Gordon Burgett


The ASJA Monthly, Vol. 58, #3, March 2009, pp. C14-5




How in the world do I find myself, at age 70, the execu­tive editor of Visual Travel Tours, a podcast com­pany, telling my colleagues how they too can profit­ably slip into this odd new world?

When I joined ASJA, in 1982, the word “pod” suggested aliens, and if I’d used the word “podcast” in any copy, the editor would have sent it right back with a large red insanity question mark. Indeed.

Those were notebook in the pocket and ball point pen days, to gather facts later deciphered by typewriter, with car­bon paper and Wite-Out nearby. Sometimes I expanded foot power by dipping into my bag of dimes and phoning for more information or a quote (business or reasonable hours, please). Leaving a message asking the person to call back was about as likely to get results as painting a portrait with vapors And my camera was a shoulder sagger. With bulbs, rolls of film, and the invariably-lost light meter, I looked more like a schlepper who could perhaps write.

The relationship then between me, an unknown free­lancer from Somewhere, Illinois, and the editor, whose desk I imagined overlooked Central Park in New York City, was truly one of supplicant and lord, except the editor paid more like a lesser lordito of a stingy Third World county. It was query, mail, wait, wait, maybe—but what about this?, reply, wait, wait, on speculation, write, mail, wait, wait, a copy in print (why would they rewrite that celestial lead?), wait, wait, a check. (Then the thinner path of reprints.)

So here we are, in 2009, where we can actually Dragon-talk a piece onto a computer monitor, make a few corrections, and email it immediately to an editor, with photos digitally dangling, Or some can.

A visual podcast? Now that I’m the podcast buyer and editor for VTT, I see how far we’ve moved along the miracle scale. If you want to join in, welcome aboard!


What it is


Let me explain it in old-folks’ terms. A podcast is you talking to me for, say, 30 minutes, but instead of by phone or in person, the message is sent through a microphone and saved on O’s and 1’s (don’t ask) electronically, so that we can push a button on our computer and hear what is being said. (Of course, we could do the same thing on the phone, but here we can hear it 1,000 times and it will always sound the same.)

A visual podcast lets us add still photos (another digital miracle now called .jpgs) to the same recording so, say, if you want to describe a stroll through Inhambupe, Brazil, I can hear you, and every 20 seconds or so l can also see a photo, of the town, of the nearby waist-high waterfall, or of somebody cutting open a fresh papaya at a market stall. The photos can be matched to what you are seeing or describing—or they can be historical shots or shots of a town map. (Actually, we could even do it by video, which would let the viewer see exactly as the writer does, in more or less “live” time, except that with today’s technology that would take too many O’s and 1’s to send it right now as a download. (Again, don’t ask.)

So if you are planning to visit the fringe of Brazil’s famed desert-like northern interior, the sertăo, and Inhambupe is a rural goal, we could provide you with 30 minutes (actually as many as 45 minutes) of talk and visuals to preview before you arrive, to see on your phone as you retrace the steps while you are there, and well afterward, to show your grandkjds, you should be so lucky.

You could plop the CD we’d mail you into your computer and see it on your monitor at any time. Or you could indi­rectly download the same information (from our website) onto your iPod, your MP3 player, or your wee hand-held cell phone. (The CD would have all of the modified visual podcasts for the other three means, too.)

How does this affect you? What we are buying at Visual Travel Tours are the audio scripts (about 3,500 words) and the accompanying .jpgs (the digital photos, super but in low resolution, so they fit on the CD or in your mechanism), You can actually record the script yourself and send it in but that requires much better equipment than most people have, so we will record it free for you. As for the photos, they must be first-rate and rights-free. It’s best just to take the photos yourself. Our guide is simple: If they’ll work in a newspaper, they are fine for us.

Do we pay? Of course, but not a king’s ransom. Here’s how it works: You query (we don’t need 25 podcasts of Chicago’s Navy Pier nor can we produce 50 podcasts at once). and if it looks like your sug­gestion will work and isn’t a dupli­cate of what we have, I’ll give you a go-ahead. Then you go on your trip and take photos. Next, you send your pix and the script to us on our digital submission form. If it works (and so far about 90 percent have, a few with some  restructuring, some with more compelling text), we do a bit of editing and you get your okay. We pay you $150 on the first of the next month, and once the podcast (or even the script with­out .jpgs) is sold, you get 10 percent of what we make when the items are sold digitally or by CD—plus, sometimes, a bonus of up to 4 percent more. Royalties are paid thrice annually, you can track them during the year, and as long as the podcast is being bought, the income keeps rolling in. A destination well covered could bring in four digits, most of it a sinecure from future sales.

Can you reuse the copy and photos? Sure, but in a dif­ferent format. Will we give you several go-aheads for a lon­ger trip? Probably, after we go through the process together and we buy the first podcast. Can you sell the podcasts your­self and get a healthy discount? If you’re like me, you have 20 more such questions, so I put together a Provider Island manual (see “Opportunities” at www.visualtraveltours.com) that shows what I need in the query, when bonuses are given, the how-to steps at every phase, and every answer I’ve given to curious askers, plus a few blogs that add some writing tips that are already old hat to many of my more grizzled ASJA colleagues.

What are writers/photographers sending me? The com­pany has only been functioning for a few months and we’ve been extremely selective until now. I currently have 173 go-­aheads, with 2,000 our goal. You can see many of the earlier items at the website. The last 15 (still in prep), received before Christmas, are for Rio de Janeiro, a ghost tour of downtown Orlando, Bathurst (Australia), Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico), Prague, Golden Gate Park (San Francisco). Mexico City, Little Italy (NYC), “Finding Tranquility in Bustling Beijing,” a kids’ trip to Disney’s Epcot, and Alcalá de Henares (Spain), where Cervantes lived.

Is it a gamble? Not the first $150, sent on acceptance. The royalties? Probably, if you do write about lnhambupe (a few miles east of absolutely nowhere). But there are many of the best tour sites in the world still waiting to be covered—and waiting to be bought. If you’re writing and selling four-digit articles regularly, this is an add-on to your trip, using some of your key copy rewritten, plus photos. If not, it’s a core, but longer-paying component, of a trip to which you can add other pieces that will pay first.

You don’t fancy yourself a script/photo writer for visual podcasts? Me neither—until I wrote and photographed my first two, of La Purisima Mission in Lompoc California, and Sausalito, across the bay from San Francisco. (They’re at the website and are, literally, cutting-edge stuff. Do better.) It’s also how l felt eons ago when a friend said I should write my newspaper and magazine submissions on a “computer,” one of those ugly electronic typewriter-like contraptions that needed a printer. What more can I say? When I’m 90 years old we might be able to imagine a travel tour and just sell that integrated vision for $150—but no royalties. In the mean­time, visual travel tour podcasts are new and here, they are fun to create, we need good material to sell to others, and they can cover some of your coffer shortfall, now and as they are bought. See you at Provider Island!