'Budget Travel' lets readers tell the stories

With its 10TH anniversary issue approaching, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel is trying to truly live up to its tagline, "Vacations for Real People," by using reader-generated content almost entirely in its June issue.

With its 10TH anniversary issue approaching, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel is trying to truly live up to its tagline, "Vacations for Real People," by using reader-generated content almost entirely in its June issue.

From the cover photo of Manarola, Italy to its features, the only content not provided by readers will be the "40 Best Deals" section.

Budget Travel editor-in-chief Erik Torkells says that he chose to dedicate almost the entire anniversary issue to its 324 reader-contributors, showing the collaborative relationship the magazine has with them.

Beyond "Letters to the Editor," Budget Travel generally has several sections focused on content submitted by readers, such as "20 Tips," "Trip Coach," and "True Stories."

The reader-generated issue also taps into the changes within the travel and publishing industries, including the rise of the Internet and greater focus on dialogue among travelers, Torkells says.

"People want advice from other travelers; the Internet made us all [the] more used to participating in the conversation," he says. "[Print] magazines forget there are other ways to do that. Magazines had traditionally been us talking to them, now it's us talking to each other."

The magazine's June issue, as well as its forthcoming social networking site, represents a significant move toward creating an infrastructure where readers can contribute content and commentary to a larger community, according to Adam Nelson, CEO of Workhouse Publicity, Budget Travel's AOR.

"For Budget Travel, this is an excellent gimmick, and I mean that in the best sense," says Gene Colter, editorial director at Peppercom and a former news editor at The Wall Street Journal. "This special issue is... attracting and exciting its reader base, which is... interested in reading stories about other travelers."

However, Colter is skeptical of luxury travel publications, such as Travel & Leisure, using reader-generated content because readers of these magazines typically seek expert analysis, rather than camaraderie within content.

Valerie Jennings, CEO of Jennings Public Relations & Advertising, likens "the user-generated magazine model to open-source technology, where developers and users can create innovations and ideas together."

Also, Jennings adds, a user-generated issue enables readers to help build the brand and a product they would like to see on shelves, creating a "portal of information with intelligence and market research."

While other magazines on the newsstand have active online communities via forums, wholly user-generated magazines exist primarily online, though several have found success in print, such as JPG.

Trade publications written by professionals are another viable option for the use of user-generated content, Colter adds.

The dynamic between readers and the names on the publication's masthead changes with the reader-generated content, says Manny Otiko, senior media relations associate at WunderMarx Public Relations, who also notes the consistency of the magazine's content might be under closer inspection.

"There's the perception that editorial staffs are relying on their readership to do their work for them," he says. "Even the issue of whether [reader-writers] are being paid becomes questionable."

Colter adds, "Who's to know if the submitted work is coming from PR professionals. For a service publication, the potential for PR professionals attempting to find more media placements is possible."

Torkells emphasizes that Budget Travel paid its contributors regular fees (even providing writers more than usual for travel expenses), requested occupations for feature pitches, and spent as much time, if not more, editing the 10th anniversary issue.

"This issue doesn't look like our other issues, and there's a reason for that," he says. "We sought to provide our readers with a chance to speak."

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