The Future Of Wine Writing: GrimDark

Vinted on December 14, 2018 binned in commentary, wine blogging, wine news
GrimDark
The future of wine writing: kill, or be killed?

The future of wine writing is kind of like… GrimDark.

No, I don’t mean that wine writing is headed for GrimDark as a cultural style of expression. Though that conceivably could happen as a symptom of where things are headed.

What I mean is that the future of the wine writing profession is f*cking bleak. As in, step-over-the-dead-bodies-of-your-former-comrades bleak.

Sorry to bust up your Holiday Cheer, but this topic has been weighing on my mind since my friend and wine-marketing-maven Tom Wark published the latest incarnation of Wark Communications’ Wine Writers Survey. He also took the time to add a bit of additional commentary on the more influential wine writers (as cited by other wine writers) on his Fermentation blog. Full disclosure: I happen to be among those writers cited, for reasons that I still don’t fully comprehend.

I love me some Tom Wark, but I am in a state of some disagreement with the Wark Communications conclusions from the survey; specifically, this tidbit:

Wark Communications 2018 wine writers survey
from warkcommunications.com

If wine continues to grow in popularity, if the now fully adult Millennial generation is as committed to the beverage as they seem, and barring any economic catastrophes, I’m confident that the wine writing project will continue full speed ahead. More new voices are coming. More new publishing exercises meant to meet the needs of new generations will arrive. Even new ways of understanding and communicating about wine are likely to appear.

from warkcommunications.com

While it’s of course true that more new voices are coming, the Millennials are devoted to the beverage, and that new ways of understanding and communicating about wine will appear, I have severe doubts as to the viability of the “wine writing project” in the future. Why? Well, that same survey serves up some very compelling reasons in some of the take-away commentary on the aggregated survey responses…

-No more than just over a quarter of wine writers earn 50% of their income from wine writing.

-Most writing about wine earn very little income doing so.

-No more than just over a quarter of wine writers earn 50% of their income from wine writing.

-Most writing about wine earn very little income doing so.

-Maintaining a living writing in the wine genre is the greatest concern.

-Two-thirds of those who primarily write for their own blog or publication earn 10% or less of their annual income from wine writing.

-Despite the rise in digital publishing, there has been almost no change in the breakdown of publishing frequencies from the 2004 survey.

In the end, the viability of wine writing as a profession will, like other literary and journalism genres, depend on the financial health of the publishing industry going forward.

from warkcommunications.com

Ok… sooooooo… Wark’s rosey future is based on what, exactly? The facts that a) most wine writers cannot make a living now, b) wine writers are worried about ever being able to make a decent living, and c) wine writing is tied to the viability of writing as a profession, which has seen a decline as precipitous as a Mosel vineyard slope?

Well, F*CK ME, then.

There are more people wanting to write and communicate about wine, with fewer outlets outside of personal blogs and social media, and even fewer that are willing (or able) to pay anything even close to resembling a living wage for it.

You’ll forgive me for not getting the warm and fuzzy feeling all over about this theoretical future that Wark is seeing on the horizon, in the hopes that, hey, something is bound to come along and make all of this ok, despite the ever-mounting volume of evidence to the contrary! That’s not really hope, that’s… well, I want to write “delusion” but that seems a bit harsh. But then, if we’re headed for wine-writing-dystopia, then sure, let’s go with “delusion.” To quote Interstellar‘s Cooper, “that doesn’t even qualify as futile.”

Of course, I am hoping that Tom is right, and that I’m wrong; it would have helped if Wark had offered up more insights as to why those conclusions were drawn despite what seems like a much grimmer perspective from the survey respondents. Personally, I’m not quitting my gig any time soon, but I’m not about to recommend the wine writing path to budding enthusiasts of the written word – and the grape – as a means for building any kind of wealth, either.

Cheers (I guess)!

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    Comments

  • Carl Helrich


    Man, what a good post. It echoes/parallels what I feel about the wine industry a good bit as well. A lot of folks getting into it with the thought of “how hard can it be?” I see this all the time. And if you don’t need to be profitable, then sure, it’s not hard! But for those of us who face the vagaries of the consumer along with the cold hard facts of cash flow, it’s a different world: it’s a business. There are only a few fortunate ones of us who can balance that and our passions in life, and unfortunately a lot of the wannabes out there make it even tougher on us. I’m hoping that you (and I) are both wrong on all this!

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Carl. Solidarity, brother! :)

      Here’s to potentially being wrong!

  • Michael Brill


    Wine writing covers purchase influence, education and entertainment… but realistically only influence has any broad compensation opportunity.

    Yet, most writers have far less influence than they should have simply because the distance between their content and consumer purchases is vast.

    I wonder if at least some of the answer can be found in influencer compensation models found in other industries… but customized for wine with its unfavorable shipping limitations.

    • 1WineDude


      Maybe… but good copy is good copy, and a big issue is that almost no one wants to pay for good copy (yet).

    • Carl Helrich


      Great point. With most commerce, companies buy advertising with influencers…wine writers since Parker have tried to eliminate that “conflict of interest.” Even though we know that Michael Jordan is paid to wear Nikes, we don’t want to think that Joe was paid to say nice things about Apothic Red, etc. Why is that? (Of course, we all know that a lot of this stuff goes on behind the scenes…it’s just that the normal consumer doesn’t hear about it.)

