On The Death Of Sommelier Journal (Or “The Nigh Impossibility Of Building Wealth As A Wine Writer”)

Vinted on November 5, 2013 binned in best of, commentary, wine news

By now many of you will have heard that Sommelier Journal is ceasing publication.

The news came to me via SJ editor David Vogels, who several days ago issued an email to those writers who had contracted work with the magazine. I happen to be one of those writers, having only weeks ago completed a featured story / regional overview on Crete, an article that was to appear in SJ’s November issue. Here’s what Vogels wrote in the email:

“I regret to inform you that Sommelier Journal has suspended publication. We are currently negotiating with a group that hopes to purchase the title and resume publishing the magazine at some point within the next year. In the meantime, we have arranged with Wine & Spirits Magazine to complete the terms of our current paid subscribers with the same number of issues they have remaining (whether in print or online-only).”

The news is sad for several reasons. Sommelier Journal was a bright light among wine publications over the last six years, as any long-time 1WD reader is already well aware. It was probably the only publication that catered specifically to sommeliers, beverage directors, and others in a similar vinous vein who actually cared deeply about building a taste profile for their clientele.

But among the reasons for why the shuttering of SJ’s glossy covers totally sucks, the reason vying for number one in line for the suck-a-thon as far as I’m concerned is the fact that I’m now not going to be paid for the article I wrote for them. That’s work I sweated and bled, based on a journey I took to the region under the auspice that I was on assignment (I’ve reached out to World of Fine Wine about taking it up, but they seem to move pretty slowly, unless they have something they’d like me to promote to you, of course!).

I’d like to say that this development is probably a fluke, but I think it’s actually indicative of a larger issue, which is that paid content in any form is a tough sell, period. Paid content for a niche is even tougher. And as a result, building wealth by writing content about a niche topic like wine is a bit like talking about unicorns or the Easter bunny (or about Easter bunnies riding unicorns): fun to discuss, but ultimately a figment of our collective, wine-soaked imagination…

Probably the question I am most asked about having ventured out into wine media as a profession is this: how are you doing? Those asking don’t mean how am I doing in the abstract, they want to know how I am doing when it comes to the bottom line. During a recent tour of the Reagan library in southern California, after finding out what I did for a living the docent giving us a tour asked me if there was any chance that money can be made doing what I do (he has a daughter with a budding food blog). My response was “not really.”

Look at it this way: as fellow Philly wine personality and educator Marnie Old and I have discussed a few times, we do something that’s so cool (talk about wine) that people are willing to do it for free. No matter how good you are at something, it’s awfully tough to compete with free.

And even if you can compete with free, you’ve also got to compete for a shrinking piece of paid wine media pie with folks like Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers, and “master” bloggers, all of whom already have built up names for themselves. To be seen amongst that crowd, you either need to have an incredible story, amazing originality, and killer writing – or, more improbably, all three. It’s a tall order.

And if I’ve learned anything over the last few years trying to eke out a living in wine media, it’s that the wine media pie ain’t all that big. Susan Kostrzewa’s income survey of attendees at this year’s Wine Writers Symposium, which you can read over at Vinography.com, I think seriously overstates the income of most wine writers, as WWS attendees tend to skew towards those who already have some form of writing job (based on my experiences attending and speaking at two of them, anyway). More likely, if you’re kicking ass at wine writing, you’ll probably score about what you’d make serving tables at a really nice restaurant in a big city. Interestingly, while Susan’s article states that most of the writers surveyed “were making the majority of their wine journalistic income from traditional print editorial sources (magazines, newspaper),” the numbers cited in the article actually show that the majority make their journalistic income outside of traditional media (53% in on-line/other, vs. 47% for magazines and newspapers). In any case, the numbers are sobering, with an average wine writer income of $15,000-25,000 per year.

Can you make a living writing about wine? Probably.

Can you build wealth doing it? Almost certainly No. Not by my standards of building wealth, anyway.

I’m not a dream-squelcher (for the most part, anyway). I’m not saying that people attending the Professional Wine Writers Symposium (which purports to give you a leg up in the wine writing biz) are totally deluding themselves (you can get a leg up and still not make much, where others make more like nothing). I’m not deliberately trying to throw a hosed-down blanket on the steel tank of your fermenting wine writing dreams. I love what I do, and feel blessed to have the gigs that I do have, and lucky to be part of the wine media world in my “semi-retirement.” But it’s worth noting that the demise of Sommelier Journal is likely more than tangentially related to the fact that it is very, very, very difficult to build anything resembling true wealth in the wine media sphere. It’s worth knowing the Sisyphean challenge and mouse-sized financial payoff  that awaits you if you do decide to take a crack at the wine media nut. Wait a second… okay, that was too man metaphors… sorry…

Anyway…

Want to get paid for writing about wine? Get in line, people. Get passionate, get excited, but make sure that you also get a solid clue about what you’re getting yourself into. This is a business in which some of the better stuff never sees the printed pages of magazines, and some of the best mags die on the vine.

As for how I’m doing, the answer is “better than most in this business, but not well enough to be thrilled about the results yet.” As for how on earth I am able to feed my family (the second most-asked question I get), that’s a answer best saved for another thousand words. In the meantime, in an effort to end this little rant in a manner less reminiscent of a mass suicide, I’m pretty sure that you could, if you really wanted it, make more money than most in the wine media business – there’s a path to building the authority you’d need to get started, but so far I’m not aware of a single soul who’s yet tried to follow it.

Maybe it’s your turn?

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • Thomas Pellechia


    Little Joe is growing up!

    Welcome to our world.

    • 1WineDude


      Thomas – little only in actual physical height! :-) Seriously, there are Hobbits taller than I am…

  • SAHMmelier


    I saw the stats yesterday at Alder's site. Guess I better not quit my day job. Oh, that's right I don't have a day job. When I was teaching the joke was, "My husband supports my teaching habit." I can use the same joke about my wine writing habit.

    • 1WineDude


      SAHMmelier – :) Exactly. Well, I don’t want to say that people shouldn’t pursue their dreams (obviously, since I continue to pursue my own). But they need to know what the playing field looks like, and have a realistic sense of what challenges there are, etc. And I haven’t even gotten into related topics such as how cheap many wine producers and regional wine groups are (probably out of necessity but often to their own detriment). It probably sounds like I am b*tching, and I suppose in a lot of ways I am, but as always it is with the hope that people will learn from it. Pursue the dreams, but do it smartly and do it with a clear head and a good plan. Cheers!

