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.

I'd be laughing to, if I had gotten people to work for free while making millions from it.

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.

Photos courtesy of Suanie and Sbusoj on Flickr.

43 Comments on “To Pay, or Not to Pay: That is the Question

  1. Very well thought out post, Spence. I will add, though, that all of these online publications who pay $20 a post–that might as well be writing for free in my mind. If you break it down, you’re still getting around $.03 a word–or less. While I never think writing for no pay is right (though have I done it? yes, of course), I’d rather write for a big publication’s site for free a time or two just to get my foot in the door for the print side of things (pays off down the road) than I would for some smaller website for $20 a pop with no room for growth/pay increase. But that’s just my personal opinion–to each, his/her own!

  2. I am with you Spencer 120% on this.

    I am thinking of starting paying guest bloggers-am making a small amount of money but I think its fair that I can give something away even if its a book voucher.

    We had a brilliant debate at Travel Blog Camp recently where we put Times Online editors on the spot about not paying their contributors (same argument as Huffington- quality exposure, raising your profile blah blah) but still they expected quality editorial content.

    As I ranted in this post until Travel Bloggers value their output and put a price on it, till then publishers will continue to ‘free ride’ us.

    At the moment I am monetising my blog and making money from that plus also making a living as a freelance travel writer. I see the two dovetailing quite well together and not conflicting….


    • Kash,

      I’m so glad you left this comment. I think you’re a perfect example of how there is room for both freelancing and making money as a self-publisher. High fives for paying guest bloggers. I think that is absolutely great and I applaud you. Would love to chat more with you on this.

  3. Great post, Spencer. I can’t wait to discuss this with you in person this weekend! I am one of those people who wants to give up. I didn’t go to journalism school. I started as an intern at a weekly newspaper and worked my way to freelance writer. I got paid between $25-75 per article, ranging in length. I’ve since moved and it’s become difficult to get back into writing. It’s all about who you know (or how much of an “expert” you claim to be) and unfortunately for me, I’m not that well-connected. Most of the time I write for free for publications I really like (for example, guest posts on Art of Backpacking because I think they’re a great resource!). I would love to get paid for my writing, but even some incentive (DIWYY gives out $5 Amazon gift cards per post) would be better than nothing. Keep up the good work!

    • I hear you Caroline. We’ll definitely be discussing some of those issues on the telecall on Wednesday and this is the tip of the iceberg on more discussion I want to get going on the matter. Let’s talk more about this over the weekend. Thanks for the words.

  4. I’m surprised when I read comments about how freelancing is dead. Effective January 2011, I’ll no longer have a salaried job and will be 100% freelance. My experience has been that opportunities for freelance writing have actually increased in the last couple of years as staff positions have decreased.

    The bottom line for me is simple: if someone else is getting paid for my work, I should also be getting paid for my work.

    I also believe that online writers get paid in recognition or dollars. Personally, I find more businesses willing to provide me with goods and services in exchange for dollars than Internet fame, so I choose to take the paying gigs over the high-profile ones.

    • Great words Britt. I especially like your bottom line statement and way to go for sticking it to the man.

  5. Paying gigs are SO out there – in print and online. One of my BEST national-magazine relationships w/ an editor began when I pitched her an idea cold. An unsolicited query via email. I’ve made thousands writing for her over past 3 years.

    Similarly, I continue to meet editors — either via Twitter, networking among other writers (join a professional writing organization), or on press trips — who have assigned me stories. For pay.

    Four years ago when I decided I wanted to be a freelance travel writer when I grew up, I took a travel writing class (Google Amanda Castleman), I wrote for free ( and I took online assignments for 5 cents a word. It’s called paying your dues, and it can be painful, but I learned a lot, got some great clips and moved up the ladder of paying assignments.

