I have a theory.
And it’s one that I hope will be proven totally false.
My theory is that the economy will get better, and it will rebound to more solid ground relatively soon-ish (within two years).
That’s not the part that I hope is proven false, by the way. I’m getting to that. So let me finish, okay? Geez! You always do that!
Anyway, the part that I hope is proven false is that the economic turnaround will result in fewer people blogging about wine.
Because I think that the steady stream of wine samples being sent to many bloggers will, once the economic picture gains a decidedly more rosy tint, dry up.
Not all bloggers will see the sample pool evaporate, but many of them will.
Like I said – I hope I’m wrong. But I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… an elusive, vague and chilling notion… the Spider-Sense is definitely tingling over this possibility…
The fact of the matter is that the wine blog-o-sphere has two things going against it when it comes to receiving samples:
- Not enough winery personnel, marketing folks, or PR agencies have figured out how to deal with wine blogging as a publication platform, and are expecting instant ROI on blog coverage for their wines (even though measuring ROI on print, radio, and TV media is just as complex); in other words, they are using the wrong ROI measures and will make poor decisions based on them.
- The down economy has meant an upswing in the number of wine samples being sent to bloggers and other non-traditional media publishers, and in many cases it’s a matter of desperately throwing shit against the wall in the hopes that something, anything, will stick during these unsteady financial times.
The result is that too many bloggers are getting samples that aren’t based on any real relationship between PR-folk and writer-folk, little analysis is getting done by PR folks on the bloggers to whom they are sending product samples, and often when the results are measured they’re being measured incorrectly.
This is a recipe for some serious disillusionment, followed by backlash. A dissillusilash. New term, coined here for the first time – you’re witnessing history here, people!!!
I can hear the marketers now:
“I thought wine blog so-and-so.com was popular, so why aren’t these wines flying off the shelves?”
“The wine is selling now, f-ck the bloggers, we don’t need to send them samples now and we can’t prove they helped sell any wine anyways…”
I’m not terribly worried about 1WineDude.com, I’m swimming in too many samples as it is and I’m probably gonna write about wine no matter the frequency of UPS or FedEx trips to my doorstep (though I fear for my dog, who might miss those frequent opportunities to scare the bejeezus out of the delivery people, if they visit less often). But I do fear that wine blogger numbers might decline as a result of a dissillusilash. Mainly because many wine blogs would cease to exist without samples, because those bloggers cannot afford to review wines and publish with any frequency without having samples.
That scenario really worries me, because it erodes the collective influence of wine blogs. It also perpetuates the misunderstanding of how social media influence should be measured.
At this point, you might be thinking “So what, I hope some of those wine blogs go away, they shouldn’t be getting samples anyway, only the best wine blogs should be getting samples.”
To which I would respond: it’s not that most of those blogs shouldn’t get any samples, it’s that they should be getting the right samples that will most appeal to their individual audiences, based on real discussion happening between those bloggers and PR people about potential media samples. In other words, it’s about the right samples getting to the right bloggers at the right time so that the blog readers and the wine brands get the largest mutual benefit out of the relationship that they can. Maximize the quality, and not the quantity, of the collective experience.
Hopefully I am way wrong about all of this. But I don’t think it would hurt for PR folks to do a little (and in some cases, a lot) more digging into blog readership before packing those samples into shipping boxes, and for wine bloggers to think long and hard about the samples that they should accept and how covering those wines will most benefit the readers who are giving them a precious commodity – their time, passion, trust and energy.
(images: uni.edu, s9y.org)
55 thoughts on “Happier Times = Less Wine? (Will A Better Economy Mean Fewer Wine Blogs?)”
well said. there's a lot of bad marketing and bad metrics out there now, well beyond the wine industry. I think another point worth mentioning is if the [ominous sounds] ECONOMY!! [thunder clap] turns around, there will be higher employment rates and many bloggers who may be doing this while they're not working will be back to work and lose time to focus on blogging. That being said, a lot of us got into this before we even knew there were such things as samples, so we'll probably just go back to that. When wine is scarce, I can always fall back on food, 80's nostalgia, and aboriginal musical devices.