  • Mary


    Reminds me of this NY Times piece from last week http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/27/opinion/sunday/

    On a different note, I was at the symposium last year when they took that survey of participants. It was pretty eye opening (and slightly depressing). But one of the things all panelists were encouraging wine writers to do is to branch outside of just wine — lifestyle publications, food, exercise, etc. (anything outside of this specific and small niche) — to try to submit wine related pieces in hopes of getting paid to write. It's encouraging (but still challenging!).

    • 1WineDude


      Mary – thanks for that link, what a great article. In flattered that you'd even my mention my piece as reminding you of that, and I'm jealous of that author's deft usage of a simile involving stink bugs! :-) Like that author, I politely decline every request for free content, including the ongoing republication of content from this (free) website. If you do something well, and it has some value, you should be compensated for it. Regarding the symposium, I'm glad that they gave that message, because it's one that burgeoning wine writers need to hear. Cheers!

  • passionatefoodie


    I don't think this is a problem limited to wine writers, but one that affects most writers in all sorts of fields, from food to fiction writers. People everywhere are writing about numerous topics for free, which does make it harder for others to get paid for their writing.

    I think the key to making more money in writing is to diversify, to not limit yourself to a single activity. Don't just try to submit articles to wine magazines, but seek any and all magazines which might benefit from a wine article. You just might need to slant that article today the needs of the readership of the magazine. Think of all those Brides magazines out there. An article on selecting wines for toasts and receptions might work. While I was in Oregon recently, I visited a winery that produces Friday the 13th (the movie) related wines. That could lead to an article in a Horror movie magazine.

    The ebook revolution has made it easy for anyone to write and publish a book. It is another way that wine writers could potentially get paid if they write a compelling book,whether it is a collection of articles or a single topic work. For myself, I have been writing Sake-related fiction, having just published my third book. They aren't blockbusters, but they are an extra source of potential income.

    Plus, wine writers should take the opportunity to be paid speakers, hold wine classes, host wine dinners, etc. You don't have to just write. Take your knowledge and use it in any way you can.

    • 1WineDude


      Richard – great points, and you’ve just demonstrated that you know more about this stuff than probably half of the wine writers symposium attendees on any given year. :-)

  • Dale Cruse


    As soon as I stopped publishing my wine blog and refocused on my actual career in web development, my career took off. I ended up writing an HTML5 book and getting paid more than ever to develop. Luckily I love what I do.

    I still drink wine as much or more than I did when I wrote about it. But now I earn more money to keep my damn wine opinions to myself. Works for me.

    Cheers, Joe.

    • 1WineDude


      Hey Dale – great hearing from you. I've noticed that and have been watching and (silently) cheering you on from afar. Great to see the success you're having!

  • Dan Fredman


    It's real easy to draw parallels between careers as a wine writer (any sort of a writer, actually) and musician. It's something lots of people do for fun so a professional approach becomes devalued, unless a reputation can be built as a specialist in a very few aspects of the subject. The downside of specialization is that this can make it difficult to "build wealth" in the real world, since a niche is still a niche, and for the most part, the public relies on experts for general knowledge most of the time. While you might find (rock) steady bass work playing reggae in Kingston, Jamaica, a bassist in Bakersfield is unlikely to be able to pay the rent with such a specialization.

    Wine criticism may be the last place where journalists can find a paying gig, as evidenced by the likes of James Suckling, Antonio Galloni, Jeb Dunnick, and Allan Meadows. The visibility of their respective pulpits allows them to supplement their newletter income with speaking engagements, dinners, and consulting revenue, all of which does lead to wealth (or at least a steady income and a nice, if stressful, lifestyle).

    • 1WineDude


      Dan – all true, and all things I dabble in myself right now. Interestingly, my very first job out of undergrad was a musician; I quickly realized then that I'd starve if I didn't change professions :-)

  • Michael


    This topic dovetails with a question that occurred to me during your recent punchdown interview with Galloni (which I admit I have only watch part of). It seems that even in that sphere — the small group of wine writers who make a decent living tasting and writing about wine — may be testing their own limits. I'll be interested to see how his decision and Suckling's to go on their own and start their own $100+ per year subscription services will pan out. Maybe merchants who buy subscriptions are indifferent to the added cost, but I can't see consumers springing for multiple subscriptions at those prices. Seems like, if the trend continues, they will just cannibalize each other.

    • 1WineDude


      Michael – Thanks for watching. Yeah, I've been wondering the same thing myself. What I'm thinking is that they must already be in a situation in which they don't technically require the money to live comfortably, but want it enough to give it a shot and hopefully make enough to chip away at the bills and grow their organizations.

  • jim silver


    12 comments on this post (so far) and every one of them written by a wine writer. Perhaps it's my imagination but wine-writers, or wine-bloggers have a tendency to talk mainly to each other, albeit in a mostly supportive way. Without the interactions of other writers and bloggers, I daresay you'd have an appreciably smaller comments section most of the time.

    Is it fair to ask whether or not a wine-writer's success can be measured by the attention paid to them by the actual non-blogging, non-wine-writing, public? That there is an actual comparison to be made to the proportion of their engagement with non-blogging, non-wine-writing readers versus their engagement to each other and one's actual ability to command payment for the work (regardless of its value?)

    • 1WineDude


      Jim – if I am understanding your question, you're asking if engagement with everyday wine consumers might be positively correlated to being paid for wine content? If I got that right, then I'd say instead of engagement you'd need to add or substitute exposure or reach, which are very different things. Generally (there have been a very small number of exceptions), the outlets and people with a lot of potential reach or exposure or influence don't also have high engagement, for two reasons: 1) most wine consumers don't want to engage about the topic unless they are very geeky about it, and 2) they work for outlets that do not actively try to encourage engagement (magazines, newspapers, etc.).

      By way of example, my PB gig and my Answers.com gig don't get much engagement, but the potential reach of them is quite high. Outlets with that kind of reach can already afford to pay (hopefully good) writers, in my experience.

      I'd caution that wine bloggers are, for the most part, not a separate species from consumers; it's a community mostly made up of people who are so into wine that they couldn't help the urge to talk about it publicly and share their experiences. They are a group skewed towards high engagement, and somehow separating them from "real" consumers (or including them in a group of wine writers who are paid to write about the topic by someone else) is, I think, not a viable categorization. It's not your imagination, it's just how wine bloggers are wired.

      As for measuring success – that's a broad topic, and probably one as impossible to define as it would be to define a "perfect" wine. I'm not going there, except to offer this Bob Dylan quote on the matter: " A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do." By that definition, I'm *really* f*cking successful already! :)

      • jim silver


        Right. I used the word "engagement" when I should have said "reach." That was my mistake, but you got the gist of it exactly.

        So, the question is, if you reach lots of people who are paying for the privilege of reading that outlet, the writer will have a chance to make money for their work, right? So is it reasonable to expect to make a living at wine-writing if the work you're doing is not reaching lots and lots of people? Isn't that reasonable to expect in any area of writing?

