A Web Site Built to Make Money

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March 2012
by Lee Foster
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Because I consider my Web site an essential tool both for connecting with readers of my travel books and for increasing my earnings, I devote substantial ongoing attention to it. Paying attention has led me to some conclusions that may help you if you share my goals, no matter what kinds of books you publish.

The Setup

WordPress now appears to be the most satisfactory structure for a complex Web site, one that that can handle e-commerce and subscription lists, that includes static pages as well as a blog, and that’s capable of performing various other functions.

I swap all my content in and out myself to keep costs down, but I engage a professional Web designer (Bradley Charbonneau of likoma.com) when I want to improve the WordPress structure.

The built-in income earners on my site are licensing of content, Google AdSense income, private ads, affiliate ads, and sales of products including books, apps, and photo prints and cards.

Because I know my Web site can bring money, I’m motivated to do the social media outreach and make the promotional moves that will attract the constant flow of new viewers the site needs to survive and flourish. To continually present something useful and enticing to my social media audiences, I do periodic “announcement” presentations on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter about my new or revised travel articles. And I interact with my audience by responding to their comment posts.

Google Analytics tells me that about 90 percent of my viewers each day are new viewers. They find my content mainly through searches and my social media activity. For every hundred people who are attracted, roughly one will click on a Google Ad, and I will earn about 25 cents. Because of the volume of traffic to my Web site, various people have approached me about placing ads on certain pages.

The key aspects of my site include an e-commerce structure that lets me sell my books, e-books, and apps both directly, when that is possible, and via links to sellers, such as the Amazon or Apple stores.

Also, it has a convenient turnkey way for a visitor to license a photo and pay with a credit card. Consumers can easily buy prints, cards, and inexpensive personal licenses (such as the use of one of my photos on their blogs).

The site makes it easy to print something out and to comment. It accommodates a static structure of articles as well as a more dynamic blog presentation. And it is set up so that it is easy for subscribers to receive email alerts when I post something new.

Of course, I work hard to implement the invisible search-engine optimization detail for each post in my WordPress structure. Improving my site is an ongoing task.

Lucrative Licenses

Licensing products that I create and own has always been a major part of my strategy. Sometimes my site helps me license material to magazines. For instance, Costco magazine’s editor contacted me after seeing my article about New Brunswick on my Web site, and asked: “Could you do an 800-word article for me at $1 a word?” I could and did.

Licensing many units to the same buyer can be far more lucrative. For 17 years, I had a license with CompuServe that allowed it to publish all my articles in its online system in exchange for a 10 percent royalty on its “premium” content revenue. I had a similar article-a-week license for three years with CNN Travel as it launched in the late 1990s.

In 2011, I am happy to report, I contracted for another such major license, which now provides ongoing monthly income. One of the world’s larger travel agency marketing systems, Tait Collins/Uniglobe, decided to create a major travel content Web site and wanted a substantial amount of content. I had 200 relevant articles ready to go at fostertravel.com—articles that I own, free and unencumbered, since I have licensed them only nonexclusively or in derivative presentations. (Uniglobe is not looking for further content providers and asks specifically that other travel freelancers not approach it)

I am now updating my articles for gradual absorption into the system, and I am pleased that each of them will be bylined, with a photo and bio at the bottom. Ideally, this relationship will continue for years.

Whatever licensing deals you make, pay close attention to terms and conditions in the contract. Obviously, any provisions involving money are important, but so are provisions involving other licenses of the same content.

If I had placed my content in Examiner.com, for example, I would not have been able to license it to Tait Collins/Uniglobe, which required that the content it uses be available otherwise only on my Web site and in individual nonexclusive placements that I was aware of in other media.

Any time your content is posted to an iReporter crowdsourced site, or any time it is entered in a contest, read the terms and conditions carefully and make sure you are willing to convey the rights requested.

Putting Content Where the Sales Are

My agreement with Tait Collins/Uniglobe suggests an emerging category of travel publishing—the dissemination of content on the Internet at the travel selling point. In the old model of magazine and newspaper publishing, content on a printed page stimulated consumers to pay for travel; advertisers wanted to be present when consumers decided to buy, and content was developed to appear near the ads. Now, with sales occurring so often on the Internet, it makes sense to place content close to online points of sale.

If there were more hours in the day, I would approach airlines about running my content relating to all the cities on their sites.

Be Alert to Actual Use of Licenses

Once you have licensed content, be sure to monitor actual use of it.

Over the years, I have licensed photos to a large publishing company for use in its textbooks. For each license, the publisher sends me a memo that explains what it wants and specifies the print run of the book product, now sometimes including information about electronic views and electronic CD products. In the past, a “print run of 100,000 books” was fairly typical language. Today the license might specify “500,000 books or CDs/electronic views.” I repeat this print run information on the invoice that I send.

Some of the textbooks with my licensed content in them were quite successful, creating demand for more than 100,000 books. So what did the publisher’s production department do? It kept printing and selling copies.

When I became aware that it had “overprinted” three of my photos in three different textbooks, I negotiated a settlement that allowed the publisher to continue to use the photos for another 10 years and 1 million books. My fee for that was $650 per photo, and the publisher agreed to it.

I also negotiated compensation of $3,000 per photo for violating my copyright and overprinting, and the publisher agreed to that as well. So last year it paid me $10,950 to resolve the issue and bring itself into compliance regarding three photos.

I believe I was dealing with basically honest people who wished to remain honest. It was just a lack of corporate oversight and perhaps a lack of communication between the company’s production and editorial departments that left it legally exposed and out of compliance with the terms and conditions to which it had agreed.

The publisher’s negotiator thanked me for being so courteous and positive throughout a long process that helped her company live up to its high-minded mission statement. So keeping an eye on use of licensed rights helped both of us.


Lee Foster, an IBPA member and an award-winning travel writer and photographer, has won eight Lowell Thomas Awards. He publishes 200 worldwide travel writing/photo articles to consumers and content buyers on his Foster Travel Publishing Web site (fostertravel.com), where you can see his photos, 10 books/e-books, and three apps.

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