Categories
Blogging

March 2021: Podcast Traffic and Income Report

I’ve been using Clubhouse quite a bit over the last month. Any predictions about Clubhouse rendering podcasts obsolete are absurd. Yes, they are both audio-based, but that is the end of the comparison.

It would be like saying Twitter would replace novels because they are both text based.

The level of discussion on podcasting on Clubhouse is very very basic. In fact, most “experts” on podcasting never really seem to get beyond preaching to people who want to start a podcast.

To be sure that is a large market, and it is probably one of the reasons why so many shows are abandoned before they even get to the 4th episode.

Almost all the podcasting advice you find online is orientated towards the segment of newbie podcasters.

There is little to nothing out there, beyond warmed-over platitudes, for established podcasters who want to grow their audience.

Most of the podcasting gurus haven’t really grown a very large, successful podcast themselves. If they had, they would be too busy with their podcast and would have time for training new podcasters.

I bring this up because the path to success in podcasting or anything else is pretty simple.

  1. Try something
  2. Gather data
  3. Evaluate data and determine what works
  4. Repeat what works and try to improve performance. Eliminate whatever does work, or change how you implemented it to get it to work.

That’s it.

I’ve grown a successful blog and six-figure followings on several different social platforms by using this method.

Everyone wants answers handed to them, and it isn’t that simple.

I have traffic goals each month, and each month I’m not really sure how I’m going to achieve them. That’s the point, however. You have to get your hands dirty to figure stuff out, and if you aren’t doing that, you probably won’t find success.

It is only by setting goals just out of your reach that you will figure out how to reach them.


Traffic

March was a solid month. There was no great spike in traffic, but traffic steadily grew.

Total downloads in March 2021 was 73,742 which was a 21.4% increase over February 2021 which had 60,733 downloads.

There are three more days in March than February, so they aren’t really good months to compare on a monthly basis.

February had 2,169 downloads per day and March had 2,379 downloads per day. On this basis, the growth was 10%.

So far my April growth is on pace for around 85,000 downloads, which is about 15% growth over March.


FINANCES

Revenue

I calculate everything on a cash basis, which means I register it when the payment comes in. That means there is some ad that ran in March that I won’t get paid for until April, and there were some payments I received in March for ads that will run in April and May.

Advertising: $3,198. I had one package of total episode sponsorships and some

Patreon: $138. This is my net after Patreon takes its cut and after the cost of shipping merchandise.

Expenses

Podcast Hosting: $22. Monthly Libsyn hosting fee.

Headliner Monthly Fee: $19.99

Advertising: $429


Summary

Categories
Blogging

What I Learned On The Way to 100,000 Instagram Followers

My instagram follower count

I recently passed the 100,000 follower milestone on Instagram. I was late to the game on Instagram, but I’ve made up for it the past 18 months by making it my top priority in social media.

Much of my success was due to constant testing with my own posts and observing what worked with other successful accounts. Most of the information I found regarding success on Instagram on blog posts is either totally wrong or outdated.

I’m writing this post as a guide for others who want to know what works best on Instagram. As you are aware, this is social media, not physics. You can find exceptions to most of the things I discuss, but for the most part I think they are true.

Also, for the record, I was never put on any suggested user list for Instagram. Everything was organic. There are some things I did that you might not be able to easily replicate, so I’m not claiming that my tips are universal or are able to turn everyone into an Instagram superstar.

Instagram Overview

The process of gaining followers on Instagram, or any other social platform for that matter, consists of 2 parts:

  1. Discovery
  2. Conversion

Discovery is simply the act of finding out that you exist. There are hundreds of millions of Instagram accounts floating around all vying for attention. Getting someone to even notice you can be difficult.

Conversion is getting someone to follow you after they have discovered who you are.

You need to excel in both things if you want to gain someone as a follower. Either one without the other is rather useless.

Images

Instagram is a photo sharing platform. Period.

I’ve had many people ask me, “quality images aside, what is the secret to success on Instagram?”.

The answer is, you can’t just put quality images aside. It can’t be done. It is the heart of the platform and images are why people will discover you and why they will decide to follow you.

