The Tipping Point of a Maturing Wine Blog

The Tipping Point of a Maturing Wine Blog

Anyone who holds his breath waiting for the ad revenue tipping point to tip is going to suffocate. – Steve Heimoff; Wine Enthusiast Magazine

“Basically the whole wine blog world is like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, a whole bunch of loudmouths trying to shout over each other, only less dressy.” – Ron Washam; Hosemaster of Wine

Recently, two articles surfaced that have caused quite a bit of angst and swirl in the wine world. Each seem to undercut the viability and influence of a wine blog. At the risk of getting “hosed” I step lightly into this post, mostly wanting to provide the counter punch (or maybe that’s just counter flick at my level) to these articles.

While I respect the writing and insight that both of these men provide to the wine world, at the risk of offending, I can offer this, “Those with their head in the sand have their ass in the air.”

Heimoff’s post focuses on ad revenue (or lack thereof) and asserts that most wine bloggers will never make any money blogging. I’ve gone through several responses in my mind to this post. One was “how dare he,” two was, “he may be on to something,” and finally third, “don’t keep your head in the sand too long.” While the post focuses on the lack of a rush toward online ad revenue for wine bloggers, the underlying insinuation (read through the comments too) is that wine bloggers have little influence to warrant any ad revenue. I’ll address this misconception further in the post.

Many of Mr. Heimoffs’ points are right on about the speed in which dollars are migrating online, however I think it’s important to keep in mind the youth of the wine blog. As wine blogging matures quality will rise to the top. Niche blogs will develop that focus on regions and or specific wine varietals. As the collective pool of information, opinion, and reviews grow, so will the consuming traffic. Content quality and data centralization will be huge. Wineries are being exposed to great new tools that allow them to capture and calculate the mention of their brand online which will result in focused marketing efforts.

The move toward online dollars is slowed for the wine industry for a few reasons; wine is a specialized industry (meaning not everyone drinks wine – yet); distribution laws hinder national and global brand awareness; and most winery owners are not marketers by trade, they are farmers.

Ad dollars are not migrating online.
Ad dollars are not going to migrate online anytime soon.
There is no tipping point.
Just ain’t gonna happen anytime. – From Steve Heimoff

Marketing dollars ARE migrating out of print media (take a look at the cemetery of newspapers and circulation magazines). This trend WILL hit specialized print magazines in the future. It may not happen in 2010, 2011 or 2012 but the trend will continue to trickle down to niche magazines. Print media that survives will be the ones that adapt to incorporate a strong online and social presence with its readers.

Heimoff’s stance also teeters on the misconception that wine bloggers are in it for the money.

From Steve’s Bio: Steve pondered his twin passions of writing and wine, earnestly contemplating how he could combine the two interests in order to be gainfully employed. Taking a major leap of faith, Steve set out to become a wine writer.

This sentiment is echoed hundred-fold across the wine bloggersphere. The majority seeks to combine passions of writing and wine. Some will make money (through events, ad revenue, speaking, syndicated writing, books, etc), but the majority will continue to combine those passions for the same reason there are blogs tracking the mating habits of the Peruvian Water-Beetle…it’s a passion that people want to share. As Steve experienced great success with his leap of faith, is it too much to ask to support others (through success or failure) who attempt the same.

 

Now, on to the Hosemaster piece in the SF Chronicle; I usually wouldn’t devote any server space or brain power rebutting someone who devotes his time to heckling people. I respect his place in the online world and actually enjoy reading his humorous, exaggerative, narcissistic posts. However, when a large “news” (used loosely) organization devotes ink to such opinions, I’m slightly unnerved. To Derrick Schneider’s credit, he did bring in two sides of the opinion. Steve’s basic snarky premise is that wine bloggers have no influence and that we’re all a bunch of attention seeking, wine grubbing winos attempting to take our jabs at the establishment.