        So the new paradigm seems to be in the numbers and the reach. Let's say you, Lenn, the good Dr., Alder and Terroirist were all in one place behind a subscription wall. Couldn't you sell that?

        Now imagine this: What if there were 100 specialist writers, all doing 400 words at a time, once a week like clockwork, behind a paywall? Could you make money then?

        • 1WineDude


          Jim – the short answer is, I don't know :). Could we compete with other outlets that are cranking out content, and those that do it for free? If we play the typical game, probably not. It's an intriguing idea, though. But a LARGE part of the power of the best blogs is that the content is available for free…

          • jim silver


            And there it is. I think, if the 3 dozen very best bloggers stopped giving away their work for free, went behind a paywall @ 9.99/mo you'd have 50,000 subscribers almost immediately. Shared equally that's $166,000 per year per writer. At 400 words a week that's $8 a word. Hell, Joe. Why aren't you Spotify-ing wine writing yet? Get going.

            • 1WineDude


              Jim, if only it were that simple. What if half the audiences decided to bail in favor of free alternatives? Playing devil's advocate even further, we should expect the professional/industry audience to have attrition as well, since the content isn't as early reached any more via link or search engines after moving behind a pay wall. And let's not further that even most multi author websites cannot afford to pay for their content, including Zester Daily, which attracts some great writing palate press pays, but the rate is digging like $150 per story). Look, it's possible, but it's a **lot** of setup and prework to pull it off even somewhat successfully. But an intriguing prospect in any case.

              • jim silver


                You're wrong. Half the audience would not bail – they would seek out the quality writing. Just like they didn't bail when cable television started charging for free channels you could get over the air waves. They're still free and still available with an antennae. You pay for Sirius but terrestrial radio is free right? Hell, Apple is selling you a subscription to YOUR OWN music collection. Bank transactions, gas station air hoses, checked luggage all used to be free too.

                The point is if all the content worth having is behind a paywall, people would support the effort with their money. Just like the Purple Pages, the Sun, the Times, the SF Chronicle, the Phila Inky, etc.

                I'm sure as heck not saying I would like it – but the thread is about making money from wine writing after all…someone's got to pay for it…!

              • 1WineDude


                Jim – I like the way that you think!

              • Bob Henry


                Jim,

                As a marketer with a background in the cable TV industry, let me correct a misstatement.

                Cable operators don't make much money charging households for "basic" service transmitting over-the-air local market stations.

                They make their money from selling you "enhanced basic" service (e.g., CNN and CNBC and MSNBC and Fox News and ESPN and TBS and A&E and USA and FX and TBS . . .) and "premium" channels (HBO and Showtime and Cinemax) and porn.

                And they make even more money "bundling" in high-speed Internet access and telephony.

                ~~ Bob

                Excerpt from Wall Street Journal “Marketplace” Section
                (November 13, 2012, Page Unknown):

                “Cord-Cutting: Cable's Offer You Can't Refuse”

                [Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324

                [See accompanying exhibit]

                By Shalini Ramachandran
                Staff Reporter

                . . . the bundle discounts can dissuade people from cutting the cord. People who are streaming video are likely to want fast broadband.

                On the face of it, such offers appear counter-intuitive. Cable executives and analysts say that about 90% of the money cable operators charge for broadband goes straight to gross profits, since there are minimal operational costs for providing Internet service.

                In contrast, only about 35% to 40% of what they charge per TV customer goes to profits, largely because of the programming costs they pay to media companies for the right to carry hundreds of TV channels. In theory, a $70 broadband customer would make more money for a cable operator than a $50 TV and Internet customer.

                But cable operators are often more focused on the overall revenue generated per home passed by their network . . .

              • Bob Henry


                Jim,

                Supplementing my reply below about cable TV operators, I also have a background in paid media advertising with ad agencies. Magazines and newspapers are an area of specialty.

                So let me turn the question around and ask:

                1) Which wine review magazines do you personally subscribe to?
                2) What is your annual print or online wine media subscription budget?
                3) When was the last time you bought a wine book — hardcover or softcover?
                4) And how much did you pay for it?

                The first dollar compensating struggling wine writers should start with your own wallet.

                ~~ Bob

              • jim silver


                Hiya Bob. That was no misstatement I assure you. On the question of cable, my point is TV prior to 1979 was free. Now it is not. How much cable operators make isn't the point, the point is they make more than zero selling you something that was free recently. What I'm also saying is: imagine having to subscribe, one by one, to a hundred different channels. Wouldn't you like to buy them all in one place, even if you didn't watch every single one of them, it's nice to know you only have one place to stop for the content? That's what cable is.

                I don't know if you meant to be flippant in turning the questions around on me and challenging how much I support struggling wine writers, so I'll just answer: 1) Almost all of them since I'm in the wine trade and run a winery. 2) Well north of $1K a year. 3) About 2 weeks ago. Hardcover. Robinson'w Wine Grapes. 4) $116.00. Prior to that I bought 40 copies of wine blogger Evan Dawson's Summer in a Glass, but that's only because I sell wine books too.

                All I'm saying is that if a great deal of the wine writing was organized into one place, and let's say in 10 or 12 different languages, people would buy that. Yes, a whole lot of people would buy that. And the quality of that content would be proportionate to the pay afforded those writers.

              • Bob Henry


                Jim,

                I am a newcomer to Joe’s wine blog. I don’t know the names and back stories of the habitual "repliers" — starting with your own.

                So I commend you for “voting with your wallet” and supporting the wine media.

                I also work in the wine trade here in Los Angeles: as a marketing consultant to restaurants and retail stores; a "personal wine shopper" for private collectors; a wine cellar organizer for private collectors; a wine educator instilling confidence in wine for newly-minted lawyers (who need to entertain clients at favorite watering holes and restaurants in town); and formerly a judge for Bon Appetit magazine's Tasting Panel under the auspices of wine and spirits columnist Anthony Dias Blue.

                And it is a sad indictment of the profession that too many wine trade members are so jaded that they don’t keep up with “the literature” – trade and consumer periodicals.

                As I cite in my note below to Thomas:

                Malcolm Gladwell in his book titled "Outliers" reported on research by social scientists that it requires 10,000 hours of practice to become genuinely proficient in a vocation or skill.

                Link: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_4….

                Fortune magazine columnist Geoff Colvin in his book titled " Talent Is Overrated" echoed Gladwell, and reported on research by social scientists that it takes 10 years of “deliberate practice” to become proficient.

                Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB12252399130847831….

                Some of these wine trade folk take almost pride in being "willfully ignorant" of trends in their own industry.