I can easily see the difference in engagement between an A photo and a B photo. It really does make a huge difference and far too many people dismiss the importance of image quality.

As such, you need to do whatever you can to improve the quality of the images you post to Instagram. This includes:

  • Use an SLR or a mirrorless camera, not your smartphone. While Instagram was intended to be place to share mobile images, the truth is that photos taken with a smartphone are just not as good as those taken the proper cameras. Less than 5% of the photos I post to instagram are taken with my iPhone, and that is true for many other top Instagrammers as well. If you think that this violates the spirit of Instagram, or if you want to keep it real, you are free to do that, but you will be hurting yourself.
  • Edit your photos. As with any great photo, you need to do some basic editing before you show it to the world. That means editing in Lightroom if you are using a larger camera, or even editing on your phone if you are taking a smartphone photo. The editing tools in Instagram itself have gotten quite good. I do not use filters. Instead I edit every images by hand to get exactly the look I want.
  • Choose your subjects carefully. Despite the common wisdom floating around the internet, I’ve found that selfies and food photos just don’t work very well. Celebrities might be able to get away with it, but other than that, most people just don’t care. As a travel photographer, I’ve (sadly) found that images of people and animals don’t perform as well as images of landscapes, or historic buildings. As you will see below, knowing what people actually like is critical to growing your audience.
  • Check all the boxes when submitting a photo. This tip comes to me second hand from a company that has worked directly with Instagram. Make sure that you have a caption, tag another account, put in a location, share the photo on at least 1 other social platform, and do at least some basic editing in the Instagram app. If you do all these things, it will increase the odds of it being promoted by Instagram. Also, putting in a location and geotagging is very important as it is a means of discovery.

If for whatever reason you can’t take good photos, then you need to look for great photos elsewhere online. There are many large Instagram accounts which just regram photos from other people.

It should also be noted that videos perform horribly. Either don’t post videos at all or do so sparingly as their engagement rates are horrendous.

Discovery

So, how exactly do people discover you? This is the major issue for most Instagrammers. Even if you have a conversion worthy portfolio, if no one sees it, it doesn’t really matter.

One thing I figured out quickly is that the vast majority of people who discover you on any social platform, do so inside the platform itself. That means they aren’t following you because of some widget you have on your website. When I redesigned my travel blog last summer, I removed all the social media widgets. I now just have a small icon available if someone wants to follow me, but nothing more. When I removed the widgets, there was no adverse change in my follower growth rate.

The exception to this is if you are placed on a “best of” list of Instagram account from a popular website. I’ve seen spikes of several hundred followers, and in one case about 1,500 followers, from mentions on such lists. However, you don’t really have any control over your inclusion on those lists, and the bumps are always temporary. To get on these lists you probably already need to be a great photographer or have a very popular account.

The biggest way you can get discovered is within the Instagram app itself. There are 4 ways I’ve identified how this can be done:

  1. Engage directly with other users. This is a fancy way of saying you should like and comment on other people’s photos. This is especially important if you have a small following. Just roll up your sleeves and start searching for great photos. Search hashtags (more on hashtags later) or other terms. Find people who do not have large followings themselves and like or comment on their best photos. Because they don’t get many likes, a like from someone they don’t know will usually pique their curiosity and make them check out your gallery. One technique I used was simply commenting on photos that were taken in places I’ve been. Making some sort of intelligent comment about an image based on first hand experience goes a long way. Sometimes, however, it would something as simple as “nice shot!”.

    Larger accounts won’t notice what you are doing, so don’t bother. This is very time consuming process and doesn’t really scale that well, but it can get the ball rolling when you are starting out. I stopped doing this once I was around 50,000 followers as I couldn’t keep up anymore, and it became a smaller and smaller percentage of my growth.

    I do NOT suggest autofollowing people, or following people back because they follow you. These accounts are garbage and they will not engage with you. As you’ll see below, engagement is everything. Inflating your follow count at the cost of engagement can actually make things worse as it will make your account look suspect.

