SHOULD TRAVEL BLOGGERS BE PAID? // and, if yes, by whom?

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Last year I invited to speak at the a blogging and digital influence summit, and the conversation turned to blogger payments.

I was asked my opinion – should people expect to pay for travel blogging, and – if yes – would that compromise the integrity of any coverage?

I come from a journalistic background, so writing has always been a my full-time career and my source of income. I have 20 years of experience under my belt, and have been published in glossy magazines all over the world, including Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Psychologies, and the Guardian’s Weekend magazine.

While transitioning into lifestyle and travel blogging seven years ago I didn’t expect – or feel that I deserved – to get paid. Blogging was very young and not yet viewed as a real media outlet (if you’ve been around for a similar length of time you’ll remember the blank looks people used to give you when you said the ‘b’ word).

Besides which, my traffic and domain authority back then was non existent, so held no real value.

Today the story is very different; I took the big leap three years ago and blogging and social media is now my full time job, which means I need to get paid. But, more than that, I deserve to get paid. I apply the same time, effort and professionalism to my blogging posts that I always did with my magazine features.

My blog is well-established and highly ranked by Google, and I have a great social media following (21,500+ on Twitter and nearly 5000 on Facebook). If a brand or company receives some kind of benefit from me writing about them, why shouldn’t they pay for that privilege as they would with any other kind of media or advertising coverage?

At the conference we were talking specifically about travel – particularly relevant now, since more and more bloggers are now being invited on traditional press trips. The attitude of many of the bloggers who don’t come from professional writing backgrounds is that getting the holiday is ‘payment’ enough.

Which may be true if it’s one family jaunt a year and is saving you money you’d otherwise have forked out, but if you’re planning to make a genuine career out of travel blogging, you can’t pay the mortgage with air miles.

When I was a magazine writer, I’d pitch a story to a travel publication and if they liked it they’d agree to a fee. I’d take the trip, write the story, and receive the payment; I was getting the ‘holiday’ (although press trips involve a LOT more than just sitting around on sun loungers), plus I was earning money – not just breaking even.

However, the face of media has changed dramatically in the past five years, the biggest shift being that I publish my own stories now, via my blog. Obviously, I can’t pay myself, so who does pay me?

Tourism boards and operations might argue that it shouldn’t be them, because they’re already covering the cost of the press trip and have never paid in the past. Yet if they want quality, professional coverage they can’t expect people to give up days – even weeks – of their time for free. And here lies the quandary. 

The move amongst the country’s elite travel bloggers is to charge a daily fee. Their (very valid) argument is that they now have monthly impressions to rival most print publications, and – even more importantly – their audience is highly engaged. An established travel blogger recently told me they ran the same promotional deal as a huge news website that gets millions of impressions every day; the news website gained the client five sales, while the travel blogger got them more than 700.

Why? Because the people who are coming to their site know exactly what they write about, and are coming specifically to read it. They already trust the knowledge and information they’re about to read, and they’re ready to absorb it. By contrast, a magazine covers a wide range of topics and not all of them will appeal to the reader – some stories will get bypassed altogether – so there’s no guarantee that the message will reach their audience.

Blogs are written in first person and based on the blogger’s own experiences. They’re more readily trusted as readers feel it’s written by someone they have a personal connection with, rather than an anonymous journalist.

So, the short answer is… yes. Those travel bloggers (and all other kinds) who are putting countless hours, effort and imagination into producing and promoting quality posts should get paid. My time, my experience, and my social and digital influence all have a value, and so does yours. The sooner we collectively make this clear, the sooner the industry will stop viewing bloggers as a way to get cheap – or free – advertorial.

Who foots the bill is something the industry needs to figure out, but a blogger shouldn’t end up out of pocket for advertising another company’s business or brand.

Which brings us to the next question: if you’re being paid or recompensed by the person you’re writing about, is the client essentially buying your positive feedback? Is it then impossible to be completely honest about your experience?

No, not at all.

Traditional journalists are sent on all-expenses paid press trips but are still trusted to present their experience in a truthful, and objective way; just because you’re getting a free holiday from a company doesn’t mean they control your editorial. Unless they’ve specifically commissioned you to write advertorial, and it’s clearly marked as such, it’s important  – legally and morally – that you’re always honest and upfront with your readers (if there are any major issues outline your concerns, as it might be an anomaly they deserve the chance to respond to and/or rectify).

It’s up to each individual blogger to establish clear expectations and boundaries with the client from the outset, and to maintain their own integrity.

In journalism, and now also in blogging, your professional reputation will be the cornerstone of your success. Don’t sell yourself short, ethically OR financially.

What are your thoughts? 