                There is a “dialogue” going on between the wine writers/reviewers and the buying public – offline and online. My advice to them: "Tune in. Be an active listener. And the act on what you learn."

                ~~ Bob

              • Bob Henry


                Jim,

                If you don't want to pay cable operators for retransmitting your local market over-the-air "free" TV stations, then hope you reside in a city serviced by Aereo:

                Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times “Business” Section
                (February 14, 2012, Page Unknown):

                “Aereo Likely to Face Fight Over Its Plans to Distribute Broadcast TV”

                Link: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnews

                By Joe Flint
                “Company Town” Column

                "It's hard to tell who has more to potentially worry about from Aereo — a new service that enables consumers to get broadcast TV without a cable — the broadcasters or the cable industry.

                "Aereo is a distribution service launching later this spring that will give people access to broadcast television via smartphones and tablets and Internet-friendly TVs. It does this with a tiny antenna that picks up the over-the-air signals of broadcasters. . . ."

                BusinessWeek reported that Time Warner Cable expressed an interest in buying Aereo.
                http://www.businessweek.com/videos/2013-10-25/twc

                Others have expressed an interest in launching a similar service.

                Time Warner Cable lost 306,000 cable TV household subscribers in their recent "dust up" with CBS over "retransmission fees" for broadcast and cable TV networks.

                The annual revenue generated from those lost subscribers would cover the acquisition cost of Aereo — and Time Warner Cable could then thumb its nose at broadcasters about paying future "retransmission fees" for passing along local market TV station programming.

                ~~ Bob

        • 1WineDude


          Oh, and sorry Jim for confusing the engagement thing. I see engagement as sharing or commenting, and in my experience only a small fraction of people looking at content will do those things. Today's post has been viewed so far (1:30PM ET) by about 1K people from what I can discern from the stats (which I admittedly still totally suck at understanding fully). But I'm not at all surprised that a very vocal minority is chiming in; that's just the way these things work. But I've also seen that tens of thousands of people might view content on other sources with zero comments, or five comments. A niche topic article could be seen by 100 people, but could start a 300 comment frenzy among them if they're all vocal and passionate enough. It's the exceptions that get both large audience views *and* a large amount of comments.

    • Bob Henry


      Jim,

      Regarding this observation . . .

      "wine-bloggers have a tendency to talk mainly to each other . . ."

      . . . see Charles Olken's Monday Manifesto titled "Wine Bloggers Are Talking To Themselves".

      Link: http://www.cgcw.com/databaseshowitem.aspx?id=7976

      ~~ Bob

      • 1WineDude


        Bob – and also see about a dozen articles and videos here in which I totally debunk why that situation is supposedly somehow bad, and explain why it's actually natural and a very good thing for the wine business in general :-)

      • jim silver


        I didn't see that, I'm glad you pointed to it. I started reading Olken in the 80s, and I'm glad to see he shares my opinion. Personally I stand in awe of of Olken and consider him the Obi-Wan Kenobi of CA wine writers.

  • Thomas Pellechia


    I wish people would stop equating wine reviewing with wine writing. They may cross over at times, when a wine critic turns out to also be a good writer, but most critics simply tell us what they like or don't like, and far too many prove that they can master adjectives, self promotion, but little else when it comes to writing about the subject of wine.

    Anybody aspiring to be a wine or food writer should read everything that MFK Fisher wrote; then, decide if writing is really what you can do best; if you can do it, then seek to be paid for your work.

    • 1WineDude


      Thomas – amen. They are NOT the same things. Though I'm not sure how we are confusing those in this discussion (if I did that, it was totally inadvertently! :). The other thing we have to keep in mind is that it's not just writing or just reviews or just video or just… whatever. For many of us, it's combining a lot of different things when it comes to media about a topic. So in Galloni's case, and Suckling's I think, it's reviews and video coverage. But it's still very difficult to bootstrap that into a viable living, I am sure.

  • Charlie Olken


    And now, my son, you are talking truth. Making a living in any field has to do with the fungibility of your work product. It has damn little to do with your "writing" ability. There are a few, damn few, writers about wine who have made a living being the vinous parallel in some way to MFK Fisher. And, sadly, I think that number has shrunk over the years as readers have increasingly voted with their dollars to fund reviews rather than creative expressions.

    People should always pursue their passions, when and as they can, with their eyes at least somewhat open to the costs and opportunities. You have done that more carefully than most who have tried their hands at winewriting. One hopes that whatever living you are making is, if not all that you would have hoped for, at least enough to keep you in beans and rice and emotional satisfaction.

    People also want to be professional athletes, and those that succeed, certainly do better than you or I have financially/ The failure rate there is enormous and yet people keep on trying, maybe in part because the rewards can be great, but mostly because they love doing what they are doing.

    In that regard, I do not expect that the list of future winewriter aspirants is going to shrink. It is too much fun in the first place, and it is a great lifestyle for those who succeed.

    Keep on keeping on, my son.

    • 1WineDude


      Papa Olken – nice to see you here! Thanks for the kind words, and I'd say that there's no shortage of truth in the comment that you just authored. We can only hope that people will keep on trying, and that the best stuff will get noticed, if not overly rewarded financially (generally, I'm a fan of that approach and a believer in that kind of thinking). Cheers!

    • Bob Henry


      LET ME OFFER A MORE EXPANSIVE EXCERPT OF THE WALL STREET JOURNAL's "FREE" BOOK REVIEW, IN RESPONSE TO JOE's AND CHARLIE's AND JIM's AND THOMAS's COMMENTS.

      Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
      (July 8, 2009, Page A15):

      “To Rake It In, Give It Away”

      [Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB12470122957340897

      Book review by Jeremy Philips

      Free:
      The Future of Radical Price
      By Chris Anderson
      (Hyperion, 274 pages, $26.99)

      It is easy to see why free is an appealing price for consumers, although HOW COMPANIES MAKE MONEY BY GIVING STUFF AWAY IS LESS OBVIOUS. [Capitalization used for emphasis. — Bob]

      In "Free: The Future of a Radical Price," Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine and the author of "The Long Tail," sets out to explain why free is an increasingly compelling business model.

      Mr. Anderson explains how the underlying economics of digital services make free business models far more widespread than they were in the analog world. Central to the new “free economy.” he says, are the “near-zero ‘marginal costs’ of digital distribution (that is, the additional cost of sending out another copy beyond the 'fixed costs' of the required hardware)." . . .

      Free business models, whether purveying digital products or tangible goods, are based on cross subsidy — that's why you get a "free" mobile phone when you sign up for a long-term service plan. In the digital realm, the "freemium" model offers the elusive free lunch. . . . The free service is a loss leader (and cheap marketing) for premium paid services.

