Paper-based wine magazines: We’re still standing
Tom did a superior job analyzing the reasons for AA’s failure and its meaning. Although he made many fine points, the most interesting (and alliterative) in my opinion was this: “Where profitable publishing is concerned, there is something to be said for paper.”
I do sense a retreat from the gloom-and-doom prognostications of six months ago that wine magazines are dead and that the Internet, through social media and blogging, will take their place. That hasn’t happened, and if anything, it looks like paper is getting stronger while the Internet is treading water. My feeling is that, as the Recession retreats (and it looks like it is), we’ll see advertising recover. Subscriptions remain steady and, certainly in my travels and contacts around California, I’ve seen no evidence that wineries view paper-based wine magazines like Wine Enthusiast with any less importance or respect than they ever did.
Sure, wine blogging has attracted wineries’ attention, as evidenced by Napa’s embrace of the Bloggers’ Conference this year and Washington State’s of it next year. But I’m not sure this pas de deux means anything other than that the industry wants to forge some sort of relationship with the blogosphere, and showing up at a Conference and hosting an event is a very inexpensive way of doing it. It doesn’t cost wineries anything, or very much, to make kissy-face with bloggers. To understand how wineries actually assess the importance of any particular writer or publication you have to look at where they put their money. And industry money is still pouring into paper-based magazines (through advertising), not into blogs.
Appellation America wasn’t the only online publication to hit the dust last week. So did Yummy, a wine, food and lifestyle site out of San Francisco, to which I contributed for a few months. Yummy was a fine read, informed and informative, and the publisher tried her best to support it through advertising. But it didn’t work. “The bottom line,” she emailed me, “is that no one sees a true value in online. While they may enjoy receiving e-letters and reading blogs, they are not willing to pay a premium for ad space as they are in print.” The publisher also puts out a paper-based magazine, Northside San Francisco, that brings in quite a lot of cash in ads. But “No one is going to pay that for online,” she said.
I think this reality is sinking in, dashing the optimism of bloggers and rekindling hopes for paper-based magazines, whose publishers after all are the ones that must make these all-important decisions. The Recession, with its fearful anxieties of last winter, no doubt made publishers and editors more nervous than ordinarily they would have been, and contributed to feelings of dread, as well as published reports of print’s impending demise. But we have gotten past the worst of things (I hope), and the major wine magazines have emerged unbowed and untattered, for the most part.
Years ago I sponsored a debate between the owner of Cody’s Books, in Berkeley, and the head of U.C. Berkeley’s New Media Department. The topic was “The future of print.” The U.C. professor said that paper-based pubs would soon be obsolete, to be replaced by lightweight, flexible hand-held devices (of course, that was before Amazon’s Kindle). The bookstore guy said it would never happen, because there’s something in our human nature, or soul, that makes us want to hold and admire a real book or magazine made of paper. I think he was right. Even though Cody’s had to close last year due to the tough economic times, I believe paper-based print is entering a new heyday. It’s undergone a jolt, but the survivors will emerger stronger, leaner and meaner. Blogging also will continue, but independent bloggers (as opposed to “lifestyle managers” like Hardy Wallace) are going to have to give up on the idea of getting paid, for now.