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Small Ripples Can Make Waves in Wine Media

Subtly, in the last week, there has been an evolution in wine media.

First, Gary Vaynerchuk, somebody who, without empirical quantification, I would consider to be the 2nd most recognizable figure in the world of wine behind Robert Parker (No, I haven’t forgotten about Robinson, Spurrier, Broadbent, et al) revealed via his personal blog that a one man media empire has limitations.

He noted in a 15 minute video soliloquy, replete with bags under his eyes denoting an unspoken dogged tiredness (a re-occurring condition for him over the last nine months), that he was limiting his activities over the balance of the year – Twitter and social media, speaking engagements and such.

It’s an interesting move, and very Urban Meyer-esque, albeit not surprising for anybody who has logged 80-hour weeks for a period of time and knows the diminishing returns.  While Vaynerchuk pins his public respite on, “Going Buddha” and a Monk-like exile (mixing metaphors) in order to read, learn and think about the current state of technology, his unspoken truth has to be that you can’t keep that work pace up without A) Burning out B) Getting divorced or C) All of the above.

It’s anticipated that he’ll continue with Wine Library TV, his raison d’etre, which has seen diminishing quantity over the last couple of months as his travel and other responsibilities have dictated divided attention.

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I don’t think Vaynerchuk’s ambition will allow him a very long break, but it would be nice to see him focus his efforts on the wine world where he has done much good (in a short amount of time) to engender a new generation of wine drinkers, while not exactly kowtowing to the establishment.  Wine can use him.  Selfishly, I’d like for him to be an agent for change for the wine business (with both feet in, instead of one) as opposed to carrying a symbolic banner for social media and trying to buy the NY Jets.  His calling card and influence could be worldwide during a transformative period in wine in which Parker’s replacement is ready to be anointed, as a gigantic generation of wine drinkers come online.  Time will tell, however.

Second, I noted with interest that Deb Harkness, writer at Good Wine Under $20, won the best wine blog award in the Saveur magazine blog awards.

Good for Deb, I say.  She is a gem of a woman and one of the most genuine souls I know.  Her win is interesting to me because Joe Roberts from 1WineDude won the same award from FoodBuzz in early November.  And, Alder from Vinography has won the last two years at the American Wine Blog Awards, which closed nominations for the 2010 version last week.

Ironically enough, according to compete.com, none of the winners can hold a candle to Dr. Vino in terms of readership, and he didn’t win any of the awards.

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What do three different winners in three different contests (with 10 different finalist nominations spanning 14 total nominations and one separate leader in total readership) mean?  There are a lot of good wine blogs out there.  More importantly, it means that wine blogs are splintering and growing with different audiences.  Instead of one mass of blogs being a bit on the clique-ish and insider-ish side, it means that wine blogging is segmenting into sub-niches.  One man’s Vinography is another man’s Wine Whore.  Much like high school, you’re starting to see the “cool kid” grouping of wine blogs, the “jocks,” the “smart kids,” the “hang out on the bridge, smoke cigarettes and wear black” wine blogs and those that transcend and straddle groupings, to use an analogy.

In this period of time, wine blog growth is unwieldy, because what was once a small community is, like Gary Vaynerchuk, becoming bigger than itself.  The next year or so will have bloggers in their gawky, awkward phase, but the future looks good for independent, online wine writing.

Next, that “thud” you hear is Wine & Spirits Daily going all subscription-based for its daily wine and spirits business missive.

In the wake of Rich Cartiere’s untimely passing in the summer of ’08, the wine newsletter business has seen Lewis Perdue launch “Wine Industry Insight” to fill the gap next the Wine Business Insider published by Wine Business Monthly magazine and now Wine & Spirits daily tries its hand at a paid scheme.

Ponderously, Wine & Spirits Daily is going all-in, all at once, stopping their daily email/web site article and going paid, for $290 a year (or $5 cheaper than Wine Business Insider).

Really, the only way you can go paid subscription for an online product would be to double-up the content, give some away for free and keep the good stuff behind the gate and then lead your readers into the premium content.

To go from free to pay in the span of 24 hours without a substantial change in the scope, quality or quantity of your product?  I dunno.  A double “I dunno” when according to compete.com Wine & Spirits Daily site traffic is a fraction of this site.

Time will tell if there is a paying audience for wine business writing that is long on witness reportage and short on insight and analysis.  Most people don’t give a damn that there was a car accident.  They want to know the whys and wherefores.