  2. Get mentioned by larger accounts. There are some Instagram accounts in the 6, 7 or even 8 figures. Many of them use photos from other users. If you can get their attention, it can be a HUGE boost to your ability to get discovered. Just to give you an idea, here is a photo of mine which was used by Beautiful Destinations, an account with over 4,000,000 followers. The photo got over 140,000 likes and 1,600 comments.

    Port-au-Prince, Haiti By: @everythingeverywhere ? Share your global travels with #beautifuldestinations

    A photo posted by BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS (@beautifuldestinations) on

    To get the attention of these larger accounts you can use their hashtag. I found that once one of them used my photos, others discovered me and started using my photos. I now get at least one mention on a six-figure Instagram account per week. Needless to say, you need top quality images to be able to pull this off. The image you see above from Haiti appeared on over a dozen different accounts after it was featured on Beautiful Destinations.

  3. Engagement. This is the #1 way I now get followers, and it is why so many big Instagram accounts get bigger. It is so simple and obvious, but I’ve never read an article about Instagram that mentions it. In the Instagram app there is a tab for activity. There you can see what all your friends are doing. Every time someone likes one of your photos or follows someone, all of their friends can see it. This is simple network effects. When someone engages with you (likes or follows) you have the potential to reach their friends. The more engagement you have, the more people will see that engagement. This means that Instagram growth is a lot like compound interest. The bigger you get, the bigger you get.

    It also means that the most important metric is really engagement, not followers. If you have strong engagement, you’ll get followers, but followers do not necessarily lead to engagement.

    I should also mention the power of people tagging friends in comments. Because I post photos of destinations, I get a lot of comments where people flag their friends about taking a trip there, or reminiscing about past trips they’ve taken. This is another great means of discovery if you can pull it off.

  4. Search. With changes Instagram made in the summer of 2015, searching by location made it easier for people to discover you. You should be geotagging EVERY photo you post. Every photo is an opportunity for people to discover you via location search. If you haven’t been doing this, go back and do this to your old photos.

I’m currently averaging 340 new followers per day (taken from the last 30 days). That number has been growing as my audience has grown, showing the compounding effects I mentioned above.

I should also address the issue of hashtags. Hashtags are mentioned in almost every single article on how to get Instagram followers. I’ve never seen any evidence that hashtags do anything. I’ve done extensive testing and I haven’t see any significant impact to using hashtags. Moreover, I’ve never seen any hard data from 3rd party sources that indicate they work. It is just conventional wisdom that keeps getting passed around without any basis in fact. The only time you want to use hashtags is if you are part of an event, or you want to get the attention of a particular large Instagram account (see above).

Conversion

Just because you’ve gotten someone’s attention doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything. The next step is to get them to actively want to see more from you in the future. This is conversion.

There are many people who get attention but then have such an unappealing account, that they fail to convert.

There are several things I’ve done to maximize my conversion odds:

  1. Have a clear profile photo. Let people know who you are. Don’t have photo where your face is blocked or otherwise hard to see. A clear photo says you have nothing to hide and makes a personal connection with the user.
  2. Have a compelling bio. You only have 500 characters to play with in your bio, and it is the only place you can have a link in Instagram, so space is a premium. My bio tells two simple facts: I’m extremely well traveled, and I’m an award winning photographer. Those two things combine to create a promise to the user that I’ll deliver high quality and interesting images. I’ll be worth their time to follow.
  3. Have a killer photo gallery. This is by far the most important thing in terms of conversion. People may discover you because of a single photo, but they will follow you based on your body of work. This means you have to constantly have high quality images. If you post something which dramatically underperforms in terms of engagement, you are better off deleting it than leaving it in your gallery. When I suggest that people delete photos, they are often shocked at the suggestion, but it’s true. Curate what people see when they arrive to your account so you are showing your best work.

Posting

For most of my time on Instagram, I’ve been posting exactly one photo per day.

As I figured out the relationship between engagement and followers, it dawned on me that I could get more gross engagement by just posting more. I’ve been experimenting with posting 2x per day and even 3x per day a few times. I post almost everyday, unless I’m in a place without internet access.