My foray into the wine blogging world is quite young (going on four months). I interact with quite a few bloggers. My observation and is that 98% of them take their work seriously. Their desire is to provide a value add resource for their followers – whether that is their immediate family or 10,000 people a day. While the writing quality varies from the moderately average (see the author you’re currently reading) to the down-right inspirational (see 1WineDude, Good Grape, Vinology, etc) these folks are making a marked difference. While a 4+ score from DrinkNectar.com may not “register on the radar” nationally – I have irrefutable proof that a winery interview with DrinkNectar.com doubled a winery websites visits for the week, thus increasing brand awareness. The cost to the winery – 1 hour of time.

Additional influences that I can speak to are the local awareness of wineries and the wine scene in Texas by Vinotology and in Phoenix by Weekly Wine Journal and Arizona Grape Escapes. A little grass roots event in February drew hundreds of people together online and in tasting rooms across California promoting California Cabernet.  In interviews with five wineries on Twitter, each speaks to the increased brand awareness they receive by interacting with and even sending samples to bloggers. Can this influence be measured in direct case sales?  I think it’s far greater AND it’s only just beginning. To Tom Wark’s point in the article “wine bloggers have about the same influence as wine writers, none.” But, as I mentioned above, as bloggers specialize, develop niche brands, as information repositories centralize (i.e. Cellar Tracker / Grape Stories and Cork’d), and social media forums like Twitter and Facebook explode the potential for influence is far greater than all print magazines combined.

In closing, I say – Bring it on Hosemaster!

P.S. For an incredibly humorous and witty response similar to this one (only written way better) – See Hardy Wallace at www.dirtysouthwine.comWine Bloggers Bite the Big One!

drinknectar

Owner of Nectar Tasting Room in Spokane, WA. (@nectarwine) Publisher of Spokane Wine Magazine (@spowinemag), author, speaker, consultant and internet marketer with Nectar Media (@nectarmedia)

35 comments on “The Tipping Point of a Maturing Wine Blog

  1. Joshua S. Sweeney

    Excellent read. I think the majority of people who are resisting or belittling wine blogging either don’t understand the groundswell effect of social media or don’t want to admit that the scene has changed. Hell, I created a minor local uproar with my negative review of a wine, and it was only my 4th post. I can’t imagine what would happen 30 or 40 posts down the road, seeing as how there’s aren’t hardly any bloggers focusing on North Carolina wine (NCWineTV is the only one that immediately comes to mind).

    Blogging is an untapped resource for wine reviewing, and there’s so much space out there to be filled. Right now, the return for bloggers and the wineries who interact with them is immediate and tangible.

    Reply
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  3. Ben Simons

    Great post! Don’t sell yourself short in the quality writing department. This was a well thought out critique that matches perfectly with the more satirical and humorous one that Hardy posted today. I love that both of these hit at the same time. Perfection!

    I think that Steve Heimoff lives in a dream world. He has repeatedly demonstrated his lack of understanding of the online world. He also doesn’t understand that all of us bloggers are not just doing this to make money. Don’t get me wrong, if someone wanted to pay me to do this for a living, I would jump at the opportunity, but I blog because I love wine, writing, and the community that I’ve been able to become a part of. Any ad revenue that I get is gravy, and just goes to help support my blog.

    I also find the Hosemaster site to be entertaining at times, but I find his lampooning of bloggers to get a bit tiresome. I get it, you don’t like Alder Yarrow. Good for you.

    Thanks for the mention of my blog. I love writing about wine, and I even more enjoy exposing people to Texas wine who might not otherwise know that it exists. I’m right with you when it comes to having tangible evidence of having had a positive impact within the local scene. A local winery informed me that they received a contact from the largest grocery chain in the area after the wine purchasing manager read one of my reviews of their wine. I know I’m not the only one who has stories like this, and this kind of exposure can be huge in markets that aren’t covered by the mainstream wine press, such as Texas.

    Again, great post!

    Reply
  4. Steve Paulo

    Nice work, Josh. And try not to compare yourself to Hardy… none of us stand up well to the comparison ;)

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Oh, I know Hardy is a true stud – although, I’m not sure about his new digs – it has chickens…

      Reply
  5. Hardy

    Thanks for the link-

    When it comes to money, the eyeballs and the influencers will get it. How does that work? Data, measurement, the pitch.

