Has Blogging Killed the Travel Book Stars? by Matthew Lightfoot
A late 70’s pop hit bemoans the fact that ‘Video Killed the Radio star’, and I’m currently left wondering whether I should release a follow-up entitled ‘Blogging has killed the Travel Book genre’. I self-published my first book, The Two Week Traveller, on Amazon KDP in 2019, and in order to promote it, re-engaged with a community I’d more or less forgotten about – the travel bloggers.
I set up a blog (DriverAbroad.com) in 2011, to provide much-needed info for self-driving travellers, covering every country of the world. It was quite niche – no one had a similar blog at the time (nor currently as far as I know). I set up Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote the site and made a little money from advertising, but the time taken to maintain info on 240 countries made it non-viable to continue while I was also in full-time employment. Around 3 years later, I received a couple of offers for the domain as it was receiving a healthy number of hits. I decided not to sell, mainly because I’d put so much effort into it that it would have almost felt like selling my own child!
After publishing my book, I set up new social media accounts and began to engage once again with the online travel community. To say I was shocked by the change in nine years is an understatement! The volume of travel blogs and bloggers seemed to have multiplied tenfold. Everyone, from pensioners to teenagers, professional explorers to holiday housewives, seemed to have a travel blog, and my Twitter timeline became a non-stop stream of info on everything from romantic breaks in Budapest to mountain climbing in Ethiopia; and photos of ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experiences from seemingly every country on the globe.
On Twitter, I’m only aware of one other writer who is using the social media platform to promote her travel book. The rest are all pushing their blogs/websites. I’m very careful to balance mentions of my book with other travel-related content. My belief is that interesting content will prompt people to check out my profile and pinned promo video which may lead them to my Amazon link. What I have noticed though is that most bloggers are reluctant to share other people’s content. I guess they feel that may reduce clicks to their own pages.
This has all left me wondering – ten or fifteen years ago, how many of these bloggers would have devoted their energy to writing a book rather than a blog? Some of the writing is skillfully executed and of high quality. Some less so, with regurgitated articles from other sites, poor spelling and bad grammar. It does feel though that travel writing has potentially lost some of its nascent talent to blogging over the last decade, and as more teens see blogs as a means to achieve the digital nomad lifestyle they crave, I can only see that trend increasing.
Where will this leave us in another ten years? Is the future of travel writing one of hundreds of thousands of online blogs comprising of short articles, but with the only published writing being material that was produced in the early years of the new millenium? Writing a book is hard work, whatever the genre. Travel writing requires a level of knowledge and experience of the subject matter which can’t be achieved overnight. It also requires the author to have spent enough time ‘in-country’ to amass sufficient anecdotes and amusing or informative tales to fill multiple chapters. You can’t write authentically unless you’ve been there and done it, so there are no short-cuts to writing a travel book. Conversely, a blog can be set up quickly and cheaply using one of the plethoras of website builders on the market, and a 500-word article accompanied by some holiday snaps can easily be produced and uploaded within an hour.
Little wonder therefore that most aspiring travel writers now see blogging as the way to achieve their goals, whether that’s financial independence, fame and fortune or the much discussed ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle. I see very few new independent authors making their first foray into the world of self-published travel writing, which leaves me wondering whether blogging has killed the travel book? Or will this new generation of bloggers eventually amass sufficient adventures, inspiring journeys, near-misses and life-changing moments to be told… ‘you should really write a book’.
Perhaps somewhere within the hundreds of thousands of travel blogs on the internet, there is a potential Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson for the new millennium learning their trade. Or maybe the genre has changed forever, with less inclination for readers to immerse themselves in the details of a journey and a country, and instead to devour bite-sized snippets and move on quickly to a new location. What is certain is that, as with travel in general in a post-Covid world, the landscape has almost definitely changed forever.
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