      Advertising is plainly the best known free model. You don't pay for Web searches, any more than you pay for network television, because in both cases ads are attached to the product you are getting free. As Mr. Anderson notes, though, ADVERTISING CAN’T PAY FOR EVERYTHING ONLINE. [Capitalization used for emphasis. — Bob]

      If you have a blog, "no matter how popular," THE REVENUE ADSENSE — a Google service that places ads on Web sites — WILL PROBABLY NEVER “PAY YOU EVEN MINIMUM WAGE FOR THE TIME YOU SPEND WRITING IT.” [Capitalization used for emphasis. — Bob]

      Of course, that's fine for bloggers more interested in fame or influence than in money or for blogs (like Mr. Anderson's own) that are loss leaders for more lucrative endeavors, such as writing books or making speeches. BUT IF YOU HAVE TO EARN A LIVING FROM THE WEB, “FREE” CAN BE A PROBLEM. [Capitalization used for emphasis. — Bob]

      Even Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, doubts that free can work for everyone. "The problem with Free," he allows, "is that it eliminates all the price discrimination texture in the marketplace. . . . It tends to be winner-take-all."

      Or nearly all. There are still opportunities online for businesses, even with the loss of "price discrimination texture." As Mr. Anderson says: "It's not hard to compete with Free: simply offer something better or at least different." People will pay for digital products and services that are genuinely distinctive and sought after. . . .

      It is true that consumers now expect that what is online will mostly be free, but their expectations — and their behavior — can change. . . .

      WE LIVE IN AN INCREASINGLY OLIGOPOLISTIC SOCIETY. IF YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE DOESN'T GARNER A "TOP THREE'" MARKET SHARE . . . YOU ARE LARGELY OUT OF LUCK SURVIVING AS A NICHE PLAYER.

      PRINT MEDIA WINE PERIODICALS IS ONE SUCH OLIGOPOLY.

      ~ BOB

  • Marlene Rossman


    I too, was a writer for Somm Journal. However, I did not have anything in the pipeline at the time of David's letter to writers. I was shocked that SJ was going under, as I thought it had great content, great reach and a wealth of information. Perhaps his audience was too narrowly focused, as it WAS basically a trade/wine industry publication.

    • 1WineDude


      Hi Marlene – yeah, it's a loss for all those who never joined the Dark Side of the wine media Force, for sure.

    • Thomas Pellechia


      Trade periodicals are of course narrow by definition and yes, it is quite difficult to keep them aloft–even more difficult when ad dollars are diverted from print to online and made worse if online ad dollars don't prove as effective as print was. It's truly a terrible vortex for many trade magazines.

      Small as it is, even the wine trade magazine industry has been consolidating to stay alive: Wines and Vines now owns two (or is it three?) of its oldest competitors. That consolidation alone cost this writer a few thousand dollars a year when it began.

      • 1WineDude


        Thomas – I think Wine Biz Monthly has a similar acquisition streak? It’s telling about the industry, though, and of be flabbergasted if even one percent of aspiring wine writers have even considered how hard the profession is. I’ve today received (in confidence) a half dozen emails from some wine writers with very good gigs who basically expressed the opinion: “you don’t know the half of it!” If those people are struggling, then the average wine writes symposium attendee has a serious, serious handicap in front of them…

  • doug wilder


    Jim Silver said" And there it is. I think, if the 3 dozen very best bloggers stopped giving away their work for free, went behind a paywall @ 9.99/mo you'd have 50,000 subscribers almost immediately. Shared equally that's $166,000 per year per writer. At 400 words a week that's $8 a word."

    Possibly you are joking here? I don't think these numbers make sense, on any level. First of all when talking about the "very best" bloggers, I need to go to Google after stretching my mind to come up with fewer than ten names, the other 25 probably don't have the reach combined of anyone in the former group. Further, there is sometimes a tendency for bloggers to write about the same subject, just from slightly different viewpoints. That is fine when they have their own websites, but six of them talking individually about going to the same tasting behind a pay wall only dilutes the value of the content. Next, suggesting this collective would build quickly to 50000 subscribers at $120 a year is complete nonsense. There is no independent writer/wine critic that is anywhere close to that equation except The Wine Advocate. Also from what I understand the going rate for freelance writers is between a quarter to $1.00 per word.

    The idea that people may value content is actually true… I walked away from wine blogging for free almost three years ago because the only route I could see to monetize what I did was with ads, which was a non-starter. I launched my own wine review publication focused on a unique slice of the domestic wine scene. I had an advantage as I was already fairly well known in the industry and had a modest following of readers who wanted one thing and were willing to pay for it. but even so, growth of the $60 subscriber base is steady. I would be immensely pleased if I had 5% of that 50000 subscribers, in 5 years.

    • jim silver


      A little hyperbole Doug. I'm sure you are 100% correct.

    • 1WineDude


      Doug – no doubt those numbers are way too high. But the idea is interesting, maybe worth actually running some numbers behind it, business plan style.

    • Bob Henry


      I recall reading somewhere that Robert Parker currently has around 40,000 subscribers. (And that some time prior to the Great Recession, his subscribers numbered around 50,000.)

      No doubt he has lost English language subscribers due to the economy. Hence the pivot to Asia for new subscribers.

      Jeff Leve at The Wine Cellar Insider reported (later cited by the Los Angeles Times) that Galloni was being paid $300,000 in salary (and his travel expenses covered) writing for The Wine Advocate.

      I don't know how many subscribers Tanzer has, but I suspect half as many as Parker.

      And I recall reading somewhere that Allen Meadows has around 10,000 subscribers.

      Good luck to any "wine writers collective" garnering subscribers equal to 50,000.

      As for the income a wine blogger can earn, consider this cocktail party factoid:

      Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times Online
      (March 20, 2013):

      “Wine Advocate Sues Ex-Critic Antonio Galloni for Missing Tasting Notes”

      Link: http://www.latimes.com/features/food/dailydish/la

      By S. Irene Virbila
      “Daily Dish” Column

      . . . First thought: $300,000 is an astonishingly high salary [for Galloni's contributions to The Wine Advocate], especially since I remember seeing a tweet sent by someone at The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley in February.

      Only three of the wine writers in the room earned more than $25,000 per year from their writing.

      . . .

      • 1WineDude


        Bob, points taken but I don't think the lawsuit example is that pertinent (& it was never served)…

        • Bob Henry


          Joe,

          As I recall, the lawsuit was served — which is how Jeff Leve was able to quote from the paperwork, which became public knowledge.

          Google these key words: "Robert Parker sues Antonio Galloni for Fraud, Breach of Contract"

          (Aside: I'm not getting the website to load. You might have better luck.)