    If you want to make it as a freelance travel writer, it TOTALLY can be done. But it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of querying, a lot of networking… and it never ends. I am constantly pitching. But I, honestly, think it’s fun — the thrill of the chase! Keeps me fresh. And if I didn’t love it, I’d find another profession. But, dang, I hope I never have to work an office 9 to 5 again. :-)

  6. Glad to see you are keeping the conversation going. I’m a blogger and not inspired to write for a living – mostly because I doubt I could. However, I agree with you 100%. As for Huff Post, I don’t read it and agree that there’s a lot of lazy writing and boring rehashed posts. I’d rather spend my time elsewhere.

  7. I wanted to follow up on your and Ayngelina’s HuffPo comments and say I agree, 1000 percent. Never have, never will read that site. It’s lost a lot of credibility with the reveal that writers can write and upload their content directly through the site, without going through a single editor or researcher. That gives a lot more leeway for a writer to just make up a lot of crap–at least with all these other sites you/we referenced, there’s a process where more eyes are seeing and revising the original work before it’s published for the world to read.

  8. As I told you offline, Spencer, I don’t understand why HuffPo has such a following. Beyond all the issues you’ve touched on, the site is just visually unappealing.

    But then there’s the money issue that really can’t be avoided. In addition to that Inc. article, I recently read another interview with Huffington in which she crowed about herself as a champion of the middle class in America. And I thought “Huh, well that’s curious since you don’t even pay your writers.”

    As an editor at Matador, I know how crazily expensive it is to run a website with massive readership. But Huffington is a millionaire. Ross Borden is not. What’s her justification for not paying writers anything at all?

    I’m curious to know more about why people think that blogging for free is going to eventually get them somewhere in the print world. That rarely, rarely happens, even when a print magazine has an online platform, too. For one thing, the editorial teams handling print and online media are often different. For another thing, the styles of writing on print and online platforms tend to be different too. Just because you write a good listicle for Nat Geo Traveler’s blog doesn’t mean you’d write a good narrative piece for its print magazine. This is, yet again, why I really wish people would stop comparing print and online platforms and let each one exist within its own medium.

    Writers: Listen up. Until you start valuing yourselves, don’t expect the situation to get better. No one’s going to fight this fight for you.

    One of the ways that you value yourself is by getting professional. Yes, you can blog as a hobby, but if you intend to blog as a profession, then you need to get some basic skills under your belt. MatadorU’s one place to do that. I’m obviously biased, as I’m a faculty member there, but the students in our program are the proof that the course works. And it works because those of us who wrote the course went through the paces and paid our dues and figured out the ropes so we could teach them to other people.

    • Preach it. All is very well said and I agree with everything you said, especially liked what you said about valuing you work. Sure you can write for free blogs and get exposure, but that’s the “easy” option. There’s no one critiquing your work and no editorial process. I’ve become better because of editors who sat down with me and told me how I needed to improve and how to smooth out those rough edges.

      And to everyone else, I also wholeheartedly agree with MatadorU as a great place to fine tune your skills and a great stepping stone for becoming a paid writer.

      *This was not a sponsored comment.

      • Excellent post and convo going on here. I definitely think for the sake of credibility, submitting to publications with an editorial process is key.

        It’s a different market altogether, but your post made me think of the submission process for academic journals. In most cases, the pay is nothing, but if an article of yours is accepted gain not only a publication credit (which in the academic world is really your way of getting in on the conversation) but also valuable editorial insight, experience working with a new publication, and something to beef up your resume (let’s face it, you need to be publishing regularly in order to apply for new positions/tenure etc).

        Sure I’m submitting my work for ‘free,’ but otherwise it’s just sitting around in my external hard drive doing nothing for me. Like I said, different market/field but similar things to think about, ie it’s important to realize WHY you’re submitting something, especially if you’re not being paid.

        If people are willing to submit any piece of writing without pay, I think there need to be tangible benefits, and the writer should know how that submission will affect his or her credibility and future opportunities.

    • Let’s be honest here: We all know why writers are doing the HuffPo route. They want to get on press trips. It’s nauseating. It’s diluting the market, it’s devaluing what we do as someone already stated. The second you start writing for free, it’s no longer a job, it’s a hobby.