    Tom Wark does it very well and polls his audience-
    http://www.surveymonkey.com/Report.asp?U=216398663289

    Advertisers know exactly who they are targeting and in solid #s. I know of very few other bloggers that go to Tom’s level of detail.

    The influence a wine blog (big or small) is when you search google looking for a particular wine. Whether someone has 1,000,000 readers or 10, if they pop up and are clicked on, at that moment, at that moment they are the most influential person to that particular wine brand.

    Reply
  6. Ron McFarland

    Information is now flowing in every direction and that is what these guys can’t figure out. They are used to water running downhill and when they see gravity changing course – their comfort zones are challenged – if you put their words in a glass – you will smell the fear they are feeling. Send them some love – that is the best way to accelerate forward to the new realities.

    Cheers

    Reply
  7. Seattle Wine Gal

    “Marketing dollars ARE migrating out of print media (take a look at the cemetery of newspapers and circulation magazines)”. You tell ‘em Josh. This was a very interesting read, and quite surprising.

    Marketing $ goes where eyes go!

    Reply
  8. Sip with Me!

    Josh, excellent commentary. I think the articles were seeing right now are a knee-jerk fear response. We’ve seen it before with political machines—if you say something so many times, people start to believe it. Some people may believe wine bloggers have no influence, many of us know different and soon those that don’t will too. And as said by the others, you really are a wonderful writer and your quality readership is a testament to that.

    Reply
  9. Sonoma William

    Great article. Its a bit funny all of the comments are from bloggers. :) Should I run off and write a similar article too, hmmmm. Oh ya my DAY job beckons. :)

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Sonoma William – it is true the comments are from other bloggers, but I wouldn’t expect the consumer to care about commenting on this post. I do however get comments from Spokane folk when I post about local wineries and coffees shops. Day job – it was 4:04 when you posted, isn’t it time for wine ;)

      Cheers to you!

      Reply
  10. Shannon Casey

    Excellent article Josh. The only insight that I have is from my own blog. After 8 months of posting almost every day, I just signed up an advertiser for a 3 month contract (we are in the process of designing the ad now.) Not a pay per click or affiliate link (which I have used in the past and will continue to use), but a true paid up front advertiser. The money isn’t huge and I can’t quit my day job… yet, but it more than covers my blog expenses for a couple of months. I strongly believe this is he future, and the ad market for blogs and online content has yet to be tapped.

    Reply
  11. Eric Hwang

    Josh, spot-on with your observations. Those of us with “no influence” have only to look at our own sales figures of blog-featured wines and products to see the direct impact of our blogging and social media efforts. With almost all our marketing dollars going towards substantial direct-to-consumer sales, and an increasingly larger percentage going to social media marketing, I see the results firsthand and I disagree with Steve Heim-WAY-off.

    What little respect I had for pompous magazine wine writers has been irreversibly lost to these kind of short-sighted opinion pieces. To the paid wine writers: stick with what you seem to know best–wine–leave the marketing and blogging to the experts.

    Reply
  12. markmye

    Good observation and arguments.

    “Ad dollars are not migrating online”??
    tell Google that.. :)

    Reply
  13. Ron Washam, HMW

    Josh,

    Thanks for your kind words. I especially enjoyed “narcissistic,” but, then I’m narcissistic.

    A lot of folks here mention “fear.” Yet the reactions by you and Hardy and everyone else smell more like fear, or maybe angst. I have nothing at all to fear, and neither does Steve Heimoff. He’s had the job you want for 20 years. Accusing people of being afraid is silly and smells more of the playground than anything else.

    As for me, I write HoseMaster of Wine for fun. Simple as that. I am not the HoseMaster, he is a character I portray for satirical purposes. When I first began blogging I began because I read so many wine blogs that were laden with poor writing, idiotic wine reviews and factual errors. I thought it would be fun to play the fool and go after a few of them. The Fool is always the one who speaks truth to power and gets away with it. It’s a necessary job, and in the mutual butt-kissing world of wine blogs, I seem to be the only one doing it.