          I invite the "legal eagles" among your readers to disabuse of my ignorance if I have misstated the filing status of the case.

          ~~ Bob

  • doug wilder


    Joe,

    Do you think bloggers would give up their independent sites to form a hive? I have had a few offers to combine my site or content with others and I say no to every one of them. Not sure if what Jim was talking about is too much different than what David Vogels did with SJ (for a lot lower subscription) and offered veteran writers like you, Kyle Schlacter, Randy Caparoso, and Catherine Fallis, M.S., etc.

    From my perspective, I would rather present to a smaller audience that was 100% interested in my content, than a larger one that barely paid attention to it. Arguably, someone isn't going to work any less hard to create compelling posts or articles but if you happen to be the 36th writer… then what?

    • 1WineDude


      Doug – I suspect that the answer, largely, is No. If it were Yes, we'd see a steadier stream of those writers on sites like Palate Press (or see them trying to enter into more strategic publication agreements with them, and more often). It's like herding cats…

  • Thomas Pellechia


    Advertising, not subscriptions, runs media revenue. The only time a writer can make a decent living through subscription is to offer something that is new and then quickly find a way to parley that success into an adjoining success.

    The reason existing operations can't pay much and some don't pay at all is they either aren't well thought out business plans or they underestimated the market. Of course, they could be plain stingy, but I'll take the high road and assume they simply don't know what they are doing.

    Someone early on said that this problem is not confined to wine writers. That is true. All writers are facing this problem in just about every genre. The Wild West, everything should be free Internet is partly to blame, but that isn't the only blame to go around. Even the best and venerable consumer magazines have run into trouble. There's something happening in our culture regarding the value of quality writing and real information that appears more sinister. Just follow FOX News to see what has happened to quality and to information. From an economic standpoint, the U.S. appears to be in a race to the bottom, and that has nothing to do with wine writing.

    • Bob Henry


      THOMAS,

      REGARDING THIS OBSERVATION . . .

      There's something happening in our culture regarding the value of quality writing and real information that appears more sinister.

      . . . SEE THIS "OPINION" PIECE FROM MICHAEL KINSLEY.

      ~~ BOB

      Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times “Op-Ed” Section
      (February 10, 2012, Page A19):

      “Syntax? Logic? Why?"

      Alternate link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-10/on-web-n

      By Michael Kinsley
      Bloomberg View columnist

      It's been going on now for too long, right before our eyes. . . .

      [Felix Salmon, the famous financial blogger for Reuters wrote an] . . . item this week about the quality of writing on the Internet. . . . his basic point is that on the Web, sheer quantity trumps quality. . . .

      . . . all aspects of good writing — accuracy, logic, spelling, graceful turns of phrase, wisdom and insight, puns (only good ones), punctuation, proper grammar and syntax (and what is the difference between those two again) — are all overrated.

      . . . Now one of our nation's leading bloggers has confessed what we all suspected: that bad writing is inherent to the online world. . . .

  • Charlie Olken


    Lest we all forget,. there are milliions of readers paying for content today. WS, WE, WA, Decanter, W&S, Tanzer, my rag, etc.

    So, when anyone tries to join that party, they are already entering a crowded and decently served marketplace. If you want geeks, like Tanzer and CGCW do, you need a way to reach them with content that they value at least as highly if not more so than WA, Tanzer, CGCW. And, there are many more people who find the tasting notes in WS, WE, Cellar Tracker, Snooth, etc good enough for their purposes.

    My point is simply this. It is not enough to have good content that you give away for free in order to transition to selling it for a profit. You need a hook that goes beyond what is already out there, including what will still be available for free.

    It might be possible to start a new and successful wine publication, but so far it has not happened despite the attempts in various forms. And the folks behind Palate Press, Wine Online, Somm Journal at not novices. So, when agglomerations of seasoned pros are not prospering, it is pretty clear that the obstacles to success are more than modest.

    People pay for things which give them added value. That is the first obstacle to overcome, and so far no one has found a way to give value beyond what is already on tap.

    • 1WineDude


      Charlie, I think a large part of the challenge, as you implied, is that so much good stuff is available for free. So the value proposition has to be something more than offering reviews or features…

  • Bob Henry


    JOE,

    REGARDING YOUR OBSERVATION . . .

    “I think it’s actually indicative of a larger issue, which is that paid content in any form is a tough sell, period. Paid content for a niche is even tougher”

    . . . SEE THIS ARTICLE. [PART ONE OF THREE.]

    ~~ BOB

    (SUBSTITUTE THE SUBJECT “WINE REVIEW” FOR MOVIE REVIEW, AND THE SITUATION IS THE SAME.)

    Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times “Calendar” Section
    (March 9, 2010, Page D8):

    “Critics’ Ranks Thin Out”

    Link: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.m/the_big_pictur

    By Patrick Goldstein
    “The Big [Movie] Picture” Column

    . . . Virtually every survey has shown that younger audiences have zero interest in critics. They take their cues for what movies to see from their peers, making decisions based on the buzz they've heard on Facebook, Twitter or some other form of social networking. . . .

    • 1WineDude


      Bob – yep. And it's amazing how the wine world sees itself (delusionally) as somehow immune to that trend.

  • Bob Henry


    JOE,

    REGARDING YOUR OBSERVATION . . .

    “I think it’s actually indicative of a larger issue, which is that paid content in any form is a tough sell, period. Paid content for a niche is even tougher”

    . . . SEE THIS ARTICLE. [PART TWO OF THREE]

    ~~ BOB

    From The Wall Street Journal “Marketplace” Section
    (March 1, 2006, Page B1):

    “Our Columnist Creates Web 'Original Content' But Is in for a Surprise”

    Link: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB11411658742

    By Lee Gomes
    “Portals” Columnist

    There is a new and insidious threat to the World Wide Web: a slowly rising tide of "original content" on Internet sites that is at best worthless, and at worst possibly even dangerously inaccurate.

    I should know; I've been writing some of the stuff myself.

    Understanding what's happening requires a lesson in modern Web economics. If there is a topic in the news, people will be searching on it. If you can get those searchers to land on a seemingly authoritative page you've set up, you can make money from their arrival. Via ads, for instance.

    Then, to get your site ranked high in search engines, it's best to have "original content" about whatever the subject of your site happens to be. The content needs to include all the keywords that people might search for. But it can't be just an outright copy of what's on some other site; you get penalized for that by search engines.

    Hence, there has been an explosion of demand for "original content"; Charles Ryder, of WCR Internet Marketing, a consulting firm, says Web masters everywhere want articles written for them and will supply the search engine-friendly keywords to include.

    You'd think this would be a godsend for writers. Hah.