I'm pretty sure that you and I could corner the market on North American Wine & Didj blogs…
Hmmm … I dunno Joe. Personally speaking, I would be happy if there was a washout of wine blogs. Not enough quality or originality in my opinion.
I don't think a potential reduction of 1/2 in wine blogs would reduce the sphere of influence, I think it would increase the sphere for the people that do it regularly, with a quality-orientation and some originality.
Oddly, i was just thinking yesterday as I went to a wine dinner that I would be embarassed if I were introduced as a wine blogger — I think the tipping point is here, but in the opposite direction of what you're suggesting. too much garbage that's dragging the top down.
I say weed 'em out.
I agree on the washout, and I think it's like any other business (I hope I bring a little quality/originality, at least sometimes). Let's take my actual profession (if you can call it that). When the residential new construction market was booming, there was plenty of work for shady contractors to get, because builders were looking for the cheapest subcontractors (parallel that to sending a couple cheap bottles of wine to a shady blogger who- ideally- will give rave reviews in the hope of getting more). When new construction dried up, these fly-by-nights ran out of work, desperately tried to get into the service and replacement market (where quality work is needed, or quality content, for that matter), and eventually died out.
I apologize for bringing in such a boring example, but it's used to show that this could be like any other market condition.
Thanks, Suburban! I don't think it's boring (ok, maybe just a little) but it hits home because it's tied so closely to the economic downturn / hopeful recovery. Cheers!
Hey Jeff – totally understand what you're saying, but I've often taken a slightly contrarian view on the topic of wine blogs. In my view, there should be more wine blogs, not less, so long as those blogs are clear about what they are – mostly on-line journals for people to share their own personal wine journeys. I do agree that there are too many wine blogs that pretend to be something they are not – i.e., experts – and there needs to be a thinning of that herd, but I draw a clear distinction in my mind between 1) those "poser" blogs vs. 2) those that are becoming serious alternatives to expert voices in other media vs. 3) those that are simply personal journals.
I'd like to see less of #1, more consistent quality out of #2, and way, way more of #3.
We should note that the distinction between #1 and #2 is NOT unique to on-line media/blogging, while #3 is unique and special to the medium.
Interesting thought. I wonder though. Are you seeing (cause maybe I'm missing it) a critical mass of new bloggers with just a couple posts or a month or a few months under their belts getting inundated with samples? (Beyond those folks who actually go solicit samples from wineries?) I would like to insert a graph here, where the first two years of me blogging would be a flat line with the once in a blue moon spike of one sample bottle, then a steady incline until the beginning of 2009 when the floodgates opened. I myself have found the upward trajectory interesting, though I had personally attributed the steady incline from Oct. 2008 at least through June 2009 at least partially to participating in the WBC…from June until now I'll give you are probably because of the economy and I say that mainly because of they type of wines I'm getting now versus what I got then.
Looking back, there were quite a few wine blogs when I started mine. Many of those no longer exist, but many more have come into being. I'd like to look back to the first time Alder's list hit 500 wine blogs….how many more active ones are there now than then? I've got over 1000 wine blogs in my feed reader, I'd say of those, perhaps 300 post with any regularity, another 200 post perhaps 2-4 times a month and the rest are either dead or on life support with maybe a couple posts a year. I do a search every couple of months to find new wine blogs to add, just because I do like to keep abreast of who is out there, and I don't really see a ton of newbies that exist entirely or even mostly on samples.
Thanks, great hearing from you!
I think the newer wine blogs aren't getting samples unless they're actively soliciting them, so I'd say the 'normal' trend (if we can even use that word considering how young the concept of wine blogging is!), is very much how you described it for your blog: a few samples, then more, then "POW – you're out of basement storage!" :-)
What I noticed for sure was that as the economic downturn grew most severe, some of the more established (again, using that term loosely) wine blogs started to see a BIG upswing in samples. If memory serves me correctly, you, me, Lenndevours.com, Vinography, and a few others were remarking about that and it spurred a few twitter conversations about the subject as well.
