Saturday, December 01, 2012

Writing For Free, and TripAdvisor

This is from an interview in September, posted on the AdviceToWriters website:
What’s your advice to new writers?Don't write for free. Why should any of these websites pay anybody if everybody's willing to write for free? And they should pay you. Huffington Post paid squat and then sold for $315 million. Associated Content paid bupkus and then sold for $100 million. You have a proven marketable skill. All these sites are starved for content and you know how to provide it. Get paid for it. Even if it's $25. They'll respect you more in the morning.
Rick Reilly, the writer being interviewed, is saying "Don't write for free", but when you read how he got started, he spent years doing just that. So the question is "When and why should we write for free?"

I write this blog to unjam my thoughts. I tweet on Twitter because it's fun. What about writing for websites that make money from my writing without giving me a cut?

Last summer I got an email from "Jane Dwellable" of the website. She was suggesting that I link blogs I had already written about places on Cape Cod to their listings of links to reviews on their website. It sounded kind of strange at first, but then it's nice for my ego to think that maybe one or two more people might go to my blog and read something I wrote, so I went along with it. When I looked for blog entries that I thought I had written about other places we'd stayed on Cape Cod but couldn't find them, I made up for it by writing them a year or two late, and added the links to dwellable. When I tried to add a second link about Truro and could not, I got a polite personal and apologetic email from Ms Dwellable explaining the rules. It was a friendly and positive experience, even though a tad confusing.

OK, compare that to TripAdvisor.

This summer, while searching for a hotel room between D.C. and my cousin's house, I relied on TripAdvisor and other sites to screen out possibly awful places to stay. After staying at the hotel, I wanted to reciprocate for the help, so wrote my own review of the place. I said I mostly liked it, and that the worst thing about it was the annoying noise the elevator made to announce its arrival at each floor. The hotel manager posted a reply apologizing for the creakiness of old elevators. He misunderstood. The issue was an electronic tone. The elevator itself seemed to be function OK.

After I posted that one review, TripAdvisor sent me email encouraging me to write more. They also sent me a free suitcase name tag, which was pretty nice. So it was writing for a bit of swag, not just for free.

In September, I was on a business trip in Pittsburgh, teaching a class for a few days. On the way back to my hotel one afternoon, I passed a Greek restaurant and paused to read the posted menu. I'd been pausing to read a lot of menus, since I had to figure out where to get supper. A man who seemed to be the owner of the restaurant came out and tried to convince me to eat there. I said I needed to drop my stuff off, but would likely be back. Before returning to the place, I thought to check its on-line reviews.

There were several on various sites, including TripAdvisor. Some of them were very positive. Some were very negative. Most of them mentioned the Greek owner of the place, and had much to say about his character. Obviously, the place would not be the same without him. I was intrigued, and resolved to go to the restaurant and add my review to the controversy so others could benefit from my data points. When I arrived at the restaurant, I did my best to take a quick photo of the manager, even though it was awkward and I couldn't get a great shot of him. I thought it would be really important for a photo of the heart of the restaurant to be included with the review.
Christo's Mediterranean Grill owner displaying his "Best Of" award
After posting the review and attaching the photo, I got a form email from TripAdvisor saying that the photo had been kept out of the posting because it had broken their rules. The rule was something about the photo not being of general interest to those who wanted to know about the restaurant. The nearest I can tell is that there's some robot that is rejecting photos that have faces in them. The email was one without a reply address. I tried entering a justification about the photo from TripAdvisor's contact-us web page, but there was never any human reply.

I was getting emails telling me I'd get a Trip Reviewer's badge if I wrote three reviews. I didn't know what that meant, so wrote a third one, curious what that would be. It turned out to be an email, telling me I had my "first badge". It means I have a star next to my name on the review site.

The TripAdvisor robot periodically emails to tell me that I'm "just three reviews away" from getting my second badge. I don't know if I'm maybe too old to be motivated by stickers. I guess I'm too old to be motivated just by stickers. I would like some human response. It really doesn't take much, honestly.

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