      The few things I have written for free for magazine websites were because I found good stories that were timely, and with insane print lead times these days, if I wanted to give light to a story or issue, online was the only way to go. They didn’t pay, no, and I had a HUGE problem grappling with ever so much as writing 400 words for free, but I was going to write about them for my blog (unpaid anyway). That said, I’m not making this a regular thing, nor am I going to transition to online writing anytime soon as a means of income when print still pays writers what they’re worth and online does not.

      (And no I have never, nor would I ever write HuffPo. I also don’t get the “exposure” bit. They pulled something off my personal blog this spring that then was run on Blackbook’s site, Refinery29, etc. etc.–all linking back to the original source–and I didn’t get a bit of traffic increase. So that “blogging for exposure” bit people claim about them is BS.)

  9. I just had this conversation with someone not too long ago. Here’s the deal, speaking from very personal experiences. I have fallen in the “no pay, but exposure and link juice” and guess what? Almost always the only “exposure” I get is exposure I would get anyway because of my online presence. What I have learned, and sometimes the hard way, is that almost everyone that has approached me to write for them in exchange for exposure, are really seeking out my online strength and wanting my voice on their site, so that the community I have built around my site and via my hard work goes to them. In the two years that I have been blogging, not one site that I write for has given me so much more exposure that it has been worth it. Never.

    And to your other point, what ends up happening is that after awhile, I feel shitty, really, really shitty to be giving away my craft. And then after feeling sorry for the poor decision I made, I get angry, first with myself, and then with the publisher, and then ultimately, I don’t write for them.

    And I have written for the free, or $15 posts. But truth is, it’s a lot of work, and in my mind just not worth it. I rather give that back to my own site, and make that my portfolio. It has worked for me, because I am learning that my writing rocks, no matter where it is published. I think we all need to have that level of confidence.

    Great post Spencer. I am trying to get rid of the residue of freebies in my life and I have learn that no matter what promises are made, I am worth much more then link juice and pay per click. They know this, but now I know this too.

  10. Great post Spencer. There needs to be more dialogue about this to show that writers are professional about their craft and deserve to be compensated for their work. Way to stir the pot!

  11. Great post Spencer. I am one of those travel bloggers who writes for free and myself. I think Julie is right in that it is hard to compare the two as they are two different ball games and those working within each field have different purposes.
    I never went into travel blogging with the intent to make money from affiliate products or ads (and I don’t) as this is just minimal reward for a lot of work. I started blogging firstly, because travek is my passion and it was the only way I could continue to be immersed in the travel world without traveling. And secondly, because I wanted to help inspire those who were thinking of traveling and show them how to do it. I firmly believe it you love what you do and you help others, money will come to you, and it will come in ways you never expected.
    I have always kept an open mind and have thought big about our business. I have known that blogging can be a platform to spring into other things. So, while I still don’t want to be chasing down freelance work, I am happy now that our blog has grown a lot, freelance work and other opportunities might find me. And i am beginning to take on those travel partnerships that you mention.
    I totally agree with the comments in regards to Matador U. I have taken a course and it has helped me tremendously. It has really helped me to push myself and to refine my writing. I am definitely a work in progress, but would never have had the success I have without it.
    One comment from your post that I have trouble ..digesting.. is about travel bloggers shouting from the rooftop. I have made several “must-follow” lists which I will let others know about it. I don’t think I am bragging all the time, but I certainly make people aware of it. I have to. This is my business, and I need that exposure. There is not a street I walk down where I don’t see a marketing poster shouting out “Voted best pies in Australia,” or the “Winner of the 2010 Golden Backpack award” etc. Not only that Donald Trump, a billionaire, is that way most in part from his ability to promote himself. I’m sure that many freelance travel writers also promote the fact that they wrote for National Geographic or Conde Naste, or received any accolades. I know the travel blogging must follow lists don’t hold much weight but if you want to be successful you have to promote yourself, no matter what you do.
    Other than that, I agree with everything you said. And I don’t really read Huffington Post either as it is aesthetically displeasing and I’ve seen several articles on their that have been rehashed from work on some travel blogs.

