A service I would absolutely pay for

2011 has been a very good year for us. We’ve now got a team of 13+ talented people writing for us on a regular basis and the site, despite a few hiccups, is on a trajectory we’re pretty happy with.

On the revenue side, things are growing nicely (which helps when you need to pay people!) but what I’m finding is forever eating up more of my time is throwing all these numbers together and preparing charts etc that compare year on year and month on month performance etc etc.

The problem is I have no idea what I’m doing.

I’m not from a business background (it took me three attempts to pass Accounting I — I switched to a BA to avoid Accounting II) and while I love making charts, I am making it up as I go.

I find over and over again that I’ve been summarising data in the wrong way and need to go back through 3,4,5 years of data and re-tabulate it. It’s great when you’re procrastinating, not so hot at other times.

Even when you get the data right, there’s not exactly a central respository of averaged out data that gives you some guidelines to benchmark against. There’s no point getting all excited about raising a conversion rate from 5% to 8% when the industry average for your niche in 19%.

So what I’m saying is a resource backed up with data that says ok, for hotel bookings you need to track A,B,C with moving averages over X & Y days. Track cancellations as a percentage, not raw numbers, chart time between booking and stay etc etc.

For other affiliate areas, serve up industry average conversion rates for a content site. For eg X for insurance, Y for books, Z for tours etc. Attach to this some templates for spreadsheets that you can pour data into so that now not only are you saving time but you’re looking at representations of data that fit some kind of “bigger picture view”.

I realise all sites are different and, especially in travel, there’s many variations and vagueries, but if I’d been able to get something like this five years ago, it would have saved me an awful lot of time. An awful lot of time.

So if you’re an “ebooker” looking for an ebook worth writing, there’s a new pet project for you 🙂

What would I pay? I dunno — $500 to a grand depending on level of detail and, importantly, how much time it would save me.

The Travelfish.org predictions for 2012

Everyone loves to have a go at predicting what might be happening just around the corner. We love Southeast Asia and travel in the region, so we’ve decided to have a punt at what we might see develop on that front over the year ahead. Disclaimer: All of the following was done without use of any tarot cards. Or chicken feathers. Or tea leaves.

The loons in charge of Burma will announce direct flights to Naypyidaw — from Naypyidaw. All incoming visitors who do not arrive at Naypyidaw will be required to engage an overland transfer to Naypyidaw in order to take a flight from Naypyidaw to Naypyidaw. This will be required before moving any further into the country. The airfare will be 150 euros. North American pesos are not accepted. Note the domestic airline that runs Naypyidaw-Naypyidaw flights is a non-governmental entity with no connection whatsoever to the junta.

Naypyidaw airport transfer. Just EU 150.

Naypyidaw airport transfer. Just EU 150.

The ever forward-looking, ever-caring Cambodian government will approve the first McDonalds outlet within the grounds of Angkor Wat. Set within the confines of the Bayon monument, the McDonalds will quench thirsts with “Pagan Pepsi” and fill tummies with the much anticipated “Jayavarman Burger Seven Stack” which comes with one slice of cheese and one slice of (Cambodian) beef for each of the seven reigns. The company has pledged to make minimal structural changes to the Bayon, noting that the second floor of the restaurant will be supported by restored teak taken from remote Khmer villages and only one quarter of the monument will need to be demolished.

The Indonesian government will announce the introduction of a Bogan Baru Visa (BBV). Valid for Kuta and Legian, it also allows for daytrips to other selected regencies including Gianyar (home to Ubud folks) but BBV holders are otherwise restricted to south Bali. The BBV is available only on flights from Australia and can be purchased with four empty VB cans (bogans under the age of 15 can swap a small bag of grass for the visa).

Where is the Bintang tshirt?

Where is the Bintang tshirt?

Laos will announce the cancellation of all further dam contracts after a detailed study reveals that the impoverished country could make far more cashola by floating stoned and drunk backpackers down the rivers than by damming them and flogging the hydro power to Thailand. A full “Tube Laos” map is expected in June 2012 – just in time for the wet season.

No stoned tubers in sight...

No stoned tubers in sight...

The Malaysian government will finally announce the Thai-Malay visa run service that doesn’t even require a visa run. Simply login to www.ireallydontwanttogotomalaysiaforavisarun.com, submit your passport details, and a Malaysia entry and exit sticker along with the corresponding Thai stamps will be mailed to you. Cost yet to be announced, but we’d guess about $5 more than a bus from Phuket to Penang.

