. The web eliminates agents — or replaces them with content farms — and leaves creative types with little/no business acumen to find their own way.

        Those who can own the middle ground by combining mad tech skills with the ability to present quality material are the big winners, I think. Candidly, that’s my goal — stay focused on making the best possible work, but keep moving towards winning the game.

  29. TBEX 2011 should be in SAN FRANCISCO, the most beautiful city in America!

    Besides, saves me a ticket to go anywhere :)

    Best,

    Sam
    Yakezie Lifestyle

  30. Lisa Gerber says:

    Hi Gary,
    really interesting thoughts. I was glad to see you recognized that some PR people do get it and it’s probably more than you realize. I just had to cancel a press trip at the last minute due to an extremely difficult and demanding writer so it goes both ways. We all have to deal with a small percentage of people that don’t get it. Regardless of their field.

    Most importantly, from a PR perspective, we do need help justifying your value to our clients. It’s like any business transaction. Anything you as bloggers can do to help, makes our jobs easier. Then we can focus on making YOUR jobs easier.
    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  31. Tom says:

    Great summary of the space as it stands Gary.

    I’ve previously worked at a PR agency and it’s true that the ‘old school’ are really struggling to get their head around social media. I was fortunate enough to start in the digital area of the agency so fully appreciate the changing landscape on that front and its importance. As you say, PR pros will all have to become social media friendly in the very near future or they will fast become useless.

    From a blogger’s perspective i think one of the frustrating things is the risk of the big becoming bigger and the lesser known struggling to stay afloat. As there are so many travel blogs appearing each and every day it can be difficult to get above the noise and sift out the wheat from the chaff. For people like yourself who are well known in the industry it is much easier to continue to grow (and rightly so based on the quality content you provide). For someone starting from scratch it is a much bigger job to try and grow regardless of how good their content is due to the volume that is out there.

    Trying to take travel blogging from a hobby to a living is an incredibly difficult thing and i think this is why many succumb to the “$20 syndrome” – And, after all, why shouldn’t they be rewarded if they are spending hours a day upkeeping a quality blog?

    The reality is that only a few will be lucky enough to make it to the point where travel blogging can become a full time role. That said, i do agree that maintaining artistic integrity is crucial and by going overboard on link selling/sponsors etc people jeopardise the potential of all the hard work they put in.

    That’s my two penneth anyway. Top article, great insight, i can’t to see how it pans out over the next couple of years.

    • Gary says:

      I totally understand the desire to take the $20. However, once you take the $20, then you’ve established yourself as a $20 blog.

      If you want to get big, you have to be willing to stick it out for at least two years, maybe more. I didn’t have significant traction for my traffic until I was 2.5 years into blogging. Many people forget that and don’t remember that for the majority of the time I was doing this, I was sitting alone is crappy hostels around the world. Most people don’t have the patience to do that. They want it NOW, and the world just doesn’t work that way.

      I also had a bit of a first mover advantage and that is gone for new travel bloggers.

      Everything online is subject to the long tail. If you don’t think you are ever going to make it to the left side of the graph, then by all means take the $20. If you want to eventually grow, you have to tough it out and do the hard things now so they will pay off later. That’s just business. At some point is it also a self fulfilling prophecy. People don’t think they will get big, so they do things to ensure they wont get big.

      • Tom says:

        Totally agree, nothing comes easy.

        I feel suitably inspired, time to get my head down and i’ll see you in 2 years!

        If you’re ever in the UK let me know, i’ll buy you a beer and give you the tour.

        Tom

  32. Marcia Frost says:

    Excellent info here, except I’m still seeing a little lack of acknowledgment for the travel writers who have to make a living. It is a sprint to earn since it’s impossible to give the time and effort to non-earning work.

    I too have been dealing with lots of CVBs and PR people who get it, but it’s way too soon to see if we can afford to go to tbex ’11.

    • Gary says:

      I don’t know what there is to acknowledge. Like I said, the business model of exchanging text for cash is dead or dying. Most writers will have to change their model or cease being writers. It sucks, but that’s reality as of 2010.

  33. Stephanie says:

    This really pulls together a lot of the things that were floating around in my head after TBEX, and then some. I started my blog a year ago on a total whim and really had no idea what I was getting into, but now that I have a better understanding of things, I’m so thrilled to be in such a fast growing, ever changing industry. There’s a little bit of a Wild West vibe to the whole thing which is really exciting and I’m excited to see where things go.