Your other point, which is totally spot-on, is that wine blogs are just like any other blogs, in that the vast majority are born and die faster than the love bug gnats in central Florida. So I guess I should qualify my post and add that what concerns me is if established wine blogs and promising newcomer wine blogs might throw in the towel if samples dry up. I just can't imagine the majority of those established bloggers being able to fund their uber-hobby with regularity.
In my case, I'd probably still plug away, though there's little chance I could sustain the trips to wine countries and the access to those high-end, low-production gems of winemaking on my own dime.
Right. You'd keep plugging away. Which brings me back to the point of, if I got no samples I'd revert back to drinking wine from the same 10 wineries I did for the first two years with the random mixed cases from my favorite shops filling out the rest. It worked for me for over 2 years before I got any samples to speak of and I'd be happy with that again. Save for the trip I won earlier this year, I fund my own travel anyway, since those are vacations for Mr. Wino and me! I personally never stopped buying that wine and probably have enough wine of my own at this point to support my habit without skipping a beat. I think that the majority of the "well-established" blogs would similarily just do what they did before samples or start to evolve as Lenn has done with the transformation into The New York Cork Report.
Great points – I know that some of us would indeed keep on keepin' on!
Regardless of if we've reached critical mass in wine blogging, the quality will rise to the top. I don't know how many newbies there are from year to year, but as one of this years newbies, I do notice a lot of folks that also started in the last six-nine months too. I think you bring to light two great comments here.
"I’m probably gonna write about wine no matter the frequency of UPS or FedEx…" – This is true for a lot of people. I certainly didn't get into this to get free samples. Some good wine blogs probably die because of change in life situation, divorce, marriage, job change, kids, etc.
"But I don’t think it would hurt for PR folks to do a little more digging into blog readership…" – Totally agree. Why would a PR person from Virginia send me a sample of their small lot production that doesn't have distribution past Roanoke. The only readers I have from VA are other bloggers. Send those samples to Sonadora, Raelinn, etc.
As always Joe, you balance controversy, humor, and information in a way that is rarely matched!
I'd cite your blog as an example of the kind of thing I would NOT want to see disappear. Great point about the life-changing situations impacting blogs – such is the danger of having this as a hobby for people, no matter how talented they may be. Cheers!
Joe, I agree with your perspective on wine blogs in general. I think that there should be growth in the type of wine blogs that you mention, which is those written by wine enthusiasts who are chronicling their wine journey, and not trying to replace the Steve Heimoffs of the world.
I don't see how this type of blog will disappear due to the sample market drying up though. Aren't most of this type of blog probably buying most of their wine anyway? I have been getting some samples recently, but I still buy a good portion of the wine I review. I like to drink wine, and that's not going to change because I stop getting samples. Sure, I might not have the diversity that I have now, or the sheer volume of wine, but I will still buy wine and write about it.
Hey vintology – I agree, but I'm not sure those are the blogs that are 'at risk'; it's the blogs that are trying to have an impact on the wine world and "move on up" for lack of a better term (hope that makes sense).
That is not meant to downplay the tier of bloggers who are journaling on-line – as I mentioned, I think that's part of the beauty of the medium – but the next tier, in conglomerate – is where the influence of blogging becomes palpable and it's that tier that needs to grow in volume AND quality.
Joe, I guess my point would be that the journaling bloggers are going to exist, regardless of samples, and I don't think that a culling of the others is a bad thing. Ultimately this means a higher quality within the non-"what I drank tonight" blogs. Don't get me wrong, I hope I'm not one of the ones culled, but if I am, so be it.
Playing devils advocate here — in regards to your #3 — I think that market is best addressed by CellarTracker (GrapeStories), Cork'd and others.
I'd actually like to see these go away, period. You've said yourself that getting onto your blog reading list is difficult, you self-select for wine blogs. I don't want to read these either — so who do they serve besides the author? Best to put those things into a place like GrapeStories that doesn't get lumped into the "blog" category.
In addition, I'd like to blow up the "poser" category — these are the people that are mostly about creating an online brand via social media and have very little new to say that is interesting.
The best way to move wine blogging forward, as a genre, is to support #2, in my opinion.
I think we
I think we hit "Submit Comment" a bit too quickly there!
