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Can a “multiple contributor” blog make money?

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It was good to read yesterday’s Good Grape blog, which offered a fantasy model of how a wine blog might make money.  Good Grape argues for a “team blogging approach.” He points out that the Web’s top blogs (Huffington Post, for example) all have “multiple contributors, and…[are] on an advertising supported model,” like a traditional print magazine.

Good Grape says that, were this model applied to a wine blog, it could make money, through advertising and by charging subscriptions, like Robert Parker, Wine Spectator and Jancis Robinson do. Such a blog would be, in theory, so content-rich, interesting and absorbing that eyeballs would flock to it and so would advertisers. (Think of the Sunday New York Times.)

Good Grape’s fantasy is to find a Rupert Murdoch (as the investment angel), hire Jay McInerey (“Bright Lights, Big City”) for the Hunter Thompson-esque writer, and bring on Paul Lukacs (“American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine”) as editor. Spending Murdoch’s money, he would acquire other sites to diversify content.

Here’s my take, which is a bit more realistic than Good Grape’s in that it doesn’t need a billionaire to breathe it to life. My site would contain:

– my wine reviews, of course
– my daily column

– other reviewers, preferably those who disagree with me, and preferably on video (which Gary V. has proven to be an irresistable part of a successful blog). (By the way, I’m going to make another wacky video, similar to my last one, only this time with Wilfred Wong, from BevMo, in which we disagree over a wine and end up having a slugfest.)

– guest opinionators. Joe Roberts has a standing invite. So does “Morton Leslie,” whoever the heck he is. I’d find writers abroad and in other states to broaden the site beyond California
– guest winemakers on technical issues, starting with Greg La Follette and Greg Brewer, two really articulate guys who are also good writers
– wine-and-food pairings, on video, from top sommeliers, and also from Karen MacNeil, if she’d do it
– the latest wine news, through various feeds
– live reader participation through a chat room
– book reviews
– a web cam of a working winery. How many people have ever actually witnessed the entire process, from harvesting grapes to bottling wine?

– links to buy wines, foods and other stuff referred to in the site

- lots of links to interesting sites

There are probably other pieces that could be added; readers are free to make suggestions. Still, as interesting as such a blog would be, I don’t see it making much money. Everyone who participated would want to get paid. And blog advertising will never, ever command the high prices that print advertising has (like, tens of thousands of dollars for a page). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the only way to make money from blogging is to get real famous, and then become a sort of bon vivant, a la Andy Blue, who gets hired to be an emcee and commands high speaking fees (and also writes wine books). The current model — one that’s been good to me, of a (relatively) well-paid wine critic/writer who works for a single print publication — is dying.

Just in

E&J Gallo this morning announced they have purchased the Las Rocas brand of Spanish wines from European Cellars, the U.S. representative of Bodegas San Alejandro cooperative, in Spain’s Zaragoza region. (Las  Rocas is one of the Bodega’s brands.) As Las Rocas’s marketer and distributor, Gallo will bring in two Garnachas, one for $12 and a Vinas Viejas (old vines) for $18, starting in April. A spokesman for Gallo said, “We’re excited about Spain in general and we think Garnacha has a promising future and tremendous value,” and added, “This is an extension of our footprint in Spain.” Gallo already imports Bodegas Martin Codax, a Rias Baixas Albarino that retails for $15.

  1. Hi Steve,

    I’m waiting for the day we agree on something. Thanks for reading my site even if you consistently extrapolate in areas that skew your responses and condescend.

    Debate team at Vintage High in ’67?

    The problem that I have, mostly, is you speak in absolutes and in technology, nothing is absolute. I have no idea what is going to happen a year from now, nor does anybody. However, the intractable truth is 5 years ago Facebook didn’t exist, 7 years ago the iPod didn’t exist, 9 years ago Wi-Fi was far from ubiqitious, 11 years ago Amazon.com sold books and 13 years ago a company called Netscape released a browser to the Information Superhighway.

    If you’re prepared to define the only ways that people will be able to make a living with wine content in the future that’s fine, but I am not.

    All the best and my ongoing regards,

    Jeff

  2. Hi Steve,

    Sounds like a great site. When are you going to start it? :) Seriously though, I would argue that what you and Good Grape have described is not a blog at all but an online magazine.

  3. Michael, you’re right. What’s in a name?

  4. I’m sorry you thought I was condescending. I wasn’t. I totally enjoyed your blog. You were being facetious about getting Rupert Murdoch etc. I just wanted to explore a more realistic possibility. I have NO idea how wine writers/bloggers/social media are going to make a living in the future. I’m thrilled that people like you, 1WineDude and others are looking into it. Together we can create the future.

  5. Thanks, Steve – I’m in… once I sober up…

  6. I still contend that if you make a blog interesting, informative, and entertaining, it doesn’t matter what new unthought of technology occurs just around the corner. These three items seem, to me anyway, a surefire way to get people to read your or anyone else’s blog. Frankly not only are wine critics in traditional print being forced out, the entire medium is being forced out.(NYTimes, anyone?) Forward thinking experts such as yourself would be short-sighted and ill prepared for the future, if you all did NOT utilize the blogsphere.

    How much better is your blog than a monthly piece in the WE? Well, how many times have you read an article in an unrelated discipline, had a question, and wished you had a way to ask the author? Personally, that happens to me often, and is the reason I am such a fan of your blog, Eric Asimov’s, and a few others. The interactive part, while certainly time consuming and no doubt tedious, allows us, all of us, to take part in the goings on of virtually any profession, business, or discovery, merely by reading and participating in well thot out pieces from experts in the field, (such as yourself). Print will never disappear, but it is being replaced at warp speed, and those who are bloggers are on the cutting edge of the new transfer-of-information vehicle.

    Try writing a question from an article in print media, either recent or in the past from the author, because you would like an answer to a question he posed. Forget it, it rarely happens, and if it does, it is infrequent to rare. Call it immediate gratification if you will, but there are many of us out here, who would like a thought expanded upon, or a question answered. Blogging does just that. Granted, it is a sacrifice(timewise) by the author (or blogger), but he is rewarded by imparting information not available other than personal interview( and those are as rare as hen’s teeth), or the uncommon personal response.

    Maybe you don’t have the nuts and bolts worked out on how to earn a living blogging, but as in Darwinism, the best survive. Perhaps the mechanism of blogging as a means of support is not clear now, but undoubtedly in time, it will manifest itself. When that time comes, you should be well positioned to succeed. In the meantime, your blog will just continue to build a fan base, and you are merely laying the groundwork for the next ipod/facebook/netscape, or whatever the thing-a-ma-jig is called.

    Lastly, having authored two books on totally unrelated material(Baja hunting and fishing), there is something in blogging that gives the author a sense of satisfaction in being able to communicate with masses of people, all of whom seek answers to particular questions, or wish to express a comment or thought on a blog piece. It would be hard to believe you have not experienced that satisfaction, which is completely different from the satisfaction of the monthly article or occasional book.

  7. Thanks Larry. I will have more to say in the sober light of day on Saturday.

  8. Dude you are getting ENTIRELY too many samples.

  9. Those aren’t samples, they’re GIFTS! Kidding.

    I’d pay for a blog, if we could bring him back, Hunter S. Thompson.

  10. Morton Lesllie says:

    What would the cut be for opinionators? (If it was by the word count, I’d do fairly well.)

  11. Morton: 5% flat fee

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