The strategy is pretty simple: more photos = more engagement = more growth.

As for when to post, that is something you will have to experiment with based on your audience. I’ve personally found that around 9am ET and 3pm ET work well for me. I’ve experimented with later posting times, and I found they didn’t do quite as well. Even if other times don’t perform quite as well, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t necessarily post at those time, as you will still get engagement, just not quite so much.

I personally only use the Instagram app to post. I don’t use Latergram or any other apps. I could revisit this in the near future.

Stats

I’ve been keeping pretty careful stats on my follower growth. There is little in the way of analytics which Instagram provides, so I’ve been rolling my own.

I pay for the Iconsquare Pro account and use it to get a daily follower count update. I put that number into Excel where I can do things like do projections and figure out moving averages.

Summary

  1. Image quality matters…..a lot.
  2. People will usually discover you through the Instagram app based on engagement and location search.
  3. You need a compelling gallery and bio to convert people who discover your account.
Categories
Blogging

I Lost 3,552 Instagram Followers and I Couldn’t Be Happier

Yesterday has been dubbed the Instagram Rapture. Instagram deleted millions of inactive and spam accounts from their system. The carnage was across the board. The official Instagram, Instagram account lost a whopping 18,880,211 followers!

One account (chiragchirag78) went from 3,660,468 followers to………8! Yes, a 99.9998% drop in followers. (Don’t bother looking for the account now. It has been deleted.)

Mainstream celebrities lost followers in the seven figures as well: Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) lost 3,538,228 (14.8555%), Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) lost 367,924 (7.3475%), and Kim Kardashian lost 1,300,963 (5.5315%). Data from 64px.com

I lost 3,332 followers, which honestly seems about right. About 2 years ago I had a sudden spike of several thousand Instagram followers with no corresponding increase in engagement. About 3,500 seems right. That was about 9% of my total followers.

The reason I couldn’t be happier is because those 3,500 “followers” weren’t really followers at all. I’m guessing they followed me as camouflage, to make their accounts look more legit.

My engagement levels, of course, weren’t touched. I’m still averaging over 2,200 likes per image in December. The only difference is that now I have a better idea what my true engagement ratio is, because now I have a more accurate denominator.

Social media networks are an ecosystem. Like a forest, occasionally you have to get rid of the underbrush and dead wood.

Twitter is probably the worst offender. I’ve seen estimates that up to 80% of all Twitter accounts are bots, spam accounts or inactive. Were Twitter to do the same thing as Instagram (and I hope they do) I’d bet my follower count would drop by and even larger percentage than Instagram.

Why?

Since my Twitter account got verified, I’ve been a magnet for bots and other accounts that have no tweets, profile images or followers; the textbook sort of accounts that are bogus. I see them follow me every day.

I don’t think the problem is as big on Facebook, but the fake accounts damage the ecosystem there even more, because of how their algorithm works. Fake accounts on Facebook also have been known to like ads, which hurt advertisers and engagement rates.

The only reason I can think as to why this hasn’t happened before is that each platform needs to show some big number to their shareholders. If Twitter or Facebook were to eliminate a significant percentage of their accounts, it wouldn’t look good.

In the long run, however, creating a healthy social ecosystem is a huge benefit and will pay off.

I hope this becomes an annual event for Instagram and I hope the other major platforms join in throwing out the dead wood with the new year.

Categories
Blogging

Thoughts on the State of Blogging at the End of 2014

Pam Mandel recently posted on Facebook and her blog about the state of blogging.

I’ve honestly been trying to stay out of discussions of blogging, but I figured I’d write a rambling post giving some of my thoughts rather than writing a long rambling comment addressing some of the issues which were brought up. This isn’t going to be a single coherent article so much as it will be addressing many of the various topic which were brought up.


Most Blogs Suck

Yes, most blogs suck.

Most musicians suck. Most actors suck. Most athletes suck. Most artists suck. Most cooks suck. Most writers suck. Most photographers suck.