I agree in principle with Jeff on some of this, though I think there is a place in the world for long-form wine reviews (a la Sonadora/Wannabe Wino). The CT/GrapeStories approach appeals to the instant gratification/litmus test for whether a particular wine should be considered for purchase.
The latter is more suited to reading an interesting story about wine, what it means to the writer, how they craft the story, what details they put in (or don't). This is one of the reasons why I read Alice Feiring's blog on a regular basis; her story-telling is phenomenal, whether or not I'll ever drink any of the wines she loves.
As for the "creating an online brand via social media", Gary V says it best: if you're fake, we'll figure it out quickly and shuffle you off to the sidelines. The community and the audience really is self-correcting in that regard.
Yeah – what Randy said! :-)
Perhaps what needs to happen is a comprehensive audience analysis, where wine bloggers can send their readers to an online survey that measures some demographic data that can be associated with the blog in some meaningful way. This is the sort of data that ends up in advertiser kits that wind up in the hands of potential sponsors or advertisers.
The trouble of course is:
a) Getting wine bloggers to let go of their fear of measuring their audience, however small that audience might be.
b) Getting a critical mass of wine bloggers to opt into this online survey idea.
c) Crafting it to be generic enough and comprehensive at the same time.
d) Aggregating the data to provide some sort of big-picture view of wine blogging from an advertiser's point-of-view.
e) Publishing the data in a somewhat non-partisan manner, so that the data is seen as impartial and free from bias.
I have ideas on how to do this, I'm just concerned that you'll all hate me if I do it. You know how my self-worth is locked up with whether wine bloggers love me. ;-)
I'm all for the survey, Randy – and for the larger wine brands funding it.
Interesting post Joe, one other element to consider: wineries right now have more physical bottles of wine because they aren't selling as much, so they therefore have many more samples to send out than usual. When the economy recovers (it will recover at some point, the question is when), all of these wineries are going to have fewer extra bottles around and will decrease the amount of samples they send out.
And I think you're right, the blogs are going to be the first on the chopping block.
GREAT point, Phil – and understandably so, since blogs move less of that wine than print media right now.
There are just too many wine blogs without personality that are simple reviews of the samples they received. I could see these still having value rolled into GrapeStories/CellarTracker, Cork'd or one of the other mass review sites. Those particularly good and serious at what they do would rise in the ranks with more and more followers. I think those sites will ultimately result in some more measureable ROI than the random blogs lost in the sea of the Internet.
As for me, I've been offered wines from Italy, for example, while my focus is only on Lodi and Lodi wines. I tell them I'd be glad to drink the free wine, but I won't write about them. Needless to say, I get very few samples, which is fine, since I really have no interest in being a wine reviewer.
Jon – good point as well, some bloggers don't want / need the samples in order to continue blogging.
Hey all – just got an email from Kelly Conrad at Gallo, with a great insight from the PR / wine brand perspective (reproduced here with her permission):
"I think the scope of blogs we can follow have to be narrowed…no way, we can monitor the 1000+ wine blogs out there and hope to generate a personal relationship with all of them…especially, when some of them are sheer pain to read. I think as the economy turns around, fewer people will be unemployed and have less time to write so the number of blogs with consistent content may dwindle, but I believe bloggers are being treated more like mainstream media and I don’t see that changing even with an upswing in the economy. "
Interesting take – bloggers will continue to have influence for companies like Gallo, even if the numbers dwindle. And I totally agree that trying to follow all of those blogs is an exercise in futility.
BTW – this type of discussion should give the HoseMaster fodder for WEEKS! :-) Added bonus!
What's gonna kill wine blogs is having to read 29 comments AFTER the post!
Seriously, I've already backed off of sending wines to a large number of blogs. In fact I haven't sent wine to any blogs in a little while. In the beginning sending wine to bloggers was a good idea because it was new and cutting edge but now with the glut of samples I'm feeling like I need to back off and not get lost in the crowd for now. When we are ready to send out our next round of samples I'll be choosing which bloggers to send to more carefully, along with a balance of print and other media. Key factors in that selection process will include longevity, relevant focus of the blog, readership and writing style. Pretty much the same factors as for "traditional" media…
Jefe – I'd say that your approach is ahead of the game, and that's how most wineries *should* be evaluating where to send their samples. Better for you, better for the consumers, better for the bloggers.