Singapore will burst out of the closet, formally permitting hash bars, prostitution, gambling and chewing gum. Long hair, throwing butts on the ground, looking like a hippy and trying to wave down a taxi on the street however will remain punishable by caning.

Time to roll on down to Singapore

Time to roll on down to Singapore

In order to further protect the “extremely well-respected by every living soul on the face of the earth” monarchy, we’ve heard that 2012 will see the removal of the letters “K”, “N”, “G” and “I” from all computer keyboards across Thailand. The Crown Property Bureau plan to release a workaround in early January, but we’ve heard the system is a tap to the right, so “walking” becomes “wallonh”. Early testers say it’s not too difficult to master.

In early February the Vietnamese government will start taking enrolments for the first ever Vietnamese travel agent online spamming course. Six months of tuition will cover matters from impersonating real travellers and spamming message boards through to how to write a good fake hotel review and abusing intellectual property 101.

Spamming for karma.

Spamming for karma.

Travel tech
Google will go back to organising the world’s information — rather than their information before the world’s information.

Google will announce the release of the Google Toaster, Google Kettle, Google Oven and Google Fridge. All will be embedded within the Android OS allowing Android to further cement its position over iOS as the leading operating system — who cares if they never use a browser?

Travel media
Tnooz will (finally) add the question, “How are you any different to the other X start-ups doing the same thing?” to their Tlabs questionnaire.

Bigger picture (Note: Okay, this is the only serious prediction)
People will continue to travel, explore new places and meet new people. They’ll learn new things — some good, some bad, but regardless one hopes they’ll have a rocking time doing it. Travel is awesome.

Travel is one of the best educations available on the planet and we strongly suggest all who can manage it embark on at least a PhD of it.

Get off your ass and travel!

Get off your ass and travel!

2011 has been a great year for travel and here’s hoping 2012 is even better. If you’re not already on the road, crank out the maps, grab some guidebooks and get travelling!

Best wishes to all and, to Travelfish readers, our deepest thanks, for being, well, Travelfish.org readers!

What about the cricket?

Excuse the largely Travelfish.org-unrelated waffle.

The other day a high profile RSS reader launched to the iPhone. Flipboard. They’d already been available on iPad for some time and had received considerable critical acclaim, so when it launched for iPhone, I grabbed a copy.

First the good.

It’s a very clever, innovative approach and UI. Think flicking through one of those sprirally business card holder thingies. I actually read a 32-page Guardian story on it today and had no issues flicking from page to page (or board to board perhaps) — unlike online where even a page two for a story has me frothing at the mouth.

It’s also very easy to use and navigate. It really is a pleasure to use.

Then the not so good.

Flipboard comes with a bunch of pre-installed RSS feeds, broken into News, Business, Tech & Science, Video, Cool Curators, Photo & Design, Living, Entertainment, Sports, Local, Travel and finally, Style.

I zoomed straight to Travel to see who was in the wrap (not Travelfish, but we’re pretty small fry, so I’m not offended, really!) to see it was the regular suspects including LP, Frommers and National Geographic along with some North American travel sites I’m familiar with and finally some travel bloggers (all of whom (I think, apologies if I’m off here) are North American). Some raised a bit of an eyebrow, but it was overall a collection of the usual suspects.

Then I browsed over to news. Of thirty news sources, one, AlJazeera, was not a US or UK news outlet.

Isn’t this internet thang global?

Over in the “Local” section, subtitled “Regional media, city guides, local food” (code for “all the stuff we couldn’t stick elsewhere”) 23 of the 32 sources are US or UK based. There’s a couple of hat tips to Asia – Shanghaiist gets an honourable mention at least, but there’s no Asian or Australian newspapers, Paris covers Europe, and, well Africa, just don’t go there, all the news out of there is bad anyway.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m the least sport-inclined Australian on the face of the planet, which makes this app perfect for me. Zero cricket, rugby (either code) or badminton, but it is quite handy for baseball (for him) and yoga (for her).

I realise it must be difficult to boil down a gazillion news sources to something even remotely global in coverage, but Flipboard hasn’t even tried. It was suggested by tech journalist Jon Russell that “they have always claimed to be a US product” but nowhere on the app description page does it say something along the lines of “This app comes preinstalled with a selection of primarily US and UK media“.

