To Pay, or Not to Pay: That is the Question
Taking a spin off of Shakespeare's famous line from Hamlet, the travel writing industry stands at a crossroads: to pay or not to pay. Pay is so subjective, is it not? Does payment really have to be in the form of money? Why not page views or link juice? Tell that to the Panera Bread cashier, who upon asking him if they accept link juice, stared at me blankly. Today is what you could call part two of a discussion I began four months ago, when I wrote a post about how the Huffington Post doesn't pay their writers. In short, I wrote about how I didn't understand how a company--a company that refers to itself as a "newspaper" and one that is worth at least $150 million--couldn't spare to pay for content. This post will cover the following:
• Travel companies/publications that do not pay for content. • Why these companies should be paying writers. • Why travel writers/bloggers should be getting paid for their work.
For you self-publishing travel bloggers who have no intention of writing elsewhere and getting paid, this isn't for you. You know who you are, and everyone else knows who you are, because you shout from the rooftops about how much money you make from blogging. You keep writing your link bait posts, getting listed in the next "must follow" travel blog list, and making your advertising/affiliate cash money. For you travel blogging hobbyists, keep doing what you're doing and don't worry about the pressure you may be feeling from paid travel bloggers to perform.
This post is written for those travel bloggers who are thinking about quitting travel blogging because they can't seem to make any money doing it. It's for those travel writers who want it to be more than just a gig for beer money and aspiring writers who say: "how can I travel the world, get my writing published, and make money from it."
A distinction should be made: I'm not coming down on any notions of writing for free. I'm talking about "working" for free. My last job was in PR that I made a salary from. From time to time, I would get phone calls or emails from colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who wanted help with something. I would spend an hour or two with them, helping write a press release or helping identify media outlets. I never charged for this. So, it is with my writing career. I make money from a variety of outlets. Occasionally, I'll do a guest post in which I am not paid, using the same principle I used when doing things for fellow friends and colleagues.
We've all written for free. The first couple of things I ever wrote were unpaid. I'll do this from time to time, typically if it's for a friend and sometimes if it's something that I believe in, but they don't have the means to pay. When I talk about travel companies and publications that aren't paying for content, I'm talking mostly about companies that are reputable and have the means, yet choose not to. I've already used Huffington Post as an example. Arianna Huffington, in the Inc. Magazine article titled “How I Did It,” refers to not paying bloggers, but then turns around and calls the Huffington Post a newspaper and talks about raising enough funding to top $100 million.
To most of the world, the Huffington Post is a reputable publication. I've seen people post their HP posts on Facebook and get comments like "Wow, look at that, you've really made it as a writer!" Uh, not really. It's not credible according to editors I've talked to. Take Jason Clampet for example, Senior Online Editor of Frommer's, who mentions that he's not a fan of the Huffington Post, not because they don't pay writers, but because much of the content is "lazy, cheap, and unethical," because it's often a cut and paste job.
I just don’t want to pick on the Huffington Post, when there are many other reputable publications that aren’t paying writers for their contributions. I talked to one established writer, asking to stay anonymous, who stated that although writers may write for the print version of National Geographic Traveler Magazine for rates such as $1 a word, they do not pay contributors for the National Geographic Traveler Intelligent blog. Writers can contribute for “exposure”. During a time when more travel publications claim they are strapped for funds, with many going under, there's no reason why a publication could pay out $1,000 to $2,000 for a print article, but not pay for contributions to their blog. If they can’t pay writers, then paid staff should be writing the posts, period, end of story.
The key decision most travel writers must face is: do you write for a publication that you might get some exposure, but lose credibility and not get paid? Or rather write for something that you maybe get less exposure, but get paid and are more credible because you're getting paid for writing?
I want to briefly touch on travel magazines and websites that ask for submissions, but that do not pay. You've certainly seen them. They have a submissions page, asking for 1,000-word articles and in turn will "pay" you with a byline and a link to your website. Meanwhile, they have ads throughout the site. Some of these are probably making enough money to pay their hosting costs for the year, while others are using what money they make to pay the editor, and others using their status as a "travel magazine" to secure press trips. However, these are often the first places that aspiring writers go to in order to have their work published. It means an easier editorial process and it gets you "published." However, if that is why you're doing it, I strongly encourage you to reconsider.
I recommend that you identify, pitch, and submit to places that will pay you for your writing. Number one, you get paid for it. Secondly, as minuscule as the payment might be, you are not only a published writer, but a credible, published writer, because no matter what anyone says, places that pay for writing, are much more credible than ones that don't. No matter what the Internet gods are saying, it's not just about page views and impressions. Also, 9 out of 10 times, paid writing is better than unpaid writing. There is more incentive. You think someone is not going to put more effort into writing a feature article for Conde Nast Traveler, as compared to writing a blog post? For you the travel writer/blogger, there are travel companies, magazines, and blogs that want to pay you to write for them. I don't believe with what many take as gospel truth, that freelance writing is dead. However, the job title of "staff writer" is unfortunately slipping away. In turn, this leaves an editor and an editorial calendar that has to be filled. That's where you come in. 90% of most travel websites and publications are freelance. While I don't recommend you pitch Conde Nast Traveler for your first pitch, there are many publications and travel websites that will accept your pitches and submissions as a new writer.
We typically think of travel writing as consisting primarily of either travel blogs or magazines. However, I'm finding a great divide between 1) the travel company and 2) the travel writer. You have the travel company that sells their product and knows how to run a business. On the other hand, you have the travel writer who typically is technologically and socially savvy, travels, and writes. However, it's often an executive or other office personnel that is contributing to the content of their website or blog. It makes sense to me that the traveler and writer with the strong offline/online network would form a relationship with the travel company that needs travel content and the appropriate audience. Logic tells me that Australian Travel Tour Company X would hire Travel Writer Y, who just spent six months in Australia, has their own travel blog, 3,000 Twitter followers, and 400 Facebook fans. Working on both sides of the industry, as an executive at a travel guide publisher and now as a travel writer, this is something that I would pay for and get paid for. Andy from 501 Places, recently pointed this out, and I think these partnerships are only going to continue to grow, paying off for both the writer and the travel company.
Michelle Salater, president of Sumer, LLC, a company that specializes in copywriting and the marketing and promotion of websites and blogs after they’ve launched, has a long list of travel companies her company works for. As she states: “I started out as a freelance travel writer. I was sick of not being paid what I was worth, so I started a copywriting company and sought out travel companies to write for—companies who would pay me top dollar for my talent and industry knowledge. In two years, I’ve gone from being a freelancer to the owner of a successful boutique firm with 5 team members. Not only am I appreciated for my work, but I feel better about myself—as a writer, a creative, and as a human being.” Michelle is a perfect example of what happens when you stop writing for free.
So what next? Go out and get paid.
There are places out there that are ready to help hone your craft, while publishing your writing—and paying you to do so. Meanwhile, I'm taking the discussion off the page. I've teamed up with Michelle Salater to host a free telecall this Wednesday, December 8th at 8 p.m. Eastern to talk more about the state of the industry and how travel writers can tap into travel companies and publications and get paid for their writing.