My background is as an internet guy. Since I saw my first website back in 1993 (it was a page from the Library of Congress showcasing items from the Vatican Museum) I’ve been doing something, one way or another, online. When I started to travel, my first and only idea was to make a website to share my adventures.
When I started I knew nothing of the travel media industry. I didn’t know how travel writing worked and I would have never pursued writing for another publication because I’m pretty sure that no one would have hired me. To be fair, I wouldn’t have hired myself.
As my writing and photography has improved (I hope) and as my stature in the industry has improved, the option of actually writing for publications has been put on the table.
The problem is, now that I potentially have the ability to write for other publications, the business case for doing so has disappeared. In fact, the more I’ve learned about the business, the less appealing it has become.
Here is a few of the reasons why I have no desire to pursue freelance opportunities:
- You just don’t make much money. I was talking to Spud Hilton, travel editor at the San Francisco Chronicle last year and I asked him how much you could make by having an article appear in the Chronicle. I assumed (and I had no basis for my assumption) that it would be around $1,500. It turns out the actual rate is $500. You would need to sell 100 articles at that rate to bring in just $50,000….before taxes. Even if you were to triple the rate, you are still looking at doing a lot of work for not much money. I wont even bother to talk about the abysmal rates you get for publishing online.
- Many publications wont cover costs. Many large magazines and newspapers don’t accept stories from sponsored trips. They also don’t cover the costs of your trip. That means that the $500 you get has to cover the costs of taking the trip, which is not a sustainable business model. I know that many writers will try to spin multiple stories out of one trip, but it doesn’t change the fact that the economics still suck. I’m amazed that this isn’t a bigger issue in travel writing circles. There is something fundamentally wrong with a business where revenues can’t cover costs.
- It doesn’t advance my core business. Being in print doesn’t help you online. I’ve been mentioned in some popular magazines. I’ve had friends who have been in print. If you can’t click, it almost certainly isn’t going to result in people visiting your site. From the standpoint of a blogger, there is far more value in being in the NewYorkTime.com than there is in being in the New York Times. Moreover, people seldom pay attention to who wrote an article. I usually get offers to meet with readers in every major city I’ve visit. I don’t know of any print writers who have that level of interaction with readers.
- It is a hassle. I can write anything I want on my site without anyone’s approval. The moment you have to start pitching someone else, there is an enormous amount of overhead associated with getting a single article published. Unless you have previous relationship with an editor, you will have to deal with a lot of pitching and rejections.
- There is a limit to what you can make. Take the most you can get for an article and multiply it by the number of articles you can write in a year. That is limit of what you will make. This is assuming you get a great rate for every article and can pump out many of them. If you own a publication, there is no real limit to how much you can grow. I don’t know why I couldn’t grow my site to 10x what it is currently. It will take work, but it is possible.
- There isn’t much of a future. If you read my previous post on the advertising revenue for travel magazines, I don’t think there is going to be a big future in writing for print. The market for online writing is horrible. I’m not sure there is a point to investing effort into something which there isn’t going to be a big future.
I know there are plenty of people who make a living doing freelance writing, but it just isn’t something that appeals to me.
I have had my writing appear on other websites, but it is always without payment and it is intended to serve as a promotional vehicle for my primary website. I also never have to deal with the issues I listed above: sponsored trips, dealing with editors, and traffic generation.
I’ve been on many a press trip where the first question asked of me by writers is “who do you write for?” When I tell them I write for myself, I usually get a look of pity. The reality is, owning my own publication (aka a blog) has far more upside and potential than writing for others ever will.