    And I’ve had many, many offers from advertisers to place ads on HoseMaster of Wine, but I’m not interested in that, or free samples, though I get a few on occasion. Maybe that makes me an idiot. OK, for sure it makes me an idiot. But I’ve always done my blog for my own entertainment. That I got “discovered” by the Chronicle and Derrick Schneider decided to interview me, as the HoseMaster, not as myself, has brought me the sort of attention I don’t really want or need.

    Having written comedy and satire my entire life, and done it professionally, I know that I’ve succeeded when I’ve made people uncomfortable or upset. My job is to skewer the comfortable, the powerful, the self-righteous. Except for powerful, bloggers are the perfect targets.

    Unlike most of the self-serving (oh, I mean wise-marketing) bloggers out there, I don’t comment other places often. I don’t care about hits, I don’t care about influence, I don’t care about bloggers, I care about wine and laughter.

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Ron

      What you do, you do well. Your posts are humorous to a point but at some point they cross the line into brutality and slander. Now, I’m not going to go cry to my mommy if you “hose” me, I’m just saying I don’t agree with that use of free speach.

      Fear, I think is far from the minds of the average blogger when thinking of the establishment. What do they have to be afraid of – losing their no paying blog, their free samples, or their corner of the world? I think angst is the appropriate word. Like most revolutions they start with going againt the establishment. I think the bravery lies in the collective community. It’s not all ass-kissing. There is enough of a “self-policing” to call bull when it’s seen. The players or phonies will come and go. My point is that the world is changing and if the establishment doesn’t change with it, it will be assimilated.

      As for the desire for Steve’s job, I wouldn’t take it offered. I make enough doing what I’m doing. Plus why would I want to take a job that will become obsolete in a few years.

      I appreciate your last statement and can agree with it – I care about wine and laughter – both are great things to care about.

      Josh

      Reply
  14. Ed Thralls

    I might be giving Steve way too much credit here, but a trend I often see is a spike in traffic and comments anywhere on the internet where there is controversy, blame thrown, or a video of someone getting hit by a train. Just take a look above. Steve is a well-tenured writer and probably knows how to get a grip on the reader. Human beings are attracted to that car wreck and must slow down and rubber-neck. As long as we continue to get up in arms at the comments made by him, post comments on his blog, click on the links from WineBusiness.com his personal blog statistics and thus is (inter)net worth go up. Just another angle to look at it. I certainly don’t agree with his statements either.

    Similarly, @WineWonkette on twitter got a little fed up with the ethics and blogger influence talk that was going on around the WWS2010 discussions last week too. If we continue to just talk with ourselves and about ourselves, our influence indeed will remain limited. There’s nothing wrong with blowing off some steam one in a while and talk about the hot topics that affect us out there and this is definitely one of them. But, the more we respond the more they will continue to write this crap without supporting it with any real data.

    I say, when do we get back to just enjoying the wine and sharing that with our audiences? Cue party dance music…

    Reply
  15. Shannon Casey

    As a “self-serving” wine blogger, I would like to point out that I post on other blogger’s posts to be a part of the community, not to promote myself.

    Reply
  16. Ben Simons

    Lots of good comments here, including the one from the HoseMaster himself. I really don’t think that people like Steve Heimoff are scared. I just think he is more deluded. He just is ultimately on the wrong side of history. That being said, I think that Ed’s comment is probably right as well. Heimoff has a blog, that us bloggers regularly feed with comments and attention. Maybe if we all just ignored him, when his day job at a print publication vanishes, nobody will be left to listen to his drivel.

    I’m also with Shannon on the reason that I comment on other blogger’s blogs. I have made some great friends blogging, and I like being a part of this community. I like carrying on conversations on blogs like this, and I like participating in new blogs, encouraging people who are where I was a few months ago when I started my blog. The community is a major part of why I enjoy blogging.

