Visions of a Modern Travel Journalism Web Site

By Lee Foster

My web site for Foster Travel Publishing at www.fostertravel.com has recently undergone a total replacement with a new structure.

The older structure served me well from 1995 to 2009, allowing me to grow and progress and connect with an audience. The old web site, a hand-made html technology affair, won two Lowell Thomas Awards, plus another five Lowell Thomas Awards for its individual content, as that content appeared in print or web publications.

The web site from 1995 drew on my first online publication in 1983 of travel content on CompuServe, where I became, as far as I am aware, the first travel journalist to earn a dollar in the new online and later Internet world. CompuServe sent me a check each month for 18 years, from 1983 to 2001, paying me a 10% royalty on the Premium Content fees they collected when someone looked at my travel writing. This historic story is discussed in my article Moments in the Electronic Travel Publishing Revolution: A Participant’s Journey.

My vision today concerns the usefulness of my web site looking forward, 2011-2020, as a presentation of travel writing and photography to my audience, which is twofold–content licensors of travel writing/photography (for print and web republication) and the public (those 6.9 billion people on earth). I am looking ahead, and I am in an optimistic mood, though the overall outlook concerning for-profit travel journalism is challenging.

Some observations:

-The new web site uses a WordPress web-platform technology. This is a major advance over my earlier html hand-made approach. WordPress is a remarkable development. It is a free and open-source structure. Thousands of people are collectively invested in it, creating themes and plug-ins for me to buy. It is a highly flexible structure, good for both a static web site presentation and/or a blog approach, all in one.

-The new web site is closely integrated with my PhotoShelter photo-selling site. PhotoShelter, another major web development for presenting and selling travel photography, is a hosting site with its own software. See my PhotoShelter site at

http://stockphotos.fostertravel.com

My PhotoShelter site allows me to interact with photo editors who wish to license an image. It also allows me to sell directly to an individual in the public, who may want a print, a product (such as my photo on a greeting card), and personal licenses (such as use of one of my photos for a school project or blog, for my determined price of $2.99). I set all the prices on my PhotoShelter site. I charge what I feel is best. Much more can be said of the PhotoShelter site, but I concentrate here only on its seamless integration into my www.fostertravel.com site. (My PhotoShelter site is discussed in more detail in the article Selling Travel Photography Today.)

-The new site can be Searched for writing content. This is a wonderful advance. In my old site, one needed to proceed through a menu to find content. On the new site you can Search for “Galapagos” and find immediately my articles and blog postings related to the Galapagos Islands. The Search is imperfect and can be irritating, but it is still a vast improvement. For example, if I put into my discussion of Polar Bears in Canada a sentence, “The world of the polar bears is the total opposite of the steamy tropical rain forest of the Amazon,” then a Search for “tropical rain forest” will bring up the Polar Bear article also. Some resilience is required on the part of the Searcher. Aside from Search, I include an old-fashioned table-of-contents menu under Instruction, partly to assist viewers to imagine what is here. The mouseover browsable Articles list on the lower right side of my page is also helpful if you want to search for an article in a geographic area.

-The new site can also be Searched for photo content. The content actually resides on my PhotoShelter site. However, a user sees the two sites seamlessly. A user can move a photo to a shopping cart and license it or order a print or product. There is a lot of functionality. Photo buyers who are my major magazine clients are given “Trusted Client” privileges, at my discretion, allowing them immediate hi-res downloads. I see their download. When their use of a photo is confirmed, I can send them a QuickBooks invoice. The ease and facility available to the photo buyer is critical if I want to get the incremental sales that these busy people might extend to me as they look through their huge range of photo providers. Once I get a photo buyer’s attention, I need to make things easy for them and help them to be successful, with my photos. I need to do this to survive.

-The new site can be updated easily. You have no idea what a relief this is. With the old site, when I had a new book come out, I had to go into each of the 250 or so pages and make the change in the shell structure around the content manually. I dreaded making changes. Updating an article as information became dated was a pain. I had to update the article offline and then FTP it up to my site. Many articles were not updated because of the burden involved. Now the task will be easier, quicker, and more pleasant. I update right on the site, within the WordPress structure, and then click to make the changes live. Still, I am way behind in my updating of content.

-The new site allows an engaging slide show presentation for each article. This is a major advance. The slide show is not actual photos on my www.fostertravel.com. It is just code referring to the slide show on my http://stockphotos.fostertravel.com. My slide show even allows users to appropriate the code and put it on their own sites. See this in an icon on the lower right side of each slide show, offering embed. This is a viral marketing opportunity for me. All traffic goes back to my PhotoShelter site, where photos can easily be licensed or purchased as prints and products.

-The new site allows feedback and user interaction. This functionality is critical in the crowdsourced world in which we find ourselves. We are in a new era, and all of us who are professional travel journalists need to understand this. The consumer wants to interact and become part of the reporting process. With this new site, a user can leave a comment on any article or blog. Buzz can be created. Participation is encouraged. The new site also has an email sign-up alert for people who want to become aware of my new articles and blog posts, which occur roughly weekly.

-The new site becomes an integrated destination target for my social media efforts. Users can follow a weekly comment on my new content on my Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In locations. Viewers are drawn back to my home site, where they may click on a Google ad, buy a photo print or product, license a photo, or become aware of and purchase my books and apps. Books can be purchased directly from me (autographed, if desired), on Amazon, and at a local Barnes & Noble or independent bookstore. Apps need to be purchased in the Apple iTunes App Store, and there is a direct link on my page. My blog and my articles are closely integrated on this new site. Both are posts on my own domain. My weekly blog posting at https://www.fostertravel.com/category/blog formerly resolved to a hosting site I had at TypePad. Now the blog resides on my one integrated site.

