If you aren't, in brief, these are companies built entirely around filtered self-submitted content, combined with soliciting and asking travel bloggers, filmmakers, and photographers to provide them for free, with travel inspirational content that they can then re-edit if they wish, re-label, and share as their own for profit, and in trade, the content provider will receive credit in the comments (or if they're lucky, the post description) and in theory, drive traffic to the content creator.
These digital media platforms have millions of travel-hungry followers who eat up the material these "regurgitators" provide. According to Cityam.com, "Between June 2014 and March 2015, UNILAD recorded a turnover of £377,727". Forbes during an interview with founders Liam Harrington and Sam Bentley in 2016, learned that UNILAD can charge advertisers up to £40k for an original branded video.
We couldn't find any financials for Must Do Travels but it is a for-profit business and its follower base is a million and a half more than UNILAD Adventure at the time of this articles writing.
Needless to say, these kids have built fantastic little empires for themselves, by doing what? By sharing content they paid nothing for. Quite brilliant if you ask us.
So is this good or bad for content creators? Let's take a look!
In December of last year, both companies reached out to us, asking to share an excerpt from our trending film Rhythms of Peru. Excited about the possible of the publicity and potential follower growth to our blog, we agreed. A few days later, their mutilated and rebranded molestation of our precious film material was released, and we can now confidently say the pay off was... less than lackluster. "Well, your content must have sucked!" you'll say. "Maybe it just wasn't popular enough!" you'll shout.
We'll let these screenshots speak for themselves:
A huge success!!! A job well done, The Tipsy Gypsies! So after 1.1 million combined views, our Facebook must have caught fire right?
Let's take a look!
From December 11th, the date of the first publication, to December 18th a week later and well past the life cycle of this type of content, we had gained 512 followers. A descent growth you might say for one week's work! "Tragically", we had also received a Vimeo Staff Pick for Rhythms of Peru that same week, and every time we get a Vimeo Staff Pick.... up go the followers. Unfortunately, there's no way for us to collect the data on the source of each new follower but it can easily be assumed that these new followers came from multiple sources. Later on we also gained over 1000 followers just by uploading and sharing Rhythms of Peru on Facebook ourselves and letting it get a virus... we mean go viral!! Way more than UNILAD Adventure and Must Do Travels gave us combined.
On top of that, when Must Do Travels first shared our video, they didn't even credit us as promised and it wasn't until hours later when we noticed, and the video had been liked and shared thousands of times before they corrected it. I spoke with the founder of Must Do Travels after the incident and to his credit, he seemed extremely apologetic and promised if we shared more with them, it would be done correctly. Which in our eyes is basically the equivalent of saying, "We were going to pay you $1000 for this job, but we forgot half the money at home so here's $500. But on next job, we promise we'll pay you the full $1000!". If your only method of payment is a credit, you have to get that right every single time and we talked to multiple people where this was botched. Once the cats out of the bag, there are no re-does.
And this shows why the credit-as-payment system doesn't work. The fact is, 99.9% of viewers will watch the video, like the video, and share the video, but only .1% are going to see your name, click your name, visit your page or wall and then if you're lucky, like or follow it. This leaves UNILAD Adventure and Must Do Travel receiving 99.9% of the benefits of your content, FOR FREE!
Must Do Travels claims they care deeply about their content providers. Yet one filmmaker reached out to me, sharing that his film had been featured on Must Do Travels without his consent. It turns out some unknown person had submitted it as their own and Must Do Travels accepted this submission without question or proof. Their response to the filmmaker after plagiarizing, reaping the benefits of 190k views, and not even crediting the actual creator was,
"I assure you that we do not rip off filmmakers, as we are filmmakers ourselves and actually only share other people’s footage who have quality work and willingly ask us to share that on their behalf to help them grow awareness of their own fan pages or professional services."
Were there any repercussions to Must Do Travels or compensation for the hard-working filmmaker? Of course not. Because these companies are completely unregulated or held accountable. They did eventually agree to take the film down.
So what's a model that could work? Well, we can tell you that there are other sites just like these two with the same travel focus, same style of videos, same millions of followers, and they pay their content creators. Is it a lot? No. About the price of 1 1/2 clips from our stock footage business, for a polished one minute video. But it's something. It's a gesture.
Which leads to our final point. Whether it be small pay or no pay, it's our choice as content creators right? Whether to share or not to share. None of these sites are breaking the law (aside maybe from when they share content without proper permission... but hey, that’s just a mistake right?) So the final question we want to ask the travel community is...
just because it's legal, does it make it right?