    Reply
  17. Hardy

    Ron / HMW-
    I wrote nothing in fear or angst- C’mon there fella’… But I’d rather you accuse me of fear than fondling a horse… I must be getting on your good side.

    Reply
  18. Steve Heimoff

    Hello Josh, thank you for a great article. I look forward to following you.

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      You’re welcome, Steve! Thanks for stopping by to read.

      Reply
  19. Ben Simons

    I’ve always found it an odd criticism that bloggers read other bloggers. Do they not think that all of us bloggers are also consumers? Just ask my wife, I spend A LOT of money on wine. Where do you think I get my information for purchasing decisions? Hmm, maybe from my blogger friends.

    Reply
  20. Ron Washam, HMW

    Josh,

    Brutality and slander? You clearly don’t understand what slander means, or satire either. You cannot slander someone in print. But we can let that slide.

    Do you, and Hardy, and the Michigan Wine Girl want influence, or do you want to be marketing people? Parker has influence, Tanzer has influence, Connoisseurs Guide has influence. What Hardy Wallace does is marketing. He shilled for pedestrian wines at Murphy-Goode and feels like this is influence. It’s not influence, it’s not power, it’s marketing. Without Jess Jackson behind him he’s a big zero. There is a huge difference. This is Tom Wark’s point. Wineries are certainly willing to use bloggers as marketing tools, and that’s what they’re doing. But if you want respect, if you want to make a difference, then it’s about integrity and knowledge and credibility. Those things have to be earned, not just given because you know how to use WordPress or Blogger.

    Every little wine community is lovely. You have one, I have one, Hardy has one, Alder has one, what would we do without them? But wine blogs don’t sell wine. Are they good for marketing, yes. Are they useful for getting your name out there, yes. Is this the same as influence, is this the same as credibility, is this going to replace professional wine critics?

    I would expect your little wine community to give me grief. Mine would give you grief too. But think about what I’m saying. Everyone is entitled to have a blog. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’m thrilled that I gave everyone a blog post. I know how hard it is to think of something to write about every week. But what bloggers do and what professional wine critics do (and I’m not a professional wine critic, obviously) are two different things.

    Josh, you’re brilliant at marketing, and wineries will pay a lot of money for that. You have a good job, you don’t need the money, it seems. Just don’t confuse marketing with replacing professional, educated, experienced wine critics who practice their hard-earned craft without advertising and free stuff from wineries. And don’t confuse slander and brutality with comedy. If you don’t like what I do, don’t read my blog.

    Now go out, conquer the wine business, and make me wrong.

    I’m sure you liked Heimoff’s response better.

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Ron

      Oh, slander, libel, defamation – I’m not a lawyer, nor the wordsmith you are. I was paying you a compliment without committing to agreeing with your approach. I think you are quite witty and talented (not that you need me to say that) – I just don’t want to make my mark being negative toward people. I appreciate your place in this world, as it seems you would appreciate mine. I will continue to read your blog – because I find it entertaining.

      I could debate with you a little about blogs not selling wine – because I have some evidence to point to the contrary (localized and focused produces results). I do respect the wine professional who has far more experience and education than I – If you read my post, you’ll not notice any bashing toward their expertise and knowledge, but more of a refusal to adapt to the changing world.

      And I did like Heimoff’s response! ;)

      Reply
  21. Samantha Dugan

    Um Ron….what you doing here? Come home, your community needs a laugh.

    Just for the sake of clarity…why is it okay for a blogger, (and yes, I am a barking poodle as well…proudly) to go after those that mock or sneer at bloggers? Just having a hard time seeing the difference? Write for cash, write for fun, write to inspire, write to please, write for laughter..we are all still writing and there is room, an audience and a plenty of critics for all of us. I for one am grateful that there are so many voices out here speaking about one of the most civil, (well…most of the time) beverages on the planet…one just needs pick their flavor as it were. I for one am very glad that there is more than one.

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Samantha – great response. Well played! The interweb is big enough for all of us to play happily in. But isn’t it fun to stir the pot sometimes!