  34. Jason says:

    Gary, Interesting reading from one of the new kids on the block. I do believe that the web + blog + social media is definitely putting a hatchet to main stream travel media as we knew it, a few years ago. Why wait for an article on a destination or topic, when you can go to your favourite group of blogs and get information at the drop of a hat.

  35. Karen Bryan says:

    Excellent piece Gary. I’m trying hard to combine giving readers quality, interesting content with earning a living as a travel blog editor. However it’s hard going when the only source of revenue is from advertising and many advertisers are still obsessed by circulation numbers rather than realising that less but targeted traffic to a blog provides a better ROI .

  36. Keith says:

    Excellent post Gary! I totally agree with you about the ignorance of the PR people that I’ve met about blogging and social media. I can’t wait for the day when they finally ‘get it’! I have a hunch though that that day is approaching fast.
    Thanks Gary for sharing your views.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  37. As awriter who has relied on good PR people to help me check facts, schedule interviews and otherwise inform me about their clients for the past 20 years, I was worried you were going to rip on PR (again) in this post, Gary. I’m so glad you noted that there are many “good ones” out there. Indeed, there are others who continue focus on print journalists and have never signed up for a Twitter account, but many who understand the value of online coverage and social media — I know they are working hard to teach their cilents about this “new world” too.

    Lots of food for thought here. Thanks for sharing.

    • Gary says:

      The thing to remember is that you have 20 years of developing relationships with PR people. Most bloggers don’t. I’m guessing the relationships you forged writing are helping you today blogging (not that it is a bad thing).

  38. Luke says:

    So many valid points. Unfortunately, to an extent.

    I miss the days when people used to write about their experiences (of any sort but particularly with regards to travel) without the pressure of having to conform to some sort of internet-wide “blogger’s code of attracting traffic”. Granted, many excellent blogs have succeeded as a result (yours included) but each year it get’s harder to sift through the farce in order to find people who are genuinely passionate about what they write. I hope the blogosphere manages to achieve some sort of balance here in the coming years.

  39. Gray says:

    Excellent article, Gary. Everything is in flux, and like roulette, no one knows where the ball is going to land. True enough that many mainstream folks still don’t really understand blogging. They think it’s like an online diary (which, for some people, it is). I met a mainstream travel writer this weekend who excoriated me for being a travel blogger, aka “one of those people who is ruining her life.” Ouch. Being the sensitive type, I slunk off to lick my wounds, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought “Lady, get on the train or get run over by it, but don’t blame me because what worked for you before isn’t working for you any more.” Embrace the new. It’s an exciting time in travel media, it’s a terrifying time in travel media. But at least it’s interesting.

    • Oh Gray, that’s a terrible thing for a travel writer to say to you. I cringe when I hear things like that (and unfortunately I’ve heard a lot of similar comments about bloggers from established travel writers). Many writers out there won’t accept that the paradigm is broken. But it’s hardly the bloggers’ fault. It’s the READERS who have demanded a different way of receiving information. Let’s not forget that they are the ones who are driving the train.

      • Gray says:

        Thanks, Chris. Luckily, right after I had that experience, I met up at the bar with another travel writer who was incredibly gracious and friendly and chatted with me for a good 20-30 minutes. But your point is correct: It’s the consumer who drives any change in the marketplace, and we’re seeing that now. Those travel writers who can adapt to new technology and a new business paradigm will thrive, those who can’t, won’t.

  40. Mikeachim says:

    Terrific, unflinching summary.

    Agreed – the sale of bare words is being supplanted by something mixed-media, holistic, more of a package. Just look at Flickr, and the astonishing rise of good-quality amateur photography that’s seemingly put out there purely6 for a bit of fun or creative expression or skill-honing….but still firmly in the ‘amateur’ camp, and/or not pursued as a sole vocation…

    Greek mythology prized something called ‘arete’ – the ability to be good at just about everything. Odysseus was a hero not because he was the best runner or the best fighter, but because he was a great runner AND fighter AND many other things. And I reckon that’s the way successful travel-writing will go. People will rise to the top by being really solid, hardworking all-rounders: good wordsmiths and good photographer and good social media schmoozers and good speakers and a million things besides.

