What the TRVL update says about magazine-style travel publishing today
TRVL, an aggregator of travel content with more than a million subscribers on Apple News, hasn’t forgotten about its customers, even though it hasn’t had an update to its app for displaying travel content in more than three years.
Today TRVL, a team of a dozen staffers in Amsterdam and eight developers and designers in Rotterdam, announces its updated app for iOS. The update delivers more content, including photo galleries and four or five fresh stories a day (instead of one “magazine” every week, as before).
The frequent crashes are supposed to stop. A search function has been added. Maps now load faster. And so forth.
The three-year delay in updating the app is partly blamed on many of the tech team having been acqui-hired by Apple to help build out the launch of Apple News. Now they’re back in Europe and working on TRVL again.
On the monetization front, TRVL will onboard its booking platform, which nets commissions on hotels and other travel products via Expedia Affiliate Network. In January it will add Booking.com’s inventory of 1 million hotels. It will soon start comparing prices of Booking.com, Expedia, and Hotels.com in real-time with every search result. It will add five currencies, including the euro and the pound, for buying travel. An iPhone version will debut, too.
Jochem Wijnands, founder and chief executive, summarized the bigger picture for Tnooz like this:
“This update is a first step to turning the TRVL app into a place where you find inspiration, and our booking engine, and meet local experts that can recommend destinations/hotels/neighborhoods ‘just for you.’ It will also be where your travel data lives.”
TRVL remains significant as an experiment in presenting magazine-style content in the mobile-first era.
In mere months after its debut, it quickly racked up a subscriber base that outpaced the (paying) readerships of many major national travel magazines, though the quality, diversity, and reliability of the content may not have been comparable.
The latest changes suggest the final nail in the era of publishers dreaming of building app experiences that readers would pay subscriptions for and that would “keep” readers inside an app’s walls.
The new TRVL is free, but it has dropped the magazine format pretensions. Soon TRVL will also publish video. It says it will re-introduce long-form stories, but this will not be the same thing as the old dreams.
For a while, traditional print publishers raced to create TRVL-like experiences, often by hiring Adobe, but largely without gaining traction with readers.
In a Medium blog post, Wijnands notes that non-traditional companies also struggled.
“In September 2015, after we shipped Apple News, I returned from Cupertino. By then, the world of digital publishing had changed dramatically. Newsstand no longer existed. Flipboard was on its way out. Facebook’s instant articles had launched and paid content as a business model for digital publications was officially dead….”
“Sadly, the online magazine didn’t survive either. TRVL might be the last manifestation of the hope that once possessed us all when the iPad was invented — ie., that it was possible to publish online magazines to rival or even better print magazines both in popularity and revenue….
“But that’s not what happened. The launch of Newsstand — built to support legacy publishers — was the first sign that things were going wrong. Downloading a 500MB magazine that was nothing more than a PDF of the print version wasn’t a good experience. This wasn’t why people had bought an iPad….
“So, while TRVL as a digital magazine didn’t seem to have much of a future, we decided that the premises that TRVL was built on most definitely did….”
Now the industry waits to see if the latest attempts to meet market demands will thrive.
Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.