      Reply
  22. Hardy

    Ron-

    “What Hardy Wallace does is marketing. He shilled for pedestrian wines at Murphy-Goode and feels like this is influence. It’s not influence, it’s not power, it’s marketing. Without Jess Jackson behind him he’s a big zero. There is a huge difference.”

    Don’t taze me bro’!

    What I did for MG was clearly marketing as I was hired by their marketing dept. to work for their marketing dept, to do — guess what? Social media marketing… This strange and mystic concept of “marketing” really had your skivvies in knots since day 1…

    Also- a shill pretends to have no connection to the affiliated product… It was clear that I was associated with MG and marketing for them, seeing that all of my content was produced via MG branded sites, handles, and accounts. Contrary to most marketing, I also never said anything I didn’t believe.

    Without Jess behind me I’m a big zero? Your words cut me. ;)

    Ron, I could care less about my personal influence or power. I started this for fun and still do it just for fun. I’m sorry my lack of influence and lack of power disappoints you. I will try harder.

    Reply
  23. markmye

    This comment thread is turning more and more entertaining by the hour.
    almost matching the Parker bashing thread in some wine forums :)

    Reply
  24. Matt

    I enjoy blogs such as this one… the quips of Hardy Wallace… the satire of Hosemaster… and the critical writing of Steve Heimoff. So it’s interesting to see them all butting heads on this post and thread.

    If you think about it- aside from some magazines and a few influential websites- the wine media is fairly small and consolidated. I think blogs fill a useful role in giving voice to a community of active participants. How does it evolve? The expert voices and networkers will rise to the top- and the rest fall off or are content in being a small esoteric voice. Or maybe communities of bloggers will consolidate and join forces and create something bigger than the individual voices. One thing is certain- every blogger is a unique individual with their own angle and motivations. It should be an interesting evolution (or de-evolution?) to watch.

    I don’t think the mainstream wine media is going anywhere. I’m still happy to pay for professional wine journalism and criticism either in print or electronic form. I have a hard time believing that the wine media will suffer one iota until the journalism industry as a whole figures out a successful business model that incorporates the internet along with print media.

    So I’ll keep reading all of the above. Josh- congrats on starting such an interesting discussion.

    Reply
  25. 1WineDude

    Thanks for the kind words, man! And don’t sell yourself too short – your blog is my pick for best new kid on the block (if that category takes hold) for the upcoming Wine Blog Awards (for what it’s worth :-).

    And be careful with Ron – when he says he doesn’t care about hits, he’s lying he just cares about the kind of hits that are delivered directly to your wine blogging ego’s groin! :-)

    Cheers!

    Reply
  26. 1WineDude

    Also… don’t forget one very, very important point (well, it’s mine so naturally I think it’s important…):

    Many, many, many wine blogs are not written to be an alternative to Parker, Laube, etc.; they are written by avid consumers to chronicle their personal journey through wine.

    In that way, a handful of other blogs, mine included (I hope), act as resources to those consumers.

    The community at large appears a bit self-serving, etc., to the casual observer, especially to those who come from the ‘previous school’ where self-publishing was not viewed as self-expression but as arrogance bordering on monomania.

    The self-expression has no gatekeepers, and those who are blogging for fun shouldn’t be told that they can’t do it, if only for the fact that no one, and I mean no one at all, can stop them…

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Thanks for your comments. I always thought of myself as a New Kid on the Block. Not really a fan of Donnie Walberg, his brother is way more famous’er’.

      If Ron chose to kick me in the groin, I think I might feel some sort of amorous “I’ve arrived” giddyness.

      To your other point about wine bloggers being folks who are just documenting their journey through wine…I’ve actually seen quite a bit of that. Some of them are pretty good writers and others are just wine diaries for geeks like us.

      Cheers!

      Reply
  27. Sip with Me!

    Just another poodle documenting my journey though wine.

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Tamara, you’re funny. You must’ve missed this post when it came out last month. I’m glad to have you here comment…but arent’ you supposed to be enjoying the day off with your husband ;)

      Reply

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