A wine blogger on wine blogs
I don’t have any evidence for making the following assertion–just a feeling–but I think the bloom is off the rose when it comes to wine blogs.
After an intense period of creative ferment of about 4 or 5 years, the nation’s major wine blogs have settled into a comfortable middle age. The shock, delight and revolutionary fervor that surrounded wine blogs even three years ago, when I started (relatively late in the game), have lifted. Now, instead, wine blogs feel like regular parts of our lives, as sturdy and familiar as the morning newspaper in the driveway (if you happen to subscribe to a newspaper, as I do: the San Francisco Chronicle).
That it has come to this is testament to several things. One is that wine blogs have demonstrated their staying power. Although bloggers make little or (in my case) no money at all from their efforts (and those efforts can be considerable), still they’ve demonstrated that they’re passionate/crazy/stupid/hopeful enough to keep at it. Likewise, readers have shown their commitment to reading their favorite blogs, and loyalty to them. I know there are steveheimoff.com fans who look forward to reading me everyday. Similarly there must be 1WineDude, Juicy Tales, DrVino and Vinography fans who feel that a day without their bloggy fix is less than full. This is good: it means that certain blogs have become branded, which is what most bloggers hope for when they start. (I did.)
Something else, too: I think we now know who the players are, and that situation is unlikely to change. The field is set, the top names known. It is now extraordinarily difficult for a newcomer to enter the fray and succeed. It’s too late for that. The country already is saturated with wine blogs. I can’t see how a newbie could jump in and achieve any kind of respectable numbers, unless that person already was famous from something else.
While blogging’s recent history is reasonably clear, but it’s future is less so. Where do the wine blogs go from here? We can make some inferences. The major wine blogs will continue to be published, if for no other reason than that their authors are a stubborn bunch. Blogging has become so interwoven with their lives, their self-identity and everyday practice, that nobody wants to be the first to give it up and become the talk of the town. “I blog, therefore I am” is the unstated dictum of wine blogging.
At the same time, I suspect that readership is leveling off, after years of sharp acceleration. This is only natural. The existing blogs are probably attracting a relatively smaller share of new readers every month, but the readership that remains is more intensely loyal. This must raise profound questions in the bloggers’ minds. None of the majors has yet begun to charge a subscription fee. (I exempt certain celebrities.) The thought has to be whether or not a blog’s loyal, committed readers will not pay a modest annual fee to retain privileges. What is a modest annual fee? Surely somewhere between $25 and $45. More than that, and it feels exorbitant, especially in this train wreck of an economy. So it will be interesting to see who finally makes the jump to a subscription model. But that someone will, and should, seems evident, as the next natural evolutionary step.
Far more obscure is where wine writing and reviewing goes from here. I know we’re had this intense debate for years now, but it’s as far from being resolved as ever. I think print publications are on a far sounder footing than they were in 2009-2010, but at some cost to their bottom lines: as they move online, revenues fall, even as expenses also do, and publishers are taking careful looks at the balance between the two. The New York Times remains the quintessential poster child of getting that balance (including subscription fees) resolved.
As for steveheimoff.com, it will still be here for a long time, if I have anything to say about it–which, come to think of it, I do, since it’s my blog, and I write it of my own free will. As long as I have free will, this blog will exist.