Most viable travel journalists today are using social media in some way. Here is what I am doing now, and note, as stated above, the various social media are platforms through which people can be alerted to my new articles and blogs. Each week I do a posting on my blog site at https://www.fostertravel.com/category/blog. I see the blog postings as mini articles, offering something new and useful to the traveler, or some commentary by me on the travel scene. Sometiems the posting is an update of an earlier article. I usually put a photo or slide show into each blog posting. After posting the blog, I announce the blog subject on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/lee.foster) where people can see it. Anyone who wants to see the announcements can become a Friend. I make a Twitter posting of the subject (http://twitter.com/fostertravel) and a LinkedIn status update (http://www.linkedin.com/in/fostertravel). How I will use social networking in the future will evolve, as it must in this volatile scene. The good news is that there is incentive to draw people back to my integrated content-providing website, which shows the full range of my “products.”

-The new site enables me to present and sell my 10 books (and 4 apps) effectively. The covers of my recent books and apps look pleasant on the right side of the page. A consumer can buy a book on Amazon with one click from my web site, and I get a small affiliate fee. A consumer can also put a book in my Shopping Cart and buy an autographed book directly from me through a seamless PayPal purchase. Because of the smooth Shopping Cart functionality, I collect the money from PayPal (in advance of shipping) and even print a USPS Priority mailing label without a single keystroke entry on my part. On my earlier web site I had to run the credit card purchase manually through ProPay and then I had to manually create the shipping label. Human errors, my own, were possible. Because of my web site, a consumer might also have the book in mind when walking into a Barnes & Noble store or an independent bookstore. People will tend to buy a book after they get perhaps five positive messages confirming this is a book that will enhance their lives. The monetization of my website has many aspects, ranging from Google Ads to the selling of books and apps. The apps, of course, are sold only in the Apple iTunes App Store. I alert people to the existence of the apps and provide a link to the app store.

-My new website (and my new email system with Google Web Mail) is in the “cloud,” with many resulting benefits. Up until 9-15-09 I was tethered firmly to earth, and more specifically to my one functioning device, a Dell 820 Latitude laptop. I was prudent enough, fortunately, to believe in the backup of all data on various hard drives on and off site. But my efficient work flow still needed to be done on my Dell laptop. My first “cloud” experience was, unfortunately, a disaster, which proved to be a loss and inconvenience to me, but not fatal. This was the failure of a system of photo presentation, called Digital Railroad, that was parallel to PhotoShelter. I was a true believer and an early adapter of Digital Railroad. Some of my photo-selling colleagues, who did not have disciplined backup for their Digital Railroad sites, took catastrophic losses. Digital Railroad went bankrupt so quickly that there was not even time to transfer all the photos off the servers before the electrical power was turned off. This saga is a long story for another time. Despite my early “cloud” disappointments, I realize that the “cloud” has special advantages, and all my “cloud” content can be and is backed up periodically. With my web site and my email now in the “cloud,” I can work from any computer with an Internet connection. The theft or breakage of my Dell 820 Latitude Laptop would be stressful, but not nearly as damaging as it would have been in my earlier world. Google Web Mail also has many pleasing subtleties, such as the ability to Search all your past mail for something (such as sender’s name) rather than save all the mail in folders.

-With WordPress, manage the website yourself, but get some design assistance. This has generally been the philosophy I have recommended to travel journalists since 1995. Develop the skills needed to manage all the routine work on your web site, all the managing of content. However, get some design assistance to start your site and to jump it up in complexity from time to time. I work with Bradley Charbonneau of San Francisco on my site. When working with a designer, realize that you need to be the designer yourself, but the “designer” is your implementer. Figure out in advance what your goals are for your travel journalism website. Simplify the vision to achievable objectives. Imagine the look and feel you would like. Review other web sites you like and emulate the designs you find pleasing. A designer will work with you per hour, and the fee may well start at $100/hour and perhaps go down if you buy many hours. A good designer can do a lot in a few hours. A designer can often estimate in advance how many hours might be required to achieve your goals. A specialist in WordPress will know a lot about the “themes” you might choose for the layout and the “plug-ins” that might do useful tasks. Working with a designer is like working with an attorney. You need to direct the process and keep things businesslike, with a written list of goals. The nature of web site development is that you tend to want more complexity after you have reached a desired level. An ongoing relationship with your designer to continue advancing your site can be helpful. From 1995 to 2009 I had one designer and the same host for the first iteration of my web site. Now I have a new designer, Bradley Charbonneau, and a new host, Host Gator, and a new email system, with Google Web Mail. Probably these will be long term relationships. Your designer absolutely needs to be there to hold your hand if there is some technical crash or hosting crash on your site. You need to be on a first name basis with your designer. Above all, the designer must be a forward looking type, aware of the advancing technology, ready to suggest new enhancements for your web site as they become technically available..

-Finally, my new site looks good on an iPhone. There is incentive to develop new-style products that will be useful to mobile Internet devices. I like the look of my web site as is for the iPhone, rather than specially formatted for the mobile device. I have released my first four apps, starting with San Francisco Travel Photo Guide. This is discussed more throughly in my article Apps and the Future of Travel Journalism. It is good to know that my home web site also looks good on the iPhone. Both my web site and my apps look great on the iPad and other tablet devices now proliferating. Mobile devices will be the practical web site viewing tool for many consumers worldwide.

More aspects of my web site could be mentioned, but these are some initial observations. Always on my mind is the question: How can I improve this presentation of travel writing/photo content for my audiences? How will the technology evolve in 2011-2020? I’ll be watching for the possibilities.

(Note: Lee Foster presents several instructional articles on his web site.  If you find this instruction useful, you are encouraged to make a contribution/donation of $1 or more to Lee Foster’s PayPal account at [email protected] Funds will be used to develop further such instruction.)