A few years ago there was heaps of noise around travel blogging and much heated debate amongst travel writers about these new kids on the block threatening their income and existence. I got pretty bored of those arguments as I'm sure many others did too.
Further down the line I wanted to come back to the topic – with older (and wiser?) eyes.
In particular after reading this post by Emily Luxton on whether it's possible to build a career from travel blogging - rather than just use it as a way to fund an extended period of travelling in low cost countries.
With very low barriers to entry, there's an ever-growing pool of young people (and it is mainly people in their 20s) setting up shop. It's been interesting to see events for bloggers like TBU and TBEX continue to pull in the punters. (Perhaps with less success that in the past though?)
So is it a viable career option?
Tourist boards in particular are paying travel bloggers to work for them. Sponsored campaigns for the likes of Visit South Africa, Visit Scotland and Visit Wales (who I've commissioned bloggers to work with myself) and many others have started to offer a genuine source of income for some better quality travel bloggers.
Other revenue streams look suspect to me. The SEO-industry was all over bloggers for a while effectively buying links with sponsored posts that weren't really about the content produced but were more about the link that they included back to a client's website. Google has stamped down hard on this practice. Gullible blog owners might still be welcoming SEO agency cash in return for posts, but they risk getting penalised. I imagine a lot of bloggers saw what looked like a promising revenue source dry up in the space of 6 months. They thought they were making it… but actually, they weren't. Banner ads look highly unlikely to provide serious income too – particularly with the way the market is moving towards targeting users wherever they are reading rather than working with specific publishers. I think the advertising bucks will become increasingly polarised around a few mega websites that are run by massively powerful organisations – like Mailonline for example. No way a blogger can compete with that.
Meantimes the pool of bloggers keeps growing. Emily's post suggests that the way to stand out from the crowd is to post heaps and heaps of content, work like crazy to build social following, do guest posts to build links back to your own blog. But wow, that must be hard. (Some of he people she quotes in her piece are working 70 hours a week on occasions.) And it must be really difficult to keep an eye on the quality of what you write if you constantly feel pressure to post something new.
I think the first mover advantage has come and gone now. A few high profile bloggers got in early and got established. Google likes their longevity and they crop up high in search rankings. People like Keith at Velvet Escape, Nomadic Matt, Melvin from Travel dudes, Gary Arndt, Nellie Huang. For me, they've made it. These guys are seriously entrepreneurial – they don't just blog, they network and they look for other revenue models like offering travel advice, setting up blogger trips for tourist boards, consultancy. If travel blogging hadn't been there, they'd have probably started some other kind of business anyway.
What about the rest though? The marketplace will become even more crowded. It will get even harder to stand out and make income.
Choosing to be a full-time blogger (in travel or any other category) is also choosing to be self-employed. This is something that's both liberating, but also restricting. A few people have successfully made a name for themselves as travel bloggers and then been hired by tour operators as digital content/social media specialiasts. But I reckon there'll be heaps of higher education courses in social media and digital content on offer soon (if not already) and people who have these ticks on their CVs are more likely to get hired than someone who has spent say 5 years travel blogging.
So here's my question. If you get to say 30 and you've realised you're only ever going to scrape a pretty modest income from travel blogging. Maybe you're thinking about getting married, buying house or whatever… what do you do? What's the exit plan?