    • Thanks Caz for the comment and glad to have someone comment from the other side of things. As far as your problem with what I said about the blog rankings, I’m not necessarily knocking the idea, but I do think there are a LOT of them; and contrary to what people may say, there is a lot of competition and undercutting within in the travel blogging community in my opinion and I think a lot of people doing it as hobbyists feel pressure because of them, while others get snippy because they are or aren’t on these lists. In my opinion, there’s a lot of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back” in travel blogging and I think it distorts the writing. I’m not saying it’s everywhere, but from observations and talking to other travel writers/bloggers, there’s certainly a lot of it. But that’s for another post :)

      • There certainly are a lot of travel blog rankings out at the moment. I obviously like appearing on them, but I don’t use it as a complete measure of my success. I, myself, haven’t noticed any undercutting etc, but I try to not notice it, as I just want to do my thing and help others as much as I can in the process. I did even think of doing one myself, but soon stopped that idea when I realized there are so many great bloggers out there doing incredible things. I really don’t think I could decide who was better than who. Everyone is as good as each other in their own unique way. It’s a bit like me asking to rank the students in my class. Fred might be the best at writing, but Jenny is so talented at art, and Suzy at being a great friend.
        Which brings to the greater issue, isn’t our society founded on competition and rankings? There’s honor lists and principals lists at school, player of the season in football, and so forth.
        Competition and undercutting exist in every single field you enter. Unfortunately humans haven’t quite learned yet how powerful co-operation and helping each other is. There is plenty of room at the top to be shared.
        Networking is also a part of any industry and I 100% agree that this does form a huge part of people’s success, as it opens up many doors you might not be able to find without other’s help.
        So, instead of fighting these things and letting them bother you, I think you have to accept that it is part of the industry. Decide that you are going to stick by what you believe to be true. Make it a priority to be your best and to help as many people as you can along the way. Put yourself in a position to meet and network with people who can help you to move forward, but don’t do this in a dishonest and unethical way– so no sleeping with the board members :)
        And, one very important thing that we always say, don’t just network with the people at the top. Network with the people who are below you as well. These are the guys propping you up. Do what you can to help pull them up, you just never know where that may eventually lead you either.

        • I agree and I really like you guys, eventhough you are UNC Chapel Hill fans, so that has to mean something :). And I’m not trying to fight people per se, but since I’ve worked in the travel industry for a few years I’ve come to notice some things and I want people to see reality for what it is. For others, like yourself, you just need to keep doing your thing because you do a great job of it. However, I do want to ruffle feathers. I want it to make people think and ponder are they doing the best they can do. I want people to love travel and writing as much as I do, and to do so, I want to push people and this is my way of doing that. At the same time, maybe I can humble some of those that think they’re King Kong :).

          • Spencer, when are you going to see the light? UNC rules the schools man!! Well.. maybe not last year or this year but we are coming back :) And I have always been a big fan of yours too, so there’s definitely no fighting from my end. We like the same music so how could we not stay friends?

            I know exactly what you mean about the King Kongs. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people come into it more for the money then the passion. And I wonder how long-lasting their success will be? Passion wins out in the long run; it is such a powerful force of energy. And I think people can eventually pick out the genuine from the not-so-genuine and hopefully when they do, they will change who they will support and follow.

  12. Great post and comments. I completely agree if you don’t value yourself, or your work – who will. Also, as I move in travel photography too – I look forward to discussing that element, getting paid who quality travel photos…

    I hope to jump on the telecall…

    stay adventurous, Craig

  13. Well said Spencer. You’ve got a good debate going here too. It’s encouraging to read Kara and Ms Britt’s comments here too. I’m always hearing that as print opps continue to dry up, online ones open up, but the question is where and how to find them.
    I’m a freelance journalist, getting quite a bit of local work so not complaining, but hoping that twitter and gen SM presence will help open doors to other markets further afield.
    I’d also say consider blogging comps that offer free trips, but if you win one, don’t just settle for the trip, try to make those work for you and sell multiple articles on the back of it.
    Also look at all the amazing stories and blog posts you see everyday on twitter. Some of those could be pitched to paying editors. Not the work itself of course, but the idea behind it, providing you know the place and it’s not a personal narrative. You can’t copyright an idea, as the saying goes.
    I think a lot of it is to do with contacts as others have said, but equally confidence and knowing how to package a story for the right market.