Blogging is no different than any other human endeavor. Anyone can pick up an instrument, sing or play sports. The vast, vast majority of people who engage in these activities do so out of enjoyment and for recreation. Of all the people who play guitar, play football, cook or sing, only a small number are able to make a living doing it. Of those, only very small number are able to be truly successful at it.

Even players who make it to the NFL, most only play for 3 years or less and are bankrupt within 3 more years of leaving the league. They have nothing to show for being a pro athlete once it is all over.

Most people who make money playing music are performing at bars or weddings, not selling out stadiums. Most pro travel photographers are shooting weddings, senior portraits or pictures of babies at the mall. They are solid, journeyman professionals who aren’t getting rich, but are making a career in their chosen field.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that blogging follows the same pattern. There is a huge group of people who just have a website for fun or as a hobby. There is a smaller group of people who try to make money at it, and they primarily make money selling links and sponsored posts. They are like the bands who play at weddings and bars. They might make a living, but they aren’t Bruce Springsteen or Madonna either.

When we talk about blogging, we have to put it into the same context as everything else humans do. It really isn’t any different when you look at it in the big picture.

What we don’t know is the denominator for any of the things I listed above, including blogging. How many blogs are there? I dont’ know. How many cooks are there? How many football players are there? It all depends on how you choose define it.

Blogs Are Judged by the Worst, Print is Judged by the Best

There are a lot of hack writers out there. There always have been and there always will be. Yet when discussing journalism, everyone immediately points to Woodward and Bernstein (a 40 year old example) to show what journalism can be.

When talking about blogging, we tend to look at the worst.

Travel writer Paul Theroux said this about blogging:

I loathe blogs when I look at them. Blogs look to me illiterate, they look hasty, like someone babbling. To me writing is a considered act. It’s something which is a great labor of thought and consideration. A blog doesn’t seem to have any literary merit at all.

I wont bother to point out the lack of research and fact checking in a statement like that and just let it lie there like a statement by a drunk, racist uncle at Christmas.

Because there are no gatekeepers, anyone regardless of skill can start a blog. Hence, the quality of the average blogger is going to be much worse than the quality of the average writer who works for a publication. It will be that way forever.

When people criticize bloggers, they tend to do so with a very broad brush. (See Paul Theroux) There is very little recognition that there is good work happening online, or that being successful online requires a very different skill set than being successful working for a company.

Despite the fact that there are now bloggers with audiences larger than major magazines and newspapers, often much larger, we are still more often than not given a seat at the kids table.

Pay for Play

I have several thoughts about this:

1) With respect to free trips, I think most of the blame lies at the feet of the travel industry. They are giving trips to people who have only been blogging for a few months and/or have no real audience. I see this consistently. If someone is giving away free trips, I don’t fault the person who takes it so much as the person who gives it.

If there is a class of travel blogger which exists just to get free trips, it exists because the industry allows it to exist. They don’t do even basic due diligence and are not part of the discussion online. There are a few PR and marketing people out there who really seem to get it, and that is because they are active online and know what is going on. They, however, are a small minority.

2) Paid posts and constant promotion is a trap for bloggers. There are some bloggers who seem to never travel unless someone else is paying for it. Everything they do has an associated promotional hashtag associated with it. (In fact, I think a good litmus test of what travel bloggers to follow is to just look at how interesting they places they visit are) Ultimately, this is self defeating. I don’t think they have very strong followings, even if they do have twitter followers and get a fair amount of traffic from Google. Using my above analogy, they are the cover bands of travel blogging. You can eek out a living doing that, but I don’t think you are even going to make it really big if everything is promotion. No one is interested in it.

I’ve had travel bloggers flat out say that their ‘client’s are the people sending them on trips. That is an attitude that will get you nowhere. Your ‘clients’, if such a thing exists, are you audience. The destination is just helping you get content you can use to serve your audience.

3) I have yet to hear an economic model for travel media that doesn’t involve working for the New York Times or Conde Nast. Travel is unique in that the product is expensive and you can’t return it. Automotive writers don’t buy a new car for every article they write, but they also can give the car back when they’re done. Can’t do that with a trip.

