The wine blogger as $hake$peare
One of the big questions that’s hovered over the wine blogosphere is this: how long will bloggers continue blogging if they’re unable to make any money (or much money)?
The idealistic answer by many of the bloggers is “Forever.” They do so with no expectation of getting paid for it. Blogito, ergo sum (to mangle Descartes).
That may well be. But a column in yesterday’s New York Times suggests that the reading public may eventually lose the best, most talented bloggers if the remuneration issue isn’t soon resolved.
The column, by the author Scott Turow and others, argues convincingly that the renowned English Renaissance dramatists Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson and Shakespeare probably would not have pursued their literary crafts had not the theaters that produced their plays began charging money for admission—the first time in Europe that had been done. “Money changed everything,” the authors write. “Almost overnight, a wave of brilliant dramatists emerged…the stark findings of this experiment? As with much else, literary talent often remains undeveloped unless markets reward it.”
I don’t see why blogging should be any different from the atmosphere of the 16th and 17th centuries. Writing is writing, whether it’s with feather quill on paper or with a keyboard into cyberspace. And not all writing is equivalent. There must have been bad writers in the early 1590s, when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, only their works have not survived because nobody thought them worth preserving. It’s the same with wine blogging today. There are bad bloggers, good ones and very good ones. I’m not saying any blog ever written is the equivalent of a Shakespeare play or sonnet. But people wanted to attend Shakespeare plays because they experienced value; they learned something from them, were entertained and uplifted. A good blog can have the same impact.
We already see some of our best bloggers making this tentative move toward making money. Steven Tanzer, James Suckling (more of a vlogger than a blogger) and Joe Roberts have made overt moves toward making their sites profitable. But there’s a problem. If you think about it, the blog-reading audience is in the same position as the American taxpayer. On the one hand, the taxpayer refuses to pay more money to government and would prefer to pay less. On the other hand, that same taxpayer insists on getting his government perks, whether it’s Social Security, Medicare, a government pension plan, Veteran’s benefits, or basic security services such as police and fire protection. And let’s not forget a strong national defense.
It seems to me that people who love to read their favorite wine blogs are going to have to make a decision, sooner or later, concerning what that blog is worth. Talent is fungible. It will flow to wherever it can find the greatest reward. If talent is being financially abused in one place, it likely will find another place that respects it enough to pay for it. The best bloggers, in other words, might gradually find reward in places other than blogging, leaving readers with a pretty dismal selection.
In Turow’s column, he describes how, in the mid-17th century, “Dramatists’ ties to commerce were severed” when the fee-for-service model evaporated, for a variety of reasons. With it, “the greatest explosion of playwriting talent the modern world has ever seen ended. Just like that.” It could happen to wine blogging talent, too, “just like that.”