14 Comments

  1. MELANIE EDJOURIAN - April 13, 2017

    I don’t think people realise that although you are going on holiday for free there is a lot of work involved. Continuous note making picture taking all take time and then it takes hours to write them up although on the flip side it depends how many went on the holiday. If it’s the whole family the holiday itself would have cost a considerable amount if it had been paid for.
    MELANIE EDJOURIAN recently posted…Gorgeous Day Dresses from Hobbs for Spring / Summer 2017My Profile

  2. Jemma @ Celery and Cupcakes - April 13, 2017

    Really interesting post, I agree that a blogger shouldn’t end up out of pocket for advertising another company’s business or brand.

  3. Lilinha - April 13, 2017

    Very interesting article. I don’t know much about travel blogging, but I believe that bloggers should be compensated for their time, effort and audience.
    Lilinha recently posted…Authentic Flavours from Napoli at Family-Friendly Restaurant RossopomodoroMy Profile

  4. Ana De- Jesus - April 14, 2017

    Thank you for writing this its about time that someone stated that yes we do need to be paid. I was the same, at the beginning I was just grateful that brands were sending me products but like you said how does it pay my rent? We deserve to be paid and as someone who has a journalistic background as well it baffles me that bloggers are not treated as writers too x
    Ana De- Jesus recently posted…How The 1960’s Fashion Revolution Inspired Modern FashionMy Profile

  5. Anosa - April 14, 2017

    A very well written piece, I agree with you completely, the client should pay the blogger for the time and effort it takes to product quality information about the location, accommodation or services. Us as bloggers definitely need to get our act together and have a unified response as you said, air miles don’t pay mortgages.
    Anosa recently posted…{Travel} Highlights of BudapestMy Profile

  6. Melanie - April 14, 2017

    This is an excellent read. I am a journo too…loved this article. The importance of being truthful and objective is key when sponsered. Also, as for payment for bloggers, I feel that they should be paid. Thanks for sharing this. Have a lovely Easter too 🙂 x
    Melanie recently posted…Nutribox Snacks ReviewMy Profile

  7. stephanie - April 14, 2017

    I can see both sides of this as my background is PR and while you traditionally wouldn’t pay a journalist to attend a press trip, it is now expected that you would pay a blogger. But a blogger can have significantly more influence than a journalist or a publication has x
    stephanie recently posted…Afternoon Tea at Hotel Du Vin HenleyMy Profile

  8. danasia fantastic - April 15, 2017

    This post came at the perfect time! I just received my first press trip invite and I’ve been hesitant about asking for pay since I asked to bring a photographer friend with me. I don’t feel like I can ask for money since I asked for a plus one. Are plus ones normally included in press trips?

    • Jacqui - April 19, 2017

      Congrats on your first press trip invite! Are you going anywhere exciting? It depends what kind of press trip it is – traditionally group trips are a group of individual journalists (and now bloggers) on a set itinerary, and you wouldn’t be granted a plus one. Individual trips are much less common, but have more flexibility – you could bring a friend, partner or even your entire family. However… the industry has changed so much over the past two years, and the concept of press trips has evolved along with it. Content creators are increasingly being asked to take part in larger campaigns, and they definitely have more control over what shape the press trip takes. It’s a funny time at the moment as everyone circles one another, trying to suss the other out. Hopefully payment will soon be commonplace, which will also help to make our new industry more respected AND more professional. Have fun on your trip! x

  9. Helen - April 15, 2017

    I completely agree that travel bloggers should be paid, although I agree and I’m not sure who should pay. It’s definitely something they need to work out.

  10. Rachel - April 15, 2017

    A really interesting subject, I cover travel on my blog and have been on quite a few unpaid press trips, I’ve never really thought about charging for trips but I do think if your audience is that big you shouldn’t sell yourself short! xo
    Rachel recently posted…The Opening of Ferrari Land, PortAventura World with 365 TicketsMy Profile

  11. Lindsey - April 16, 2017

    Well I think they should or at least have their flights and accomodation paid for, be it by the travel agent or company they are working to write for! A lot goes into a post.

  12. Lubka Henry - April 17, 2017

    The topic if bloggers in general should be paid has been discussed for far too long. Just as any other job, I believe bloggers deserve to have some compensation for their work.
    Lubka Henry recently posted…DIETOX – ​o​rganic​, vegan and cruelty-free​ ​​skincare & juicingMy Profile

  13. Tanya Brannan - April 17, 2017

    Such a great article, and I have to agree with you totally. I however am only a little blogger so I don’t think anyone would ever want to pay me for my stuff! But writing makes me happy so I will keep on x
    Tanya Brannan recently posted…Turbans Ahoy!My Profile

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