The major outlets for travel writing do not pay anywhere near enough to cover the cost of a trip. Even if you spin trip into multiple articles for different outlets, you are still just barely covering your costs, and that is assuming you can even find those outlets. Given that publications are paying less and there are fewer outlets available, it is becoming harder to do.

It is an open secret that stories from sponsored trips make it into publications that prohibit such trips. It happens all the time. The attitude seems to be “don’t ask, don’t tell”, because if the publications really clamped down, the pool of writers and articles they could select from would be significantly smaller. Their ethics are for show, and not taken seriously.

4) If you look at blogging as part of the world of travel media, I’m not sure they really warrant special scorn. In private discussions I’ve had with veteran members of SATW, almost every person has stories of how advertisers have influenced editorial decisions.

The Blog Is Becoming Less Important

Robert Scoble is pretty influential in technology circles. He has posted on his blog three times this year, most recently to say he isn’t going to publish anything on his blog anymore.

Most of my engagement is now on Facebook and other social media platforms. If I write an article, I’ll get more comments from the link on Facebook than I will in WordPress. The vast majority of the engagement I get on a daily basis does not occur on my website. That isn’t where the people are.

In theory, I could delete my blog and still make a living doing what I’m doing. (not that I’m going to do that).

Too many bloggers can’t think beyond the blog. They are fixated on page views and SEO and ignore the bigger picture.

Influence

Here is my litmus test for influence: how many people can you get to come and see you in person if you are in their town? This isn’t really a metric you can track, but there is a lot of truth behind it.

One of the things I’m most proud of is that I always have readers who come out to see me, have a meal or drinks. I’ve had people drive over 100 miles to meet me. I’ve had people take time off work to come see me. I’m really honored when people take the time to do that. I know I’m making some sort of impact.

That being said, I don’t see many other travel bloggers meeting up with readers. The reason is that they don’t have any. Most of the people who actually follow them are other bloggers. Most of their traffic is one-off traffic from Google or StumbleUpon, that will never return again. Some of those people might become your audience, but audience and traffic are not the same thing. (I’m not saying there is no value in search traffic. There can be if your business model is structured around it. Mine isn’t. Nonetheless, if Google wanted to double the traffic they sent my way, I’d gladly take it, I just don’t think it will do much for me.)

We tend to use the term “influencer” for anyone who has a website, and that really isn’t the case. I don’t think there is a black and white definition for influencer, but the term is overused. Influence is on a gradient and is dependent on subject matter. I am not influential about automobiles, but I know some people pay attention to me about travel and photography.


I don’t write a lot about blogging anymore, because I’ve found worrying about the industry as a whole to be a waste of my time. I can’t control what other people do, and most people will never follow my advice. I’ve been focusing more on what I do and pretty much ignoring the blogosphere as an entity.

Things have never been better for me professionally than they are right now, and I know many successful bloggers who say the same thing. The 8 years of work I put into this are paying off.

Categories
Blogging

How Do Travel Bloggers Stack Up Against Traditional Media in Terms of Quality?

During the closing keynote at TBEX Cancun I issued a challenge for travel bloggers to try and reach a point in several years where we are winning half of all Lowell Thomas Awards.

Lowell Thomas Awards are the most prestigious awards in travel journalism and are given out annually by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation. They are like the Pulitzer Prizes for travel journalism.

I knew it was still a rarity for bloggers to win Lowell Thomas Awards, but I wanted to know exactly how we have been doing. I sat down and went through the Lowell Thomas Award past winners and came up with a list of every independent online publisher who has won an award.

This list excludes awards for online content from large publications such as magazines and newspapers. It also excludes large corporate sites such as Slate.com. For the purposes of this analysis I excluded Matador.com which has become a large operation at this point, but I did include RoadsandKingdoms.com, which is still quite small. I also included WorldHum.com as they won their award before it was sold to the Travel Channel. I also didn’t include books as I have no way of knowing if a book was self published, and someone can be independent of a large company but still write a book distributed by a publisher.