To my mind it is an opportunity missed to perhaps expose Flipboard users to alternative news sources — I’m not talking about the People’s Front of Judea (or the Judean People’s Front) newsletter, but be they news sources like The Sydney Morning Herald, Bangkok Post or the Times of India, or a plethora of international travel bloggers who have interesting stuff to say, or, hell yeah, even a cricket mag!

If you’re going to preload RSS feeds and call it “News from the World” then it’s not a bad idea to make it “News from the World.

Until then, I’ll stick to Reeder which comes pre-loaded with nothing except an interface that just does what it says on the can.

Mobile platforms and Travelfish.org

I often get asked “Why don’t you have an Android App as well as an iPhone one” and I have two standard replies: We don’t have the resources to build for another platform and, at least according to our traffic, nobody seems to be using an Android phone to surf Travelfish.org.

I’ve never really understood it, but maybe you do. Below is a chart of the mobile platforms used to browse Travelfish.org. I realise the iPad doesn’t really belong there, but if it is good enough for Google, it will do for me too.

You’ll see from May through to November this year Android’s share has grown from just under 10% to 13%. Meanwhile the iPhone and iPod Touch has gone from 59% to 47% and the iPad from 27% to 35%. Note, these percentages are of just mobile traffic, not overall site traffic.

The overall iPhone, iPod, iPad section has barely shifted — from 85% to 82%.

Given reports like this, why aren’t we seeing a majority of readers on Android?


Mobile platform use on Travelfish.org

Mobile platform use on Travelfish.org. Click on image for a big version

Below are the share of overall traffic held by mobile platforms (including the iPad) as per Google Analytics.

May 8.5%
June 9.2%
July 10.2%
August 10.3%
September 10.6%
October 12.5%
November 13.8%

Don’t have a mobile optimised interface? Perhaps time to start thinking about one.

Outsourcing risk

Starting out as a travel writer? We’ll run it for free! Think of the profile we’ll give you! Before you know it editors will be banging down your door.

Oh, but yeah, we can’t pay sorry. We’re a startup and have no funds alocated for writers right now, but that will change one day.

Sound familiar?

I was pointed to a blog post the other day about a traveller who was trying to break into travel writing. Following the theory of building clips and profile she wrote for some sites for free. As time went on, she also wrote for websites that do pay, and which can serve as a staging ground for better paid writing, including respected travel websites like Bootsnall and Matador. Down the track she came across a bunch of her writing that she’d done for free for some expat website (which, until reading this story, I’d never heard of) bundled into a Kindle book that the publisher was selling.

Not surprisingly, she was unimpressed. You can read the full post here.

I’ll not name the publisher concerned, though if you Google the “author name+kindle ebook” you should be able to narrow the list pretty quickly.

When you boil it down, the publisher had conceptualised a product which they thought held water, but they were not willing to put their money where their mouth was. Instead they preyed on writers like the abovementioned, who were looking to break into the scene and were willing to write for free.

If the publisher thinks the idea floats, they should be willing to carry the risk. If they can’t afford to pay someone to do the work, then they should do it themself.

As a writer who is just starting out, if the publisher doesn’t have the resources to pay you, what do they have the resources to do? Do they have budget to edit/layout/promote your work?

Separately but also recently, I was approached for advice by another writer who was considering writing a portion of a travel ebook in return for a percentage on sales.

Once again, the publisher was looking to outsource risk. If they thought an ebook covering market food around the world was going to go gangbusters then they should put their money where their mouth is. If they don’t think it is going to go mental, then they should say so up front.

I’m not saying never work on a percentage — in the deadtree world many authors do — but do your research first.

Ask them why won’t they pay you up front, enquire after estimated sales and what sort of promotional activites they are planning. Is the cut on RRP or on price after the affiliate cut (which can often half the price of an ebook). What about rights?

Why am I having this little hissy fit?
Because it annoys the hell out of me!

We’ve always paid our writers — in the early years, yes, an absolute pittance — but we always paid. Back in the day, when we couldn’t afford to pay anything at all, I did all the research myself. As the company has grown so what we pay has grown and today we work to improve the lot of our team of writers (who we dearly love) whenever we can possibly afford to.

My point though, is, everyone can afford to pay something. As a publisher, that’s where you start and you build on it from there.

If you’re a writer, especially one starting out, be very choosy about who you write for on a free basis. Always ask to be paid and be wary of rights grabs and elusive promises of gold sometime a long way from today.

Further reading
Travelwriting 2.0
Travelbloggers Facebook group