Making Money With Freelance Travel Journalism: Not What It Used To Be

Making Money With Freelance Travel Journalism

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Freelance travel journalism is often a coveted career. Sauntering around the world with publications picking up the bill is total fiction but undeniably appealing. In reality, writers often linger on the precipice of poverty; rates have stagnated since the mid-90s despite a cumulative living cost increase of 97.40%. The industry also comes with few to no tangible benefits – no health insurance, pension plan, unpaid sick days, or absences for unexpected life events. Dwindling fees have made it near impossible for many to imagine a full-time career in the field. Travel Journalism Then and Now Travel writer Kristen Luna puts the year-on-year comparison into sharp perspective. “In 2006, rates were a standard $2 per word. Even when many magazines launched websites back then, they paid a minimum of $1 per word. In 2008, my entire income was based on travel writing, more than $50,000 a year, from travel assignments from anchor clients like Forbes, who paid $1 to $2 per word.” Luna states she currently limits travel assignments. Here’s why. “I hardly ever take travel assignments as the hassle, the pitching, the sourcing of images, the whole hullabaloo is not worth the paltry $250 many publications offer.” The sizeable investment of time and personal funds expected in travel writing research negates the financial rewards, with rates quartering in the space of fewer than 20 years.” One former newspaper and magazine editor reported paying $0.37-0.50 per word in 2001, a rate which has not increased in 22 years despite the steep hike in the price of being alive. Writers Haven’t Been Quiet About Their Frustrations Other travel writers have tweeted their frustrations recently – they’re being paid the same day rate as in 1995 and paid $100 less in 2023 than in 2015 for the same publications. In a subscriber survey by the industry newsletter Talking Travel Writing , 177 journalists aired their grievances with the industry. Sixty-four percent said finding well-paid commissions was one of their biggest struggles, along with securing regular income (52%) and negotiating fair rates (31%.) Industry fees’ steady wane is intensified by the time investment required by travel writers. According to former Conde Nast Traveler features editor Fiona Kerr, a feature story in the major publication includes a minimum of four days of on-site research, plus set up and writing time, before edits. No other stories could be sold off the back of trips conducted for Conde Nast Traveler, meaning that journalists could expect a maximum return of $1000 on this significant time investment. Major Publications Haven’t Raised Rates in 20+ Years, and Some Publications Have Reduced Pay Despite being one of the best-paying publications in the UK, the magazine’s rate per word has remained unchanged since the publication launched in 1997. In a tweet, travel writer James Stewart noted that he had been offered day rates of $150-200 from mid-size magazine publishers. Similarly, Francisca Kellert noted on Twitter that some publications she works with had halved their rates over the past 20 years. Responses […]

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