The New Rise of the Wine Advocate Magazine
Wine Critic Robert Parker Jr.’s recently reported move to sell the controlling stake in the Wine Advocate to a Singapore-based group has the potential to turn The Wine Advocate into a publication of far greater importance and power than ever before. The move could address the issue of the Wine Advocate having left a great deal of value on the table all these years. Bottom line: it’s a very good move.
Consider that in the U.S. Market the top wine publication all revolved around providing a substantial number of wine reviews: The Wine Spectator, The Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits Magazine. One of the key reasons these wine publications have succeeded is that their readers and subscribers 1) want a substantial number of wine reviews at their fingertips and 2) have invested a great deal of trust in these publications’ ability to provide useful and trustworthy reviews of wine.
The Wine Advocate, though only a newsletter and not full-blown wine publication, has also earned a great deal of trust among its readers and subscribers, but never went down the path of creating a full-blow wine magazine a la Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits Magazine. Similarly, the Wine Advocate has never created a publishing platform where it could attract and present display advertising.
This is unquestionably the path down which the Wine Advocate’s new owners should go.
The brand equity possessed by the Wine Advocate is among the most significant in wine publishing. The Wine Advocate is known world-wide, trusted world-wide and read world-wide. This is a significant advantage when launching a publication. Furthermore. word is that the print version of the Wine Advocate will go away, leaving only the digital version. Presenting thousands of wine reviews annually is an endeavor particularly well suited for a digital publication given the lower production costs of digital magazines.
Finally, there is the issue of advertising. The Wine Advocate has never accepted adverting in its newsletter. Were it to build a much larger publication by lowering its subscription price to $50 annually from $99 and were it to include the opportunity for luxury brands to purchase advertising to display in front of its affluent readers, and were a relatively successful marketing campaign implemented, you would see revenue from the Wine Advocate increase sharply as they, as I believe they would, swiftly move their subscription base to 150,000 subscribers.
There is of course the issue of content. For the Wine Advocate to move from a niche newsletter to a globally read wine magazine, it would have to increase and expand its content. To-date, content beyond wine reviews at the Wine Advocate has amounted to regional vintage reports and descriptions of lavish dinners and tastings. Much more than this is needed to round out a newly configured Wine Advocate.
From a purely business perspective, I think this kind of move should have happened a decade ago. In that time, wine publications have generally seen failure, including long-established publication. Yet, this is not an indication that wine publishing is a losing venture. It indicates that wine publishing is most successful when the publication develops and retains trust among its subscribers, the most difficult assets to develop at a wine publication. The Wine Advocate possesses that asset.
Some have suggested that the era of the wine review, the wine critic and the 100 point rating system is in decline. This is a serious misreading of the global wine industry. More wines than ever before move into the global marketplace. And whether one likes it or not, wine remains one of those products about which consumers want to be advised. And they want advice from experts. And they want advice they can understand. The 100 Point Rating System offered up by a trusted source meets that need. Furthermore, the discontent over the 100 point rating system is a tempest in a teapot stirred by a relatively few individuals inside the wine industry.
I know an expanded Wine Advocate Magazine, well run, with advertising and with 1000s of reviews annually as its central element would succeed and be profitable. And I for one would like to read that magazine not just for the reviews, but for the content.
Congratulations Mr. Parker….Not just for your success but for laying the groundwork for what could become one of the most important world-wide wine publishing ventures in history.