On the subject of Travelhost…

Here’s an excellent response by an ex-associate publisher of Travelhost:

10 Tips to Assess Whether You Should Become a Travelhost Associate Publisher

I launched my edition of Travelhost of Rochester & the Finger Lakes in June of 2006.  In the training class, there were about a dozen of us launching eight separate editions across the U.S.

Now, only 1 out of 8 is still publishing.  I’m 1 of the 7 who is not.   I invested my life savings, took a leap of faith and I did not reap the benefits I believed I would.  The net did not appear.

The first thing I want to share is that I LOVED being a Travelhost Associate Publisher. I felt I was making a difference and doing something important.  I made friends and met people I’d probably never have known before.  It was a great learning experience.  And my edition was successful…in every way but financially.

My hotels loved the magazine, my advertisers loved it and the readers I heard from adored it.  I learned these lessons and I’d like to share them.

1) Be sure you know what business you are going into. If you decide to buy a Travelhost edition, be sure you go into it with both sales skills and publishing skills at the outset.
After the edition closed, a friend asked, “Carol, what business did you think you
were in?”

“I thought I was publishing a travel magazine,” I responded.

“Did you have subscribers?” He asked.

“No. Hotels, inns and B&Bs and travel stops got copies of the magazine for free.”

“So your only revenue came from advertising.  Then what business were you really in?” He asked

“Ad sales,” I responded glumly.

I was an experienced publisher and editor.

But I had no ad sales background when I started.  I quickly realized that if I were going to succeed, I needed to learn quickly.  I studied sales by reading, attending classes and taking training.  I invested in my education and really worked at it.  Former advertisers have said I was one of the best ad salespeople they knew.

2) Search the web for information about their reputation and information about the strength of their brand.
After becoming an Associate Publisher, I attended the NYS Governor’s tourism conference with 300 tourism professionals.  I was surprised how many had never heard of the magazine and those that knew of it said, “Oh, that magazine with the high turnover.”

3) Understand what business TH is in.  They are in the printing business.  Their model is a way to keep their printing presses full.  Get quotes on what you would pay for retail printing locally and compare it against the company’s quoted prices for printing.  Had I done this, I’d have found that I was paying more than double what local printers would charge.  Do the same for shipping and distribution costs.  I found substantial discrepancies between the estimates provided and reality.

4) If you do decide to “go for it,” get it in writing that your content cannot be used online if your market closes.

5) Questions to ask:
a. Associate Publisher success rates.  Listen and get facts.
b. How many failed publishers were in your market before you?  When?  Ask for their name and contact information.  If these aren’t shared, think carefully.
c. Talk to the person who owned the market before.  What is the real reason s/he gave it up?
d. Find out how many editions are actually being published in your state.  If you find an edition online but there is no name in the welcome letter or the masthead, chances are, it has gone dark.

6) Do not anticipate that you will be able to sell regional or national advertising.

7) If you can’t launch your magazine, do not expect to get your money back.

8) Anticipate that success is a long-term investment.  Are there successful associate publishers?  Absolutely!  Some are wildly successful. Most started a long time ago or purchased previously successful editions.

9) Be sure to look at their website.  Is it using current technology?  Will it serve the needs of your customers?  If you’re not sure, ask a local marketing expert for their opinion of the site.

10) Remember that starting a business is very hard work.  You are running the company, selling the ads, probably writing much content and doing all the work.  I worked 75 to 80 hours every week, and there just wasn’t enough of me to go around.

Do your homework and hopefully you will find the right opportunity.  Keep an open mind but be cautious and remember, this is business, not personal.

It took me about a year to move through the grieving process over loss of a dream.  Many smart, savvy, dedicated entrepreneurial associate publishers I know personally have lost tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars, their homes and their financial security.  Like me, they all expected to succeed.   A failed edition can seriously affect your personal life, your credit and your peace of mind.  If you come to the end of your money, do not go into debt for this venture.  Cut your losses and move on.

Be sure to think about what you’ll do if you don’t succeed. Understand the financial obligation you are making and be clear about your expectations and what you’ll do if expectations are not met.

4 Responses to “On the subject of Travelhost…”

  1. Sharon Yermal Says:

    I am a previous publisher of Travelhost Albuquerque Magazine. This is definitely not the investment to make if you are interested in publishing a travel magazine. Information on previous publishers was withheld from us by the company prior to us signing the agreement with Travelhost Inc. even when asked directly for that information. We only found out after we began publishing that things we not disclosed to us even though we had directly asked. I agree with the comment about the printing costs. I too found that they were double what was customary. Also there is no flexibility given once you sign the agreement for frequency of publishing. This is not a business model that is working towards the mutual success the corporation and its associate publishers. The model is for the success of Travelhost Inc. at the expense of countless people of faith and optimism.

    We published for 4 years and by all measurments had been very successful in building our ad revenue and reputation but we ended up working just to pay the printing costs and due to the frequency requirements we fell behind and went into debt. After a year of not publishing my magazine I still get calls from advertisers wondering when we might publish our own magazine as they though we wrote such wonderful articles about Albuquerque and new Mexico and conducted our business with such integrity. Unfortunately I am working full time and devoting my entire income to pay off the debt accumulated by trying to keep afloat with Travelhost Inc. and will be for at least 5 years. I am simply amazed that this company can continue to victimize people. It does not seem that it should be legal.

    • bdhickey Says:

      Hi Sharon,

      You’re not the only one to tell me this. I’ve talked to dozens of people recently, who told me a very similar story. In many cases, people are in debt for years, if they didn’t actually file for bankruptcy. It really is a shame.

      You’re right, in this business, you work to pay the Travelhost bill. You pay up front, and finance your advertisers…the entire game is one of cat and mouse. I’m sorry to hear that your business went the way it did.

      And, let me guess. The folks at Travelhost said its your fault. You didn’t sell enough advertising, right? You didn’t do what it takes to be successful, right?

      Hopefully, this blog will assist potential investors to make an informed decision. Unfortunately, some of us didn’t have this blog to consult, when they made their decision to buy in.

      Can you tell us any more about your experience? Do you intend to try to go solo again one day, and publish an independent magazine?

      Regards,

      Brian

      “The Publisher’s Advocate”

  2. Jeff Campbell Says:

    I think the success rates would be higher if the local AP’s were given more control over content and look within limits.

    • bdhickey Says:

      Jeff, I just printed my last issue (winter 2009/2010). I agree with you, Jeff, but it will never happen. I believe, however, most fail because of paying double for printing and production. Most markets just dont support paying the premium. The extra 8k per printing is what the publisher would be living on.

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