Finally, Jay McInerney and Lettie Teague launched their wine writing efforts for the Wall Street Journal.  I speculated on the reasoning behind their appointment a couple of weeks back.  The launch of the WSJ’s “On Wine” roughly coincides with the aggregation of Eric Asimov’s The Pour blog at the New York Times into a bigger blog called “Diner’s Journal,” that includes Mark Bittman and other contributors.  It’s a welcome change for me, given that I like the Times writers across the board and I harbor a longing for a life of leisure in which my morning coffee and New York Times segues into writing a blog post before I plan dinner.  Others haven’t cared for the silo-based Asimov blog being lumped in with others.

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Speaking of not caring for it much, the real interesting aspect of the Saturday Wall Street Journal column that will alternate between Lettie Teague and McInerney, is the blog that accompanies it. McInerney has always been a bit of a cad, and critics historically haven’t been afraid of taking shots at him for being a nouveau rich, exhaust sniffing socialite.  Personally, I like his writing – he’s my favorite wine writer next to Matt Kramer.  I’m glad he has a venue for wine writing and I hope he engages in the comments section. 

Speaking of which, the comments to the first blog post widely lamented the loss of Dottie and John ...

You can bookmark the WSJ wine site here.  Or, load into your RSS feed reader here.



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Posted in, News, Notes & Dusty Bottle Items. Permalink | Comments (23) |


Comments

On 04/13, 1WineDude wrote:

Another great piece and typically too dense with great thoughts for me to comment on all of it!

I agree with you that wine blogging is about to go through an awkward phase, though it will also be incredibly exciting.  The price I seem to be paying is a slight **decrease** in blog traffic, I strongly suspect this is due to the influx of new high-quality blogs cropping up in the wine space.  I’m totally ok with that - it’s the price we pay for engendering a real community.

Cheers!

On 04/13, ryan wrote:

I would argue that in the “wine world” not the “US Wine World” Gary Vee still has a way’s to go as far as overall recognition. Understood from the US…but over in Europe it’s very interesting to see so many big names like Robinson, Atkin, Olly Smith, OZ, and many more beginning to look at online seriously. Also that he International Journalism Festival in Perugia Italy in 2 weeks includes a special program on Wine and Food and Social Media. We’ll be speaking there, and it’s strange to see them inviting to speak at the same place people like Al Gore are presenting.

I think the rest of the world is waking up too, and I can tell you at this point there is not a conference in Europe that is not trying to get something pertaining to the web on their show floor.

Great post!

On 04/13, @nectarwine wrote:

There is so much here, I don’t know where to begin. I definitely think that the continuation of wine blogging will continue. It seems we hit the hights of the bell curve of growth shortly after Gary’s book came out. Something that Lenn (NYCR) said that sticks with me (and is true in all things), the cream will rise to the top and the community does a great job of policing quality.

There are some definite personalities emerging and “groups” forming. I see a divergence between East Coast and West Coast bloggers (maybe time zone). As we enter the geeky awkward phase (hopefully we don’t start growing hair in weird places) it will be fun to see how it plays out.

Lots to digest! Thanks for sharing compete.com (fun link)

Josh @nectarwine on Twitter

On 04/13, Joe wrote:

I hate that I don’t read this blog enough.  A very thought-provoking read.  I’ve seen, in the short year-and-a-half I’ve been doing this, wine blogs explode, burn out, fade away, and some continue to crank it out.  I love the fragmentation.  Sure, it hits everyone’s traffic (mine was never much to begin with, but I tip my cap to those who work harder than me pressing the flesh), but marketing dictates that the only way to be first in the market is to start a new category.  Now, we have review blogs, industry blogs, educational blogs, entertainment blogs, counter-culture wine blogs, etc.  Make it easy for the public to decide what they want out of wine, and then blogs will enhance their impact (on the general public, not just upon other bloggers, though the camaraderie has been incredible).

On 04/13, Lenn Thompson wrote:

As expected, a thoughtful read and fair across the board.

I think most of us who have had wine blogs for a long time (for the medium) have been expecting waiting for this splintering to happen.

Now is the time for bloggers to either raise their game and create something better, or stay where they are (which is fine, by the way).

Do you think we’ll see a chunk of wine blogs fade as this nich-ification happens?

On 04/13, Irene King wrote:

As someone who’s been blogging more or less locally for a couple of years (and who lost everything in a server meltdown of biblical proportions - but I digress), I can appreciate everything you’re saying here. Sometimes finding the right path can be a little daunting and humbling.  With that being said, I’m kinda glad to see GV focus again on what made him a household name (of sorts) in the first place. 