    • Thanks Jools. You bring up some great points that weren’t mentioned. Something that I’m often surprised by is how many travel bloggers seem to just settle. I see some posts that are really well-written and I think to myself: “They could have made $150 pitching that somewhere”. I like what you say about using things such as Twitter feeds to help generate ideas that can be pitched. There are so many stories that can be pitched when traveling. I think people underestimate how much you can really gather and write about a destination, even if only there for a weekend.

      • I agree. I just went to the Gold Coast for 3 days and have walked away with at least 10 stories. There are so many different ways of looking at a place and your experiencing and creating different angles from that.

  14. Hmm. I have no idea where to start since I’m a newbie on this matter and in this industry, but I’ll jump right to it.

    I was the editor for Sosauce’s blog and community site. We hired freelance writers for destination reviews, contributing blog posts, and content on a regular basis and ALWAYS paid them. We actually hired within our community, and then through forums like Craigslist and what I always found interesting is that the most successful writers on our site were no named kids who traveled the world and never wrote professionally. They were the ones with the most interesting stories, well-written and thought out posts and content, and just understood from the get go our mission and our style. They were the ones who also got bonus “payment” by receiving free premium user accounts, discounts at our store, heavier promotion, and stipends. The so called “professional bloggers” who I had to mail checks to were the ones I had the most difficult working with seeing as they couldn’t even get basic spelling and grammar right. For those guys, I wish we didn’t pay. but nonetheless, everyone contributed their part and were thus paid for it. So I’m glad to say Sosauce was a paying travel site.

    On the flip side, I’ve made a backwards career move. Coming from the editor and promoter’s route, I’m now just getting into freelance travel writing. I fully expected (and still do) to not get paid a dime for my work. My reasoning? I’m a newbie. I’m starting out, I have no professional or published experience, people will think I suck. But in fact, it’s been the opposite. Within a month of declaring myself as completely freelance and open for contributing posts I was able to land 2 paying writing gigs (one of which I’m an editor), and have landed several guest posts among some of my favorite friends’ blogs – at no compensation other than link juice and exposure. But I took them and I’m proud to have take them because I believe in supporting each other in this business, especially the people who have been so helpful to me in the past. But going forward I will continue this road of valuing my work and being clear about my rates. After recent discussions with notable travel blogger friends of mine I realized that I don’t need to be as BFD as other people in this business to get paid for my writing. I come from the journalism and PR world and therefore have something to offer publications, so I deserve to be compensated just as well. I’m happy to take any amount at this point because my goal is to build up my clippings portfolio and get my name out there. It’s a tough decision to finally put your foot down and demand payment but if I wasn’t so hard on myself about pushing my career, then these opportunities would have never come to me. And it’s amazing to me that people I look up to tell me to my face that I deserve to be paid rates among more popular writers out there – it’s something that I now try to carry forward to other friends pursuing a similar career.

    I understand the hustle at the beginning to take any writing gigs. You want to build up a portfolio, you want the exposure, you want the bragging rights. But I’d say after a year or two of bouncing around sites, its time to get serious. And be super cautious about who you work with too, because I know first hand how it is to deal with morons in this industry who make money and treat writers like dogs. Just like any other career you have to stop and think about your ultimate goals, the people you want to be surrounded by, and the reputation you’ll build. Freelancing, especially, will always be a gamble but I believe if you work hard and take things seriously, it’ll surely pay off.

    PHEW! ok that’s all. I’m glad everyone can have an open discussion about this, it’s great to see criticism come back!