    Which is a nice metaphor for independent travel itself, because that’s what you have to do – roll your sleeves up and have a crack at everything yourself.

    I’m still a n00b at monetizing. Still trying to get my head round good SEO. So much I have to learn. But I love that. I love the challenge of it all. And the way the rules are in flux. It’s a hobby-stroke-job that requires an all-rounder approach and a lively approach to reinvention. Certainly with blogging, and increasingly with more traditional journalistic routes. You over-specialize…you paint yourself into a corner.

    And chasing nickels and dimes by plastering your site with obnoxious, traffic-slaying ads…well, I put a few toes in that body of water, but luckily (hopefully) I wised up in time. There’s a line.

    Loved your talk at TBEX, Gary. :)

    • Gary says:

      Photographers have it worse than writers. Anyone can take a good photo if you just hit the button enough times. Few people write articles like they take photos, however.

  41. Ant Stone says:

    Great review Gary, some interesting points.

    I think one of the main ‘hints’ bloggers can discern from you on this is:

    In the meantime, I see some bloggers who are so desperate to make anything, they do foolish things which hurt them in the long run. They will get worked up over someone selling them $20 for a link, forgetting that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

    Depending on their goals, selling rotten links or failing to clue up on the right way to approach paid reviews, sponsored conversations etc. is blog suicide (in my opinion).

    Anyway…

    Travel blogging is a funny niche, not least because most travel blogs are usually born, to run in parallel to the journey. Ergo, when the travel ends, what happens to the travel blog?

    It must be a valid fear for some mainstream travel bloggers who rely entirely on on-the-road content. If they make money from their blog, it’s a Catch 22 — quit the hobby, and quit the job?

    This transition period for blogging is a perfect time to set clear, tangible goals for travel blogs and, if need be, create get-out clauses by diversifying their niche.

    I hope to see a bigger uptake in podcasting and quality v-blogging (or whatever it’s called) over the coming 12 months as people grasp the new technology.

    Also, I see leading bloggers playing a natural role in the attitude of monetisers towards the niche. New bloggers instinctively look for the forerunners in the market, especially when reacting to, “Get Rich off your Travel Blog” style marketing.

    Personally, I hope monetizing takes a back seat to high-quality, and globally productive pieces and we see a return to pseudo-virginal innocence among blog writers.

    And above all: blog to travel, don’t travel to blog.

  42. Cris Campos says:

    Hi Gary, long time no see! :)
    Very interesting post. I’m also impressed with the number of new travel blogs in the last 18 months, as you mentioned. I remember 2 years ago when there were only a few and they were mostly very simple in design and features.
    Nowadays many of them look the same. Looking at them, it feels like they are all following the same formula.
    I like to see it growing and I love the community, but at the same time I wonder where has creativity and genuine travelling+blogging gone.
    Sometimes I miss it when people would write because they wanted to share something special and not only because they needed a new whatever-post to monetize.

    • Ant Stone says:

      I’m not sure there’s more of us. I just think we all hang out in the same place; I’ll give you a clue, it begins with a T.

      Before that, we ran around Google and blog rolls like headless geckos.

  43. Gary, great article. I’m hoping to make TBEX 11 to check it out and pick everyone’s brains.

    I’m hoping that I can make travel blogging a full time living some day – sooner, rather than later.

    What I’ve found that works well for me is DEMONSTRATING what you can do by demystifying blogging and social media. For example, sending a report to PR people, showing how SEO works, and how you can attract, steady, long term targeted internet traffic to a topic that has an indefinite shelf life.

    And who knows where things will end up! Thanks again.

  44. Sean says:

    Interesting thoughts Gary. I always injoy listening/reading your takes like this.

    Many of your thoughts I agree with, some I’m not sure. Like you, I don’t know what the future holds. In my 12 years of online media, and say 9 years of travel blogging, not that much has changed from my perspective to be honest. Yes, there are more people doing it. Yes, the social part of media is bigger than it was 10 years ago.

    The main driver I think, it people connecting with people. Which I think you are hitting on in this take. That hasn’t changed since the web came onto AOL, and still exists today with Facebook and the increasing relevance of SMedia.

    Cheers to you and for sharing.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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