I read everyone’s blogs and am constantly amazed at the quality and creativity of the writers.  Yes, wine blogging will definitely continue and can only get better IMHO.

On 04/13, Jeff wrote:

Thanks for the comments, all.  I appreciate it.  A veritable who is who of wine blogging.

i don’t have much to add except it’s at once exciting and challenging.  I don’t think anybody has a frame of reference for trying to be excellent at anything besides interpersonal relationships and career until you get into a passion too far to back out ...

Joe from Suburban Wino—bro, I’ve got you above the fold in my RSS feed reader.  Return the favor, no?

Thanks again,

Jeff

On 04/13, Charlie Olken wrote:

—Nitchification

—Tiredofitallification

—Pros-piling-inification

—Nomoneyification

I like the thought we are entering an awkward phase. It pretty much sums up how I view what has transpired over the last year.

I have seen a few blogs get a lot more professional—that is to say, they are better written, more informed and more informative.

I have seen good blogs add dimension and depth.

I have seen good blogs disappear because their writers got tired, and I see many more that sound like their writers are tired.

Another way to describe these phenomena in somewhat human terms is to think of this period as the beginning of adolescence. I heard one very well-established blogger say that he was getting ready to find a buyer for the blog. I see that as “an adult who has tired of playing in a child’s game (forgive the analogy—use it for thought, not argument) for no money when there is money to be made in the real world”. Maybe that is a tad unfair, but when a well-established blog writer says “I see the end game” and I am not in it, then part of adolescence is separating those who have made a life choice from those who were having fun but are not convinced that the fun is worth all the time and effort to be good.

The same thing happens in adolescence to people. Some specialize, some drop out and some remain generalists who have fun at lots of things but do not try to take the steps towards professionalism in their art or their sport or their career preference.

Jeff, you did not, I suspect on purpose, discuss the impact of money on the wine blogosphere, but clearly it is part of the reality. Maybe that is the next step after the stratification, nitchification and soul-searching of awkward adolescence.

Great read and incredibly thought provoking.

Charlie

On 04/13, Lewis Perdue wrote:

Jeez, I love reading your stuff!

First of all, thank you for remembering Rich Cartiere. One helluva guy and a great journalist. He was a Godsend when he came to work with me to take over writing Wine Business Insider at the time I was creating Wine Business Monthly (roughly 1993). Rich was the consummate journalist who worked twice as many hours as a day and night can provide. I miss him still. Wish I had his energy and instincts.

I also totally agree with your thought:

“the only way you can go paid subscription for an online product would be to double-up the content, give some away for free and keep the good stuff behind the gate and then lead your readers into the premium content.”

That’s what I’ve been trying to do for about a year now. And while I ain’t rich (yet. yet?) from Wine Industry Insight, the growth in premium subscriptions (way lower than the other guys at $115 per year ... or monthly if you want) has been very rewarding and enough to make a healthy contribution to the mortgage and the health insurance bill that Blue Shield gang rapes the family with with every month.

You have stated the “formula” very well. The devil is in the execution. I’ll say I feel a long way off from whatever the ideal execution is.

Keep on wordmongering,dude!

On 04/14, Jeff wrote:

Charlie and Lewis,

Thanks much for commenting.  I would be remiss if I didn’t say that good feedback from respected, professional wine writers is its own sort of payment.

Charlie—you’re -ification is spot-on.  I’ve noticed a world weariness amongst some upper-tier bloggers.  At some point, we’ll have “graduates” who remain in the wine world in different venues.  Anthony Giglio seems to make his bones with writing and speaking engagements and hasn’t had to get dirty with blogging.  Alder strikes me as somebody on that trajectory. And others I’m sure will hang up the spurs because the end doesn’t justify the means.

Lewis, I know you’re a pro because I took an article you wrote to task last week and you comment this week positively, with no ill will, understanding that big boys don’t have to see eye to eye on everything.

Thanks again for commenting and reading my site.

Jeff

On 04/14, J.A. Kodmur wrote:

Let me now ‘pile on’ with kudos for this terrific post and the careful thought behind it…not to mention the ensuing great commentary. What will tomorrow bring?!

On 04/14, David Honig wrote:

Jeff, You are just mind-bogglingly good at this. No specific comment here, just recognition of your contributions to the conversations.

On 04/14, Joe wrote:

subscribed!  I’ve had you on the blogroll for a while.  Don’t feel bad; I’ve had a hard time keeping up with any blogs lately.  Have clearance at the office to visit “blocked” sites (alcohol-related being taboo…what are we, 12 years old?), but it hasn’t been cooperating for the past couple months.

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