  15. This is a fantastic post with well though out points and very valid arguments. I have to play devil’s advocate here though. Not that I support not paying writers, I do, but when large publications continue to get away with garnering free content (such as Huffington Post) then it devalues everyone else’s content. It not only gives others an excuse not to pay but it takes away their readership without the sheer volume of posts that places like Huffington produce therefore taking revenue others would use to pay writers.

    In other words, its essentially a catch-22 and its all driven by those writers who are willing to work for free and those writers will continue to contribute to the downfall of the paid industry as a whole.

    Now I am a writer, but I’m certainly not a professional nor do I portray myself as a blogger. It’s something I do on the side, more comparable to your executive example. The same problem exists within the medium of video though. People are willing to film these videos for free for some sites just for exposure, for links, for contests. You would be shocked to see how much money a travel company brings in just by hosting a “create-your-own” video contest with a couple small prizes.

    My point is that this is not something limited to writing alone. Especially during the recession companies have learned to do more with less and its only going to continue. Unless the workers, the writers, the producers of content stand up together, nothing will change.

  16. Excellent article, Spencer. I had so much to say in response, but as I review the comments here, I see others have beaten me to the punch, and I hate redundancy. I’ll just say I couldn’t agree with you more and thank so much for continuing to beat the drum on this one. Sometimes writers and bloggers are our own worst enemies when it comes to the value (or lack thereof) that we place on our work.

  17. I’ll echo a few of the other comments here from Miss Britt and others: If someone else is getting paid for your work, you should too. There are plenty of exceptions to this rule, but each exception should be part of a plan, not some pie-in-the-sky hope that it’ll get you in front of more people one day. As a writer and photographer I’ll do stuff for free when I think it’ll help both me and the person/organization I’m working with — or if it’s just plain fun. As an editor, I prefer to pay someone for their work because that allows me to tell them what to do.

    One pet peeve of mine: Promises of revenue sharing. Unless you’ve got a gig with, that’s never going to amount to anything.

  18. Hi Spencer, I’ll be provocative as usual and just say that what makes you a prince among men afaic is your 4th paragraph (“For you self-publishing…etc.”) because when you said that you also took on the King Kong among the travel bloggerati. As you probably know. And without getting into personalities, I’ll add that the ones who advocate making millions “successfully” yet never divulge anything substantial about how that all works – not even when they get paid to contribute at ASTA and TBEX and TravelBlogCamp events in recent times – are the other component that are just as responsible for the fact that too many bloggers don’t make money. One of them even wrote for said HuffPo – wait, more than one – and then lived to boast about it at one of the aforementioned events. Another recently boastd in a blog about “I write for free..” with the reference being to a similar gig at HuffPo’s travel section. True, you can write – as this person did – and then get further paying commissions elsewhere out of it, or links generating traffic back to your site – but is that a guaranteed payment formula to be preaching to the rest of the world? Don’t think. so. It’s like going into a casino and convincing you’ll definitely come out with next month’s mortgage payment because your best friend went into the same casino and spent as many hours at the same table and won x dollars that day. So keep on being a voice of sanity in a sea of wilfull ignorance, Spencer. Many will listen and not swallow the casino Koolaid.

  19. Thanks for this thought-provoking post. You’ve opened up a real dialogue on the topic of writing for no pay. Personally, I enjoy writing for free when it helps build my brand and community (e.g., on my own website and as a guest blogger). However, if I am writing a story for an established publication that involves spending my time and energy doing research and interviews, than I expect to get paid for it. Freebies don’t pay the rent!

  20. Great post Spencer! So the conversation continues…

    I agree with Julie: online and print are two different beasts. As someone who is starting to freelance, I have used the internet as a base for my portfolio, and it’s where editors look to read my work and dertermine if I’m a good match. I’ll admit that writing online is “convenient” – the sites that I write for (and am getting paid for in exposure, or PIE, as I like to call it or via a press trip) are easier than to write for print; I write on my own time and unfortunately, am not getting edited (I don’t re-hash blog posts like some bloggers do).