    Curious to learn more about the process, I bid on some writing jobs on the Web sites where these transactions occur. (I described myself quite honestly: as a [Wall Street] Journal reporter interested in freelance work who might also write a Journal story about writing for Web sites.)

    I managed to get underbid on numerous jobs before snaring one from a Web entrepreneur . . . I would have to write 50 articles, each 500 words long. Topics to be assigned. Pay: $100. For everything.

    . . . (At 15 cents an hour, good thing I had a day job [at The Journal].) . . .

    • 1WineDude


      Bob – while i agree that this is a contributing factor, I strongly believe that this approach will backfire, because those outlets are gonna get crappy content. People can tell the difference, I think, between God stuff and bad, and will reward the better stiff with their eyeballs and attention.

  • Bob Henry


    JOE,

    REGARDING YOUR OBSERVATION . . .

    “I think it’s actually indicative of a larger issue, which is that paid content in any form is a tough sell, period. Paid content for a niche is even tougher”

    . . . SEE THIS ARTICLE. [PART THREE OF THREE]

    ~~ BOB

    SEE THIS RELATED ARTICLE . . .

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
    (July 8, 2009, Page a15):

    “To Rake It In, Give It Away”

    Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB12470122957340897

    Book review by Jeremy Philips

    Free:
    The Future of Radical Price
    By Chris Anderson
    (Hyperion, 274 pages, $26.99)

    It is easy to see why free is an appealing price for consumers, although how companies make money by giving stuff away is less obvious. In "Free: The Future of a Radical Price," Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine and the author of "The Long Tail," sets out to explain why free is an increasingly compelling business model.

    Mr. Anderson explains how the underlying economics of digital services make free business models far more widespread than they were in the analog world. Central to the new “free economy.” he says, are the “near-zero ‘marginal costs’ of digital distribution (that is, the additional cost of sending out another copy beyond the 'fixed costs' of the required hardware)." . . .

    Free business models, whether purveying digital products or tangible goods, are based on cross subsidy — that's why you get a "free" mobile phone when you sign up for a long-term service plan. In the digital realm, the "freemium" model offers the elusive free lunch. . . .

    Advertising is plainly the best known free model. . . .

    Of course, that's fine for bloggers more interested in fame or influence than in money or for blogs (like Mr. Anderson's own) that are loss leaders for more lucrative endeavors, such as writing books or making speeches. But if you have to earn a living from the Web, "free" can be a problem. . . .

  • Bob Henry


    JOE,

    AND FINALLY THIS "CODA" ON PICASSO'S ADVICE AND VALUING ONE'S HUMAN (INTELLECTUAL) CAPITAL . . .

    ~~ BOB

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Op-Ed” Section
    (Monday, January 18, 1999):

    “Don’t Devalue Human Capital”

    Link: not available

    By Ira T. Kay compensation consulting at Watson Wyatt Worldwide
    “Manager’s Journal” Column

    [Ira Kay is the global practice director for compensation consulting at Watson Wyatt Worldwide. He is author of "CEO Pay and Shareholder Value: Helping the U.S. Win the Global Economic War" (St. Lucie Press, 1998).]

    When a big investor doubles or triples his money on a stock, no one complains. We praise people like Warren Buffet for their financial savvy. The bigger the return, the better.

    But what happens when the company's CEO or another manager reaps a similar gain because of stock-based incentives? Suddenly, we make moral judgments, questioning whether anyone is worth that kind of money.

    Why do we cheer huge returns on financial capital but greet similar returns on human capital with suspicion? It doesn't seem to matter that the financial capital might be controlled by some third-generation heir. Or that all the investor really did was move capital from one asset to another, with only cursory regard for the underlying organization or people.

    . . .

    Our discomfort with high returns on labor applies outside the boardroom too — we complain about athletes' big salaries, for instance. Part of the problem is that we tend to value labor in terms of discrete units of time. If a CEO made $5 million last year, that works out to perhaps $2,000 an hour. Nobody is that good, the thinking goes. But what this ignores is that labor is really a form of capital. Executives and other workers create value based not just on some unit of labor in the current moment, but on their entire store of knowledge and experience — their human capital.

    It's said that a tourist once spotted Pablo Picasso sketching in a Paris cafe and asked if he would sketch her, offering to pay him fair value. In a matter of minutes, Picasso was finished. When she asked what she owed him, Picasso told her 5,000 francs.

    "But it only took you a few minutes," the tourist said.

    "No," said Picasso, "it took me all my life."

    Our knowledge-based economy is a world of Picassos. What goes into a business decision or the creation of new software is not just the time immediately absorbed. It's the years of education and experience accrued by the manager or programmer.

    . . .

    . . . the returns on human capital are becoming more important; the maxim about people being a firm's most important asset is more true than ever.

    What started out in the executive suite is now making its way down the corporate ladder. High-tech professionals and other in-demand workers are getting rewards that go well beyond "wages" — witness all the Silicon Valley millionaires. We are entering the golden age of human capital.

    • 1WineDude


      Bob-thanks, love it!

  • Thomas Pellechia


    That last one by Ira Kay could have been said in four words: "Let them eat cake." or maybe two words: "Atlas shrugged."

    I'm trying to understand how such an economic model accounts for the survival of billions of humans inhabiting the earth at the same time.

    • Bob Henry


      Thomas,

      Malcolm Gladwell in his book titled "Outliers" reported on research by social scientists that it requires 10,000 hours of practice to become genuinely proficient in a vocation or skill.

      Link: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_4

      Fortune magazine columnist Geoff Colvin in his book titled " Talent Is Overrated" echoed Gladwell's reporting, and posited on research by social scientests that it takes 10 years of “deliberate practice” to become proficient.

      Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB12252399130847831

      That’s what the Picasso anecdote underscores: “It took me not mere minutes to whip out a sketch. It took me my own life to master the skill.”

      The salient point is this: the knowledge that you accrue over the years — through formalized education, lifelong (self-) learning through reading, and hands-on experience has an economic value.

      Don't give it away. Find a way to monetize it – and be paid fairly for it.

      ~~ Bob.

      • Thomas Pellechia


        Bob,

        I know the salient point, and I fully agree with it. No one should work for free–at anything. Everyone should be paid for whatever work he or she does, whether it is brain or brawn heavy, as long as the person performs as required.

        People should be paid what they are worth to the entity that pays them. My quibble is when the writer claims there is no limit to the remuneration for our labor. That seems like a recipe for greed to step in and create an unequal society with a tinderbox at the bottom, as we see happening before our eyes.

        Unfortunately, part of the reason some don't want to pay others for their work is because they don't value the work of others and part of the reason for that is because valuing the work of others means having to share the economic pie–when there is no limit to what I deserve, why should I share what's rightfully mine?