I love the discussion that is being generated here. I do, however, feel somewhat in disagreement about your assumption that many wine bloggers get into blogging solely for the samples. I certainly don’t read every wine blog that exists, but I do follow many, and it is my own assumption that many bloggers (at least the ones I genuinely follow) got into it because of their interest in wine and wanting to learn more, and I believe that those who are in it for those reasons will continue to do so regardless of samples.
I know for myself, I write about things/wines/events/etc. that inspire or excite me. I will admit that there have been times that I have received samples that I am not inspired to write about. Typically if someone sends me a sample, then I will review it, but I am more compelled to review and write about those samples with more of a story to it, about the winemaker, vineyard challenges, etc., and would do the same if it were a wine I purchased myself. As a wine professional and not just a blogger that is what is important to me, and my readers hopefully are drawn to that.
That being said, I feel that many blogs I follow are similar in that the more engaging posts are as such because of the passion and information behind the post, free sample or not. And, I guess if there are folks out there who write blogs just to get free samples, their audiences will see through that eventually.
I suppose it would read as though I think most bloggers are in for the samples, but that's not my actual view at all. What concerns me is those who are relying on a regular flow of samples now as part of their blogging "magic", and if those voices will drift away if the sample stream dries up, namely because they cannot otherwise afford to cover those wines regularly.
Sorry to all if I gave that impression – it wasn't the intention.
Mary – interestingly, we share a VERY similar approach on what we write about (ie., a story behind the wine). Cheers!
The true (i.e. worth reading) wine blogger is going to write about wine no matter if they receive free samples or not (just like you mentioned you would). I do not necessarily see less wine related blogs as a problem, just as in wine if the quantity drops the quality should rise. The cream always rises to the top. Wineries will become better at measuring their sample efforts and will redirect their efforts in the highest reward areas. Now this may actually mean that those bloggers who only write glowing reviews (re-worded press releases, etc) will get samples but that is the nature of the world. I for one find the blogs that concentrate on passion rather than free samples the most exciting to read. Wine about more then just what is in the bottle after all!
What will truly raise the collective influence of wine blogging is better writing and content, not free samples.
the Tuba in the hizzy!
Interesting, the blog I write for has been around a couple years, but I'm a new writer. We have pretty consistent content and I think that matters. I do have to say, it seems like a lot of the bloggers, at least the ones I'm seeing on twitter seriously are unemployed, or they work someplace where they can do whatever they want all day. So I think the bloggers going back to work theory is a sound one. Truthfully most wine journalism can be boring, blogs are magazines that spend the entire content on the scores or the smokiness of the wines are dull. New wine drinkers want to find wine more approachable and they want to learn about the wine, the process, the industry etc. We spend a lot of time talking about experiences with wine and wine related events. We're lucky to be in wine country though, not everyone has that option. http://www.theoregonwineblog.com
Hey clivity – I think you're right, don't underestimate the current difficulty in terms of journalists finding work. Having said that, the immediacy of the web allows folks to interact on twitter/blogs very quickly and it can be done in place of a smoke break…
Well I hope the economy DOES improve and that your supply of wine samples CONTINUES. As the economy improves, employment and salaries should improve – along with the price of premium wines. ;-)
For now, I believe new wine drinkers want to read about the experience of wine and the wine lifestyle. Who knows what the population of wine consumers will want in the future. SM experts question the long term viability of blogs noting that young consumers generally don't frequent gravitate to Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter.
For perspective here's current annual wine expenditures by generation from a Nielsen study: Wine by Generation- Greatest Gen (age 64+) $124 year, Boomers (age 45-63) $125 year, Gen X (age 33-44) $78year, Millennials (Age 15-32) $61year See http://bit.ly/cEcCzY
Wine communicators (AKA bloggers) should stay poised to adopt whatever future technologies that emerge – it's a grand experiment…
Here's cheers to an improving economy sooner-ish! ;-)
Hey Denis – don't forget that the Millennials are poised to exceed the previous generations in that spend, as only 1/2 of them are even old enough to by wne currently.