      • 1WineDude


        What I actually was thinking of was a bit different; wineries and sales outlets need to be able to write copy – stories, tasting notes, etc. – to get people to buy wines. At the fine wine level, that stuff usually does not sell itself. And crappy copy doesn’t work to sell it, either.

  • Michael Brill


    “yet” or “any more?” :-/

    Find ways to make the copy more valuable… then there will be $.

    • 1WineDude


      I actually think that some outlets are already realizing that they can’t use crappy copy. Not traditional outlets, but those focusing on sales, etc. They’re poised to spend more, I think/hope.

  • Carl Giavanti


    Hi Joe. As a PR flack, I hate to agree with you, but do, although I hold Tom’s optimism. Finding reliable and quality writers with impactful affiliations has become increasingly difficult due to the factors already discussed. I place bets on up and comers all the time, and sometimes come up roses.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Carl. There are opportunities out there for the better writers, but I think those opportunities are fewer than most realize.

      • Carl Giavanti


        I agree, it takes lots of pitching to piece together meaningful earnings. Too many writers chasing too few outlets. Sadly, I know a few who have bailed on wine writing.

        To that end, I just launched a Wine Writers Interview series to highlight the people behind the pen. The inaugural column featured Paul Gregutt, Wine Enthusiast, and ran in Wine Industry Network and on my blog: http://ow.ly/wPHU30n0q8I Would you be interested Joe?

        • 1WineDude


          Very cool, Carl! Sure, I’m totally game for that.

  • Elaine Brown


    Thanks for your honesty, Joe. As writers making our living in the subject of wine we have a different perspective on it than Those working elsewise in the wine industry. Writers across all subjects are struggling right now.

    Carl, your insights and support have always been appreciated. Thank you for your ongoing creativity.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Elaine. You know as well as anyone how difficult it really is.

    • Carl Giavanti


      Thanks for facilitating this conversation Joe. As Elaine points out, writing and journalism are facing unprecedented challenges right now.

      Elaine, you’re an examples of creating your own success, and a case study I often point to when speaking with up and coming writers.

  • Michael Brill


    BTW, I’m working on a wine subscription (club) platform that will go beta next month that does something like the following and would love to get some feedback from wine writers to see whether it’s on the right track or not.

    * Influencers publish short-form content (themes) about wine (image, title, short description, optional extra bits). Associated with each of these are example prototype wines.

    * End user scrolls through themes (looks like Instagram) and follow the ones that look interesting. If theme creator creates new themes in future, users are notified.

    * End user specifies number of bottles and budget they want (more shopping modalities in future).

    * We then use wine styles it infers from themes to find similar wines available to the user from online retailers, optimizing for quality, cost, similarity to theme, etc. It essentially finds the best bundle of N wines from the best retailer for the user, places the order and ships the wine monthly to the user.

    Haven’t quite worked out monetization, but revenue would would be shared proportionally with theme creators.

    The hope is that this would provide a fun alternative to a club model while allowing writers to repurpose existing content and have a more direct influence on readers’ shopping behavior without creating the conflict of interest that many writers are concerned about.

    Any thoughts?

    • 1WineDude


      Michael,

      At first blush, this looks like part of the problem to me.

      Not that the idea isn’t good (it looks quite good and a fun way of discovering wines), but the fact that you haven’t worked out monetization outside of revenue sharing of sales is definitely part of the problem about which I am writing.

      You want to use influencers to a) produce content, and b) presumably take on risk (associating their brand with that of the platform’s, which is new). Both of those are work – production and risk, nearly by definition in economics, should both expect compensation. And there’s no direct compensation for those in your pitch.

      See where I am going with this? In that scenario, I presumably don’t make a penny unless/until the platform gets traction and the wines are sold, both of which that business might totally suck at doing for all that I know. In the past, I have passed on any pretty much any compensation model like that, because it entails me doing upfront work for free, which isn’t a fair model no matter how it’s sliced (ever try getting, say, a lawyer to do a bunch of work without billing you?).

      • Michael Brill


        I 100% agree with you… I was focused on the sustainability of a recurring revenue model for content creators, but I implied that the initial set of influencers would have to create a bunch of content for free. That’s pretty much the definition of tone deaf.

        FWIW, it’s not really the case for us – we’ve been paying wine educators pretty well for content creation… and indeed the initial set of third party themes we’re certain to pay folks to create. I’ve got 8 developers working on it, so it’s not like we’d begrudge a writer compensation. And of course concerns about personal brand association with a platform/approach applies independent of compensation.

        Of course everyone has a different tolerance for risk/return. Some will want to take more of a risk to get involved in a new platform for first mover advantage; others will roll their eyes at yet another stupid wine app that isn’t going anywhere.

        But for me right now it’s about validating the general approach as it’s a recent product shift for us (moving from a 100% AI model to a hybrid human/AI model) and I want to make sure it makes sense for both buyers and influencers.

        • 1WineDude


          Thanks, Michael. In that case, I think that you are onto something cool there, especially if it’s marketed at the right audiences.

  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from The Future Of Wine Writing, Revisited | 1 Wine Dude
    Thursday, 27 December, 2018

    […] several days ago, I published a minor screed on what I perceived as the grim future of wine writing, which ended up generating a good deal of discussion and more traffic than most people send here to […]

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