Just because someone who spends thousands of their own dollars/yen/pesos... on travel and equipment agrees to create content for these companies, for free in hopes of a few new followers... does that make it okay? Travel content creation is already a hard enough business to make a living at, so do we really need some of the most popular travel influencers in the world encouraging the idea that our material isn't worth anything?
Ultimately this is bad for everyone. If content creators can't find sources of revenue, they're ultimately going to stop creating content. Although we would never encourage anyone to try and make a full time living producing content for these types of sites, they can potentially provide some additional income.
An example you say?? Why sure! We recently had some extra footage, some free time while resting in Quito, made a little video for the travel platform TasteMade Travel, and guess what? Not only were we credited...
we were paid!
Another media platform doing it right, would be Passion Passport, who makes it their main goal to focus on and feature content creators when sharing.
Not only do they feature the content creator prominently, they typically don't re-edit the original material, providing it as the content creator intended.
We were not paid for sharing our film with them but still found it completely worth the trade.
Therefore, there are business models that work. Models that are mutually beneficial, but when platforms like UNILAD Adventure and Must Do Travels continue as they do, encouraging their type of "business" model, they are setting a terrible industry standard for what our material is worth...
After reaching out to Must Do Travels and UNILAD Adventure for comment (UNILAD has not responded to our requests), we began an email discussion with Steven Kenniff, the founder of Must Do Travels. Although our opinion still stands about the previous and immediate state of these companies, we were really impressed with Steven's engagement with us and what felt like genuine concern and an interest in improving his company to be more beneficial to his content providers. He claims they are already implementing some of our suggestions and are currently working on several ideas for this year that could include a form of payment for at least select content creators. Therefore, we feel optimistic about Must Do Travels future but we can't comment more on UNILAD Adventure as they won't speak with us. Despite the many issues discussed in this article, we are actually rooting for these companies and want to see these platforms reach their full potential: continued success as a business, but also a respectable and profitable place for professional content creators to contribute.
Having said that, this is, in the end an op-ed, and just one blog and two bloggers opinion.
If anything in this article resonates with you, offends you, or you find it a worthwhile discussion, please consider sharing your opinions or experiences in the comments below and also consider sharing this article with friends and colleagues so together as a travel community, we can keep this conversation going and maybe, just maybe... get them to see the light.
CREATOR COMMENTS & COMPANY RESPONSES
We reached out to content creators who have shared with either UNILAD Adventure and or Must Do Travels. The only criteria was having more than 500k views for videos or 30k likes on photos.
Below are their opinions as well as An official response from Must Do Travels. UNILAD Adventure did not respond to our multiple requests for comment:
(To protect the privacy of the content creators, no names have been provided)
“It’s like expecting to get followers for your broccoli farm because a popular restaurant uses your produce in their salad.”
"Before editing and sharing this video, they asked me my permission. I gave them but I wanted to have a link to my youtube channel. I thought they were going put it in the description of the post. What a bad surprise when I saw that the link was only in comments... Indeed, this post didn't increase my views on my original video. But it was an honor for me to be published by this page."
"Honestly, I don't think people really look to see where the pictures or videos came from, so no, I don't think it made a difference at all in traffic on any of my sites."
Bloggers / Travel Filmmakers
"We think that submitting your work or letting platforms with millions of followers use your content for free definitely has some benefits, however there are a few issues with the whole idea of claiming others work as their own. If they do choose to share a piece work then it can definitely receive many views, comments and/or shares that it otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. One of the annoying issues though is crediting - to be honest, most platforms suck at it! We really had to fight with one platform to make sure that our credit was given in the description of the film and not buried in the 3rd or 4th comment that no one was ever going to find, let alone read... After being shared on large platforms it brought us a minor boost in followers - nothing to write home about though. But, it does give us creditability when we are discussing a project with a client and we can say that our content has received over a million views across different travel platforms. We liked the way Matador Network went about sharing our work. They offer some money for a license of parts of your film, and although it is not a huge amount of cash, it shows that they understand that people work hard to create the content and deserve at lest some sort of renumeration."