As of 2014, there have been 27 awards given to independent online publishers. They are:


2003
Edward Hasbrouck, Bronze, Travel News/Investigative Reporting

2004
Tom Brosnahan, Honorable Mention, Internet Publication/Website

2005
Carla King, Gold, Internet Publications/Website
Amy Langfield, Silver, Internet Publications/Website

2006
Amy Langfield, Bronze, Internet Publications/Website
Jim Benning & Michael Yessis, Gold, Internet Publications/Website

2007
Amy Langfield, Silver, Internet Publications/Website

2010
Ed Hewitt, Bronze, Personal Comment 
Chris Gray Faust, Silver, Travel Blog
Kayt Sukel and Jamie Pearson, Bronze, Travel Blog

2011
Brad A. Johnson, Silver, Travel Blog

2012
Gary Arndt, Bronze, Photo Illustration of Travel
Kara Williams/Jennifer Miner/Beth Blair, Gold, Travel Blog

2013
Gary Arndt, Bronze, Photo Illustration of Travel
Nathan Thornburgh and Matt Goulding, Gold, Online Travel Journalism Sites
Tim Leffel et al, Gold, Travel Blog
Larissa and Michael Milne, Silver, Travel Blog
Elizabeth Hansen, Bronze, Travel Blog
David Noyes, Silver, Adventure Travel Article

2014
Karen Catchpole, Honorable Mention, Foreign Travel
Dave Bouskill, Gold, Photo Illustration of Travel
Gary Arndt, Silver, Photo Illustration of Travel
Ken Budd, Gold, Special-Purpose Travel
Chris Christensen, Honorable Mention, Travel Broadcast – Audio
Glen Abbott, Silver, Travel Broadcast – Video
Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil, Gold, Travel Blog
Lanee Lee and Lindsay Taub, Bronze, Travel Blog

What you can see is that, 1) we haven’t won many awards, but 2) things are getting better. Here is a graph to show the trend:

2014 was the best year ever for independent publishers, but we still won fewer than 10% (8 of 90) of the awards given out, and that includes wins in categories specifically for travel blogs and travel websites.

Of the 27 awards won by independent online publishers since 2003, 16 were in the travel blog or website category.

If we are to reach a point where we are winning half the Lowell Thomas Awards, we would have to increase the number of annual awards 5 fold from 2014.

How can this happen?

  1. Bloggers need to enter. Most bloggers have no idea that the Lowell Thomas Awards even exist and few bother to submit entries. This is probably the single biggest thing that can be done. More entries equals more chances to win. I don’t have data about how many independent publishers submitted entries, but I assume that is also very low.
  2. There needs to be a greater emphasis on quality. Bloggers will have to actually work with the goal of winning an award. This means picking articles and topics that they think are very good and giving them special treatment. This means spending more time on a piece and maybe getting an outside editor.
  3. Be aware of who is doing the judging. The awards are judged by journalism schools. They tend to look for a style of writing that would fit in a newspaper or magazine. Even if a blogger creates something great, it has to be a good stylistic fit as well.
  4. The SATW Foundation still needs to make some rule changes. Despite the fact that there are only a handful of full time travel editors left at American newspapers, they still have 2 categories for newspapers based on circulation. The difference between the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle is tiny compared the difference between National Geographic and a single, lone blogger. Yet, they have 2 categories for newspapers and 1 for travel blog. Moreover, most of the winners in the travel blog category since it was created have been blogs for large companies, who have salaried staff. Given who is doing the judging (journalism schools), and in light of the division of newspapers, it really makes no sense. Moreover, there is a separate category for “travel journalism website”, but there is no criteria for what is a blog vs what is a website. This year National Geographic Traveler won an award for Travel Blog, yet most people would probably consider a corporate own, multi-author online publication to be a website. They need to give more clarity to what is a website and what is a blog, or split the travel blog category.

This doesn’t need to take years. If significantly more bloggers submit next March for the 2015 awards, and if they take it seriously and work for it as a goal, there is no reason why the number of independent publishers couldn’t double or more next year.

I think it has been proven that bloggers can compete against the best in travel journalism. Now it is up to everyone to take it to another level.

If we do this, there is no reason we can’t win 50% of the awards in the 2020 Lowell Thomas Awards.