Wine blogs: an endangered species?
Two years ago, when I started playing in the blog sandbox, wine blogs seemed like the wave of the future.
The conventional wisdom was, Print was as dead as the dinosaurs, advertising was flooding away from magazines and newspapers to online, and an older generation of Baby Boomer critics was rapidly being killed off by young blogger guns, who were strangling the necks of old critics like a chicken in the hands of a poultry farmer.
Well, in the words of Churchill, “Some chicken; some neck.”
Even an organization that’s desperately trying to make a living from online blogging, Palate Press, ran an op-ed piece called “There’s a Reason No One Reads Wine Blogs,” that I largely agree with, although the author, Tom Johnson, is overly-broad in his conclusions. For one thing, it’s patently not true that “no one reads wine blogs.” Tens of thousands of people everyday read the top wine blogs, including mine.
Nonetheless, Johnson’s main indictment is that very few people read wine blogs compared to other kinds of blogs; “the top 100 wine blogs combined would be the 280th most popular blog in the country,” he argues. (Readers should be aware that all statistics regarding blog readership, including my own, are to be viewed with skepticism. There simply are no reliable metrics.)
Okay, so wine blogs aren’t as popular as political blogs, or technology blogs, or sports or celebrity entertainment blogs. I have no problem with that; it’s what I’d expect. Lots of people like to drink wine, but far fewer of them enjoy talking about it, the way people talk endlessly about March Madness or iPads or Sandra Bullock’s husband’s infidelity.
I’m not so sure, as Johnson advises, that wine bloggers should stop reviewing wine. They can write about whatever they want (Sonadora, this is for you). But the fact is that no wine blog is going to out-influence the most important wine magazines, including Wine Enthusiast, for anytime soon. That could change, under the right circumstances, but some very particular events would have to occur, in precisely the right way, and the odds of that happening presently are slight.
Johnson is right when he says that interlinking wine blogs is a good thing to do. That’s pretty obvious. It takes advantage of the structure and spirit of the Internet. I probably don’t interlink enough with other wine blogs, although, come to think of it, that’s exactly what I’m doing right now with Johnson’s and Sonadora’s Wannabe Wino’s. This interlinking is what makes these blog discussions so interesting.
But where I think Johnson misses the mark entirely is in his hope that some quick fixes (of the type he recommends) will “make wine blogs relevant to wine drinkers” and therefore, miraculously make them into major economic factors in wine. I just don’t see that happening. A wine blog is, at most, a perfunctory daily stop for people, mostly in the industry or hoping to get into the industry. Does anybody really think that there’s anything a blog, or even an agglomeration of blogs (as some hope), can achieve the power and influence of a big wine magazine? I don’t think so.
What’s fueled the top blogs for the last few years is a hope that blogging will lead to something more rewarding. I’m not talking about wine bloggers who blog just for the heck of it. But, let’s get real here, there’s a ton of ambition among wine bloggers. Although some insist they’re not in it for the money, they doth protest a little too much. So, as the possibilities dwindle that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the blogging rainbow, I can’t see some of the top bloggers continuing to produce 3, 4, 5 well-written blogs a week. It’s a lot of work (more than the casual reader knows), without pay, or, even if the blogger accepts advertising (which I don’t), without much pay. Sooner or later, some bloggers are going to start wondering if it’s worth the hassle (or their spouses will make them start wondering).
People sometimes ask me why I spend so much time blogging about blogging, social media, etc. It’s because we’re talking about the future of wine writing and criticism in this country, and that’s something I have a stake in. I’d probably do myself more good, and make myself less of a target, by just talking about wine, terroir, etc. But wine writing is something I take as seriously as my retirement account. When the time comes, I want to hand it off, to whoever it may be, to people who believe in wine passionately, sincerely, with every ounce of their being. To people who are willing to live wine 24/7 — not just blog about the free sample somebody sent them yesterday. Fortunately, there are such bloggers out there; they know who they are. All I’m saying is that they’re not going to make a living doing it anytime soon. They’re going to have to either wait for the system to change, or they’re going to have to make it change, or get jobs within the system that will no longer allow them to freely blog on their own. I’m not saying this is good or bad. It’s just the way it is.
P.S. On “Blood Into Wine“: I had a nice little part in that documentary about “Tool” frontman Maynard James Keenan, and I thought I came across pretty well. But I have to say this: They blind-tasted me on several wines, including Maynard’s. I didn’t like Maynard’s Arizona wine at all, but the filmmakers left that part out.