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!