    So how do I know how good my work is? Aside from the occasional facebook comment, my stories have been picked up from local newspapers, but I still don’t get paid because they’re affiliated with the site. When I wrote my first published article, it was a short piece, but I got paid a small sum and worked really hard on it – interviewing, re-interviewing because I had to re-write the article and then waited to get paid about 3 weeks after I was published. But I got great feedback: the rewrite focused my piece and I was lucky to have a good editor who guided me through the process and showed me not to give up on an original vision. I am so proud of that piece.

    That said, as someone who is looking to do this as a career, there’s a time and place where you have to determine your self worth (and NYCityMama/Carol, I totally feel your pain!) and know when to stop writing for free. I’ve had to build up my portfolio, but now I have the confidence to pitch to print publications or bigger online publications and won’t settle on not getting paid or getting a low sum for it. It is the ultimate form of respect. That said, it is HARD WORK, time and patience. Plain and simple. And for those getting into the industry, it’s important to develop a thick skin because there will be criticism and rejection. It’s probably why I have shied away from pitching. Those lingering questions will persist such as “Am I good enough?” The internet and those blogs looking to garner good content without the expense aren’t as scary. Sorry for being redundant, but I think it comes back to the quote: “Nothing worth having is ever easy.” This was said by a friend trying to get a reservation at a well known restaurant in NYC. Blogging is a way to develop the craft, network and build community. As I redevelop my blog, I realize right now that the end goal is not to monetize it at this point but to hone in on my creativity. If that gets me gigs or paid advertising in the future, fabulous! But I won’t have that expectation going in.

    I think it’s important to determine what you value: some people are really good entrepreneurs and able to write for big sites like Huff-Po because it’s only helping with their link-juice and though I can’t speak for them, I assume that they don’t care about the quality as long as it’s helping with the credibility of their site and therefore, their reputation. Other people really value the importance of the written word and storytelling, so they may sacrifice being posted on a well-known site to maintain their standard of quality on their blog (yes, Pam Mandel of Nerds Eye View comes to mind and she’s been published with World Hum, a reputable online travel publication, but I’m sure not without hard work ….again, those two evil but very true words).

    To summarize: 1. What do you value? 2. What is your goal? 3. Know your worth and stick to it. As a result, people will respect that (as I’m slowly learning).

  21. There we go, that’s what I was trying to get my head around. It’s this: Getting paid to write about travel? Totally achievable. Markets exist, you can get paid to publish a piece about travel. It’s just not that hard.

    But making a living as a travel writer? That’s a VERY different equation. How many 15-30-200 dollar pieces do you have to sell to pay your bills?

    For the 900th time, I make my living as a technical writer. I’m paid to write about stuff a lot of people would find REALLY boring. I like the work, and the money is good. As a freelancer, I get time off to pursue things I love, like travel and writing about it.

    But there is no way I’d do travel writing full time, not at the rates I’m seeing. I don’t have a patron spouse and I’m not willing to go back to living like a grad student. And I’m not willing to go without health insurance or to take out a loan against my home to finance what’s essentially a risky business proposition.

    Again, getting paid? Doable. Totally doable. Making a living? Well, it depends on what kind of living you want to make, what your personal economics are, and who’s backing you.

    Worth a read? This:

    And @Natalie: MWAH! Big hug to you.

    • Pam, that’s just it: You say no to the $15-$30 articles and find the better-paying gigs. They are out there. There ARE still magazines out there paying $1-$2 a word, and I’ve found that publications are starting to up their rates again to what they were prior to the economy tanking.

      You and I have bantered about this on the BlogHer forums before, but it’s entirely feasible to make a living solely doing travel. I make more annually as a freelance writer–through a mixture of guidebooks (glamorous? no, but the work pays well) and magazine articles and reporting assignments–than I ever did as an overworked editor at Conde Nast or Time Inc. You’ve just got to find your niche and get in with credible publications that maybe don’t already have the writer pools that Travel + Leisure, Budget Travel, etc. do.

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