Here's an interesting new start-up I came across recently. TripFiction matches your travel destination with novels set in it. I love reading books about a place I'm visiting. I particularly enjoyed The Beach by Alex Garland when I was backpacking through SE Asia (long before it became really popular) and Graham Greene's The Quiet American was the perfect book to read whilst traveling around Vietnam.
Sense of place is a crucial part of the joy of reading novels for me. (Is it for you?) Neat idea then. But will it make any money? I asked Tony Geary who set it up a few questions:
How did you come up with the idea for Trip Fiction?
About 8 years ago we were staying at the BelAire Princess Hotel just off the Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok. I was sitting by the rooftop pool reading a book called Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett that I had picked up at the airport on the way out. A thriller that absolutely came to life when we discovered that much of the action was taking place in a nearby Soi, a short way beneath us. And the book was great for creating the atmosphere of the city – somehow seedy with (to us) strange customs. A city we then explored, memories of the book still fresh in our minds. It was a great experience as we followed the story. We discussed the idea for TripFiction then and many times over the following years – until we finally decided that ‘the time had come’ to do something about it.
Why will it work?
TripFiction will work because there are enough people who get what we and the site are about. Yes, it will always be somewhat of a niche market – but that doesn’t really impact. We are vastly encouraged by the number of ‘gosh, what a great idea’ mails that we receive from visitors to the site. Getting people to visit the site is crucial to our success, and we are very active on social media. We are also now undertaking a marketing and PR campaign as well as focussing very much on SEO. We are currently making money / funding the site’s continuing expansion by clickthrough purchases from Amazon. We are an Amazon affiliate and earn a small commission on each sale (although the price to the purchaser is exactly the same as buying direct). Where we believe we will make more money / fund the site’s expansion further is by attracting major advertisers such as airlines, car rental companies, hotel groups, and publishers… We are not yet quite there is terms of site visit numbers, but we are getting quite close.
What was the biggest obstacles you had to overcome to launch?
I guess the biggest one was that we decided quite early on that, for credibility’s sake, we needed to have at least 1,000 books in the data base before we could launch. These we identified in online research by location. We then had to manually enter all of them, plus synopses and initial reviews into the site – quite a major and time consuming operation. [This is far less of a problem as we grow – most recommendations to add new books now come from site visitors, authors, and publishers… and we are currently up to over 4,000 books]. We then needed to agree on the name, branding, and brief a web development company to design the site. It all took time, and it all took money.
Why should people use Tripfiction?
Guidebooks do a great job in giving a traveller the facts about a location – the best of them are indispensable. But what they are not set up to do is really add depth and understanding. A work of fiction set in a specific locale can help give a reader the flavour of a place, and extra insight into its personality and character. It can add texture and context. We say’ see a location through an author’s eyes’. I have just, for example read a book called The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer, set in Karachi. The city comes through on every page of the book – the filth, the mass of humanity, the constant traffic jams. The reader feels he is there from the garbage strewn beach at Sea View to the throbbing streets of the markets.
Our short term (next few months) ambition is to get site visitor numbers to a size where we can attract major advertisers. Thereafter it is to continue to build the site by adding new books and new locations. We will never be exhaustive, but we will give it a good shot… We will also build greater facilities on the site for members to interact with each other – make it much more of a social media site for those who buy into the concept. Ultimately we will look at expanding outside books – especially to movies, and TripMovies is very much on the cards.
Give us an example of one of the books on Trip Fiction.
How about Terminal City by Linda Fairstein? It's a real page turner set almost exclusively in the few blocks around (and beneath) Grand Central Station in New York. The story is great, but Grand Central – and its history – is actually the hero of the book. The book gives a totally unexpected insight into an area which I thought I knew quite well. It is no exaggeration to say that there is a whole city beneath Grand Central – right down 10 floors to the M42 ‘not on any blueprint’ generating room that converts AC electricity into DC to power the trains. ‘Not on any blueprint’ or plan because of the fear of terrorist attack closing down the whole East Coast railroad system – years before 9/11. The subterranean city spreads out across many blocks both north and south of 42nd Street – and is most bizarrely ‘home’ to many otherwise homeless people known as ‘moles’ who co-exist with the other inhabitants – large rats (‘track rabbits’). They have their own ‘mayor’ and governance. A parallel world that is entered and left through gratings connecting it to the world above…
What do you think of Tony's idea? Reckon it will work? What would you do differently?