"When I was just starting I was absolutely stoked to be featured anywhere and I let everyone do it no matter who it was. Maybe it helped maybe it didn’t. But nowadays I’m really particular about what pages I post my stuff on. Because on one hand, these “feature pages” are just getting loads of free content. Content that would cost thousands and thousands of dollars to produce on their own. They are using the system to their advantage hardcore. And as much as I don’t agree with that and I’d never do it myself, you have to see the other side. As a creator, when unilad shares your video you are almost guaranteed a half a million views on a video you created. This can be then used to pitch to other brands and leveraged to help you grow your brand. But not all the content creators know how to do that, so the opportunity goes largely unused. I think it would make it a lot better and a lot more incentivized if these huge companies started paying small amounts to the creators. Even throwing someone $20 to some of these smaller creators would go a long way. Seeing as they are making hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars from each video that’s the least they could do. As much as I don’t agree with it I can’t deny I still do it from time to time. You just have to know how to leverage that and come away on the + side of things"
"...my opinion is that we do get something in return even though it’s not money. Exposure. And something to add to our portfolio... Keep in mind I’m very much a hobbyist, people doing this professionally may have a totally different outlook. However, I don’t think posting on these travel websites is a good way of making money because the cost involved with travel is massive and the pay off is small."
Must Do Travels:
"A few of my friends and I started Must Do Travels about 18 months ago with our own footage of various destinations that we had traveled to or lived in, and from there we started to get approached by other content creators to collaborate on their footage and to promote their personal blogs/websites/social profiles, etc. Much like how you had reached out to us in hopes of having us consider your personal footage. Since we saw that relationship as a mutually beneficial one, we developed a standing partnership with many high quality content contributors that enjoy seeing their work published on our page. It gives many videographers a chance to reach a larger audience with their work than they might otherwise be able to reach if they were to just publish it on their own, especially when they may just be starting out.
Our small team still continues to travel on a regular basis to film locations that we enjoy, or that we have always wanted to go to and needed a reason to get out and do it. That’s why we formed up in the first place. Sometimes it feels like we are always on the road, living out of a suitcase or backpack.
I think we are quite a bit different than what many people might have in mind. Unlike some of the other travel sites and pages out there that I am familiar with, we do not take ownership of your content as a part of the submission process. We know the time and work that goes into filming/editing/traveling and all that, and wish to allow all contributors the right to retain all ownership of their hard work. We simply agree to share the ones that we enjoy the most. If you check the terms and conditions of many of the other pages out there who work with other content creators you will see that they often take exclusive ownership of all content submissions (meaning that they own the video or photo from that moment forward, and you no longer own your footage that you submit for consideration to them), whether they choose to use the footage or not, and often only compensate when and if they do publish the footage online.
Many of the contributors that we work with prefer our type of arrangement, as they are able to not only get distribution and promotion of their content at no cost to them, but they also retain the rights to their hard work that might otherwise not be worth giving up for the chance to possibly earn a small portion of money that wouldn’t even cover the cost of producing the footage in most cases.
We do not run ads in tandem with our content, which means that we do not generate an income off of the video views that our own content or other submitted content gets on our page. I think that the general perception out there might be that if you have a lot of views online you must be making a lot of money, but when there are no ads available to show along with the content on Facebook at this time. We also do not have banner ads on our website articles, so we don’t generate income from that web traffic either. Likewise, we do not have a television channel or a print magazine on the shelves of book stores to generate any sort of revenue. If it wasn’t for our love of travel and being videographers and video editors too I don’t know if we would still be doing it. It’s definitely a labor of love!
In addition to what we film on our own and what is submitted to us unsolicited, from time to time we come across really cool videos online when we are looking for personal inspiration on where to travel next, or get recommended a cool video on YouTube after we just watched another similar video. In those cases we may reach out to some of those content creators to let them know that we enjoyed their work, and invite them to submit their content to us if they wish, so that we can edit it and share it and then link back to their profile or wherever it is that they prefer us to link back to from the video post. Some people never respond to us for whatever reason, and some do.
I wish we could guarantee that every time we shared a video on behalf of someone that it was going to generate some specific level of success for either of us, but we are ultimately not in control of how many views, likes, shares, comments, link clicks to their profile, followers, etc. that any given video can generate. We always hope for the best, and position the content in the way that we feel it will have the highest likelihood for a successful outcome."
UPDATE AUGUST 2019:
Content creator Thomas Norway wrote us:
Thanks for a very nice post, and I agree fully with your opinion. As a content creator myself, I have had similar experiences. Sites like Unilad Adventures and Must Do Travels is great for getting views to boast about, but little more than that. I recently submitted a video to Must Do Travel. After a week I had more than 120 000 views which I felt very good about. However I gained very few followers as a result of this. As in your experience I was credited only in the comment section and not in the post description, which was a negative surprise for me. Furthermore they included my Instagram name in vertically in the upper right corner of the video, which is not very visible on a mobile format, and the logo is much smaller than Must Do Travels. Given mr Kenniffs comments here I would have expected this situation to change one year down the road.