        It is "very Randish" to believe that you and your work are the center of the universe, but it is also destructive. At the same time, no one should be asked to work for free…not even an intern who, at the very least, deserves carfare for the effort to get to work.

  • Todd - VT Wine Media


    The "pure wine writer" is a rare beast, maybe more so than the unicorn wines they pursue. I regularly ask myself, is this person primarily a writer who has taken wine up as a topic, or is this a wine person who is using writing as a medium through which to communicate. Maybe no distinction needs to be made, maybe it does, I'm still not sure. I do know, however, that the space for professional wine writers seems to be getting squeezed between those who are adept with the pen, and can grok topics quickly, and those who know wine, and have reasonably decent writing skills.
    We have to remember to ask, who are the ultimate consumers of "high quality" wine writing, how sophisticated are they, and how many of them are there? Maybe it is with good reason that "wine writers" spend so much time taking in one another's work. Who has more aspiration, the beverage director who wants to write a beverage memoir, or the wine loving writer, who would love to get paid just to write up shelf talkers?

    • 1WineDude


      Todd – that might be missing part of the point, though. It's not just wine writers and aspiring writers talking to one another, it's also (primarily, I think) passionate consumers who take talking about wine very seriously and have no aspirations for taking their blogging into paying gigs.

  • Jim van Bergen


    As a former professional writer & technical editor, I was always surprised how much people respected my opinion and presence, while enjoying the writing it just paid too little for a lifestyle NYC. I shifted focus to my other career, the one that paid real money, and nowadays I write about wine solely for my passion.

    One the one hand, It sucks that any schmuck with an inkling can start a blog, but on the other, it takes moxie and a business plan to earn from making it a business, so IMO those who earn from it deserve the wealth.

    But my major point here is: wine reviews are worth little unless you are one of three or four names who make the ratings that equate to increased price per bottle from said 90+ rating. For the rest of the writing field, it's about INSIGHT & COMMENTARY on the industry that provides value. We have to have something new or fresh to say, otherwise people will simply think "oh, maybe I'll try that wine" when they recognize a label they have seen or read about in the blogosphere. I read more blogs daily than I do wine mags, which tend to pile up until I have train or plane time to enjoy them, as I'm just too busy. But I have to say, I really enjoy your blog. I hope you make it worth your while, because your writing is worth ours. A votre sante'!

    • 1WineDude


      Jim – thanks for the kind words! I am going to take advantage of your good will already and disagree on one point. :)=C2=A0 I don't thin= k it sucks that anyone can start up a wine blog (though admittedly there are many blogs on wine – and any topic – that suck). I actually think that's *awesome*, because it gets people passionate about consuming wine, which *has* to be good for the biz overall. Cheers!

  • Ben S


    Why don't wine writers call themselves journalists – wine writer comes across as lacking credibility – at least potentially with the consumer.
    Too many writers, who write about wine (and likely food/travel and other lifestyle pursuits) are not truly out hunting down stories, actively researching/interviewing and filling their black books with contacts as often as they can. How many tastings/seminars etc do you go to with a load of wine writers – yet none is taking notes/using a dictaphone or asking pertinent questions? For me it is a frequent occurrence.
    Admittedly, all journalism is on a bit of a downward slide, but as soon as I see wine writer, not journalist, I am likely to think that this person is going to give me a bit of fluffy editorial/blogorial writing that is built around a dinner they went to, or samples they were sent, or a two night stay they accepted in a winery cottage in return for some copy.
    There are those who are hustling day in day out, hunting down great copy – they get paid well, but work damn hard to get the interview/scoop/scandal.
    You can be either – a writer or a journalist, but a long term career, with a little bit more cash, may just come from being the latter.

    Sad about Somm Journal – but it was a bit tired and modern day sommeliers turned away from it, I guess it's adapt or die.

    • 1WineDude


      Ben – although I try to approach wine generally in the manner that you describe, I’m not a trained journalist. I never worked a beat, or studied the craft in undergrad. So I don’t call myself a journalist for the sane reasons I wouldn’t call myself a dentist…

    • Thomas Pellechia


      Ben,

      From where do you derive your erroneous concept? Journalists are writers too, but writers may not always be (and they don't have to be) journalists.

      Full disclosure: I carry my tiny digital recorder in my pocket. I haven't seen a Dictaphone dictating machine since the 1960s. I have been both a journalist and a writer for a number of years.

  • Beau


    I gave up the goal of being paid to write about wine when I looked around and realized there were more motivated, dedicated, enthusiastic, skilled people around me doing it who still weren't getting paid. Watching them was eye opening, and I remember a somewhat private epiphany I had after last year's Bordeaux trip. Full of passion and enthusiasm after returning from a region I loved, I quickly realized that my fellow bloggers were able to immediately begin writing compelling stories about their trips. When I tried to sit down and write, I got nowhere. The drive to come up with truly original content would often get sidetracked by other projects and my real-life job.

    So I then decided to (try to) become a winemaker. Sigh.

    • 1WineDude


      Beau – and some will do it for free! :-) Don’t get me wrong, I have a few great gigs, some of which pay great especially from an hourly rate perspective (people need to get over useless measurements like price per word, IMO), but the point is that those are few and are not easy to get if you’re not well known and/or good at stringing sentences together. It’s almost like the passion is a prerequisite.

      • Beau


        Totally agree with you Joe, passion is (in my opinion) the only way to get started. The other side of the coin is that one must create compelling content, in a sense generating demand for their stories/articles/videos/etc in order to monetize that. Tough gig.

  • Drew Falkman


    Ugh. The latest in so many articles I've read on this theme: it's nearly impossible to make a living as a legit freelance writer. Sad day. I hope the internet evolves to a point where this becomes possible again…and people stop writing for free…

    • 1WineDude


      Drew – nearly, but not totally. The more difficult bit is making enough to save for the future…

  • jodifritch


    As a food and sometimes wine blogger, I am often asked by others if I have had success with my blog. I know they mean financial success. The answer is, yes. Although I do not make any money from the blog, I have picked up some very marketable skills having to do with blogging, content creation, and social media engagement. These are the skills that drive money into my bank account. So, I am still thankful for the opportunities provided by my experience blogging.

    • 1WineDude


      Jodi – likewise. I'm grateful every day. And I love the Biz enough to call it to task on stuff like this :-)

  • William Allen


    Financial success for wine writing in many ways closely resembles wine making :) Clearly an industry for passion minded, not financial, unfortunately.

    • 1WineDude


      William – yeah, I'm wondering if financial literacy isn't really in the vocab for independently minded wine folk… ;-)

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