Joe you're correct and I'm NOT discounting the Millennial generation – the Nielsen numbers imply minimal influence but they will be a market force to be contended with – and they are independent and adventuresome when it comes to wine choices so domestic producers will have to work hard to establish a relationship with them.
And they have money!
I find your post thoughtful and provocative. It's an interesting and plausible theory that you've put forth, but it assumes that wine blogs are now and will continue to be relevant primarily because they review wines. Personally, I don't read wine reviews, whether traditional or in blog form, but I do read posts like this and wine articles that attempt to teach me something or provide a new perspective or tell a good story. Sometimes a wine endorsement happens to be a part of something read, but it's never the whole. It is my opinion that the traditional review model (with scores or stars or what have you) is rapidly going the way of the dinosaur, and any blogger relying on this format for the bulk of his/her content would be well advised to change tactics and become more dynamic — and quickly. Consumers are much more comfortable with and informed about wine now than they have ever been, and because of that fact they rely far less on wine reviews to tell them what they should be drinking. They do, however, seem to be interested in learning about wine on a deeper level — the process, the places, the grapes, the stories — so they can decide for themselves what strikes their fancy and which new wine they should reach for next.
I suppose blogging is often a form of OpEd, and people come to your blog because they *want* your opinion. I'm with you – I'd rather read, say, one of your pieces on your experience working the Blackjack tasting room than scores about various BJR wines. Cheers!
Wine blogs will survive as long as there's an audience who is willing to read information for FREE.__Regardless of whether winemakers will continue to give complimentary wine to bloggers, the new media industry of wine will strive and emerge as the go-to source for information because people want to access information "On-Demand" and have a source they can take anywhere.
Yeah – the cat is so out of that bag already in terms of free content; we can NEVER really go back to pay-to-view unless there is some extraordinary circumstance, I think.
Great write up! Makes you think……Maybe some of the wineries with wine priced $20 a bottle and lower will start to get more popular in these rough economic times. There are so many little wineries in the Livermore Valley Wine country that fit that slot. Such good wine at a great price.
Carl – there's definitely growth in the $15 & under wines right now.
My blog is about viticulture, not wine, and is merely an on-line diary.
I like to read some wine blogs, mostly enjoy those by winemakers, but am always curious as to how other people perceive wine and hpw they review free samples.
There is room in the blogosphere for everyone.
Hey vinogirl – totally agree. WannabeWino.com just posted an article where she goes into some depth about that topic ( http://wannabewino.com/2010/03/18/im-tired-of-bei… ).
Interesting theory Joe. As a new blogger I tend to agree with those that say free samples aren't really a driver here. People get into blogging about wine for lots fo reasons but the ones who do it for free wine are not likely to sustain themselves anyway IMO. The motivation has to come from within.
The economy impact on putting bloggers to work at their "real" jobs or family changes are more likely to take some away.
Overall though I think the blogging trend is still on the upward curve, like facebook and twitter and other social media, and hasn't reached a peak or a bubble yet. It may take 6 months or another 6 years, I think it's impossible to predict for a free activity that any one of a few billion people can try.
I think what will ultimately cause the wine blogging bubble to burst is an implosion into the black hole of wine blogs that write only about wine blogging and social media and forget to drink and enjoy the wine. Present company excluded of course :)
Thanks, Chris – "it's impossible to predict for a free activity that any one of a few billion people can try"; doesn't seem to stop people like me from predicting… however fruitlessly :-). Cheers!
I hardly get any wine samples… it's all for the love of the blog! Gladly accepting wine samples!
Be careful what you wish for…
No wine sample to declare in my mail box too… Though linking with good vin de Loire english blog on my Touraine du Sud (http://www.grand-pressigny.com) website. Imagining the theory coming true and those economic turnarounds result in bloggers wine rendez-vous all over the world.
It's 2013 Joe! I'm ready for a revisit to this post. This fan/reader wants to know what's happening. If only we could poll bloggers. Thanks for this post, most appreciated.
BT – wow, going back top the archives!
The short version is that I was wrong. While the samples might not be flowing as freely as they did a few years ago, that's thankfully done zip to stem the tide of passionate consumers talking about wine online.
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