Measuring “Success” in Wine Writing

Wba11 The sticks by which we measure success and utility vary widely, don't you think?

Consider wine. A wine might be considered successful or useful on a scale of 1-100 or with five stars or with a fortunately combination of adjective. You can measure a wine's success by looking at its sales or its regularly increasing price or by the number of stores or restaurants in which it is found.

With nearly everything produced and nearly everyone who tries, some stick can be pointed to as a measure of its success.

I started to think about this when I retired to my room in Charlottesville after attending the Wine Blog Awards ceremony at the Saturday dinner of the North American Wine Bloggers Conference. Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog won best Industry/Business Blog and Best Overall Blog. It was a set of honors I won't forget, created a lump in my throat, and momentarily prevented me from having many words to say—not something that often happens.

So, does this combination of Wine Blog Awards confer success upon my blogging endeavors?

I'm going with, "Yes". However, as I slipped into sleep after drinking a good deal of Virginia Wine, I kept thinking there must be other measures by which I or any other writer can better measure their success than by an award, despite it being coveted.

In the realm of writing about wine, I think I can identify a number of measures of success and find examples to demonstrate.

READERSHIP: The Wine Spectator Magazine is the best read wine magazine in America. By any measure this confers some measure of success. And any wine publication or blog that sees a regularly increasing readership might also rightly admit a kind of success.

COMMENTARY: I've often judged the quality or success of wine writing (or any writing for the matter) the level of commentary that it spurs. Some commentary is clearly more in depth and considered than others. When I see well thought out comments on wine stories and posts, it makes me think 1) that the readership is more thoughtful and 2) that the story or post resulted in more thoughtful comments. Both I consider a measure of success.

PAID ENDORSEMENT: By this I mean paid advertising. Whenever anyone is willing to give you money to put their message in front of your readership, you can consider that an endorsement of the work. What KIND of endorsement is not obvious. It may only be an endorsement of the size of your readership. However, it might be an endorsement of the character of your readership. Either way, it's a measure of success.

No matter how you slice success, it has to be admitted that it is measured on a continuum; there are levels of success no matter what measurement is used.

And it seems a logical and intuitive conclusion that nearly anyone who puts their writing out for others to read is looking to succeed in one way or another. I know I am. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that most folks who are bloggers or writer or publishers on wine, like me, use a combination of those measurements of success that I mentioned above.

One thing is for certain, no matter what combination of measurments one uses to guage their success at wine writing, it all comes down to measuring how OTHER PEOPLE react to what you are doing. This is what made the Award for Best Business/Industry Blog and Best Overall Blog so meaningful to me.

There were others who found a measure of success at the Wine Blog Awards and I encourage you to investigate the source of that success:

Best New Wine Blog – Terroirist
Best Writing on a Wine Blog – Vinography
Best Winery Blog – Tablas Creek
Best Single Subject Wine Blog – New York Cork Report
Best Wine Reviews on a Wine Blog – Enobytes
Best Wine Blog Graphics, Photography, & Presentation – Vino Freakism



13 Responses

  1. Rich Reader - July 25, 2011

    Thanks for starting another controlled fire. The question of how to measure good wine writing is a bit like the ball of thread which began to unravel yesterday morning, on how to write critical/negative tasting reviews/notes. Well deserved unraveling,at that ttp://

  2. winebroad - July 25, 2011

    What about being able to make a living at it? I think that could also be a measure of success — that enough people are willing to pay you for your efforts that you can quit your “day job” to do the wine-writing thing full time.

  3. Samantha Dugan - July 25, 2011

    I chose to measure my success much the same way I do my waistline and sex life….just ignore it. Not sure where my readership is now a day but I have gotten from my blog more than I could have ever hoped, some truly amazing friendships and for that, it will forever be not only worth it but a huge success. Tom, I count you among those friends so with all of my heart I congratulate you.

  4. Troy - July 25, 2011

    I bet you had a wonderful time with all the other wine bloggers!

  5. Per-BKWine - July 26, 2011

    I think you are missing the fundamental point in “measuring success”.
    To be able to measure success you have first to define the objective. It is a mistake to believe that “wine blogging” has a predefined objective, or perhaps you tacitly assume that objective.
    There are many wine blogger (I’d prefer to say wine writers, as you do in the title – saying “blogging” is an unfortunate way of focussing on a largely irrellevant technology tool) who would not agree with any of the “measures of success” that you define.
    So, you can’t measure “success” unless you first define what the objective is.

  6. Tom - July 26, 2011

    A few random thoughts from someone who was also at WBC: Part of the reason Wine Spectator gets so much ad revenue is because it’s a big glossy that people keep around a long time. Kind of like Smithsonian magazine. So advertisers also figure they will get multiple views — content is probably less important, and “quality” of readers may be less important too than getting multiple bites at the apple from the same ad.
    I’d like to make a suggestion that I’m also forwarding to the conference organizers. It would be great to have a couple of “honorable mentions” for blogs written by people who registered for the conference who aren’t nominated for the big awards. How about asking all the past winners to look over a set number of blogs written by registrantss and pick a few they like — then they can pick a couple they agree on for a mention at the awards ceremony. These days, with more blogs than ever, it’s nice to have people whose blogs we read recommending other blogs too.

  7. Tom - July 26, 2011

    By the way, Tom, since we have the same first name and both have gray hair I was mistaken for you a couple of times at WBC. Rest assured I let them know I wasn’t you!

  8. 1WineDude - July 26, 2011

    Congrats, Tom – as you already know, I was already mentally & emotionally prepared to lose the WBA to you this year, and if given the chance would gladly have handed you the trophy myself!
    Regarding success, BK Wine is right on the money here:
    “To be able to measure success you have first to define the objective. It is a mistake to believe that “wine blogging” has a predefined objective, or perhaps you tacitly assume that objective.”
    We shouldn’t confuse, say, the WBAs or any other award as the be-all-end-all, but certainly the reactions are important. Gary V. isn’t going to win many awards, but he’s THE single biggest thing in wine online right now, because he galvanizes THOUSANDS of people around the topic of wine. As I’ve written earlier this year over at 1WD, if I could cash in all the awards given to 1WD for a good % of Gary’s powers of engagement, I’d do it in a heartbeat without even thinking twice about it.

  9. Tom Wark - July 26, 2011

    Winebroad (Tina) makes a great point. Another measure of one’s wine writing success is if you are making a living at it. This would be a measure of success.
    As to the idea that one must first choose an objective before measuring one’s success, this too is true. In thinking about how to measure the success of a wine writing endeavor, I am clearly suggesting that this objective be 1) to engage many people with one’s writing combined with 2) producing content of relatively high quality.

  10. Nick - July 26, 2011

    Yeah, there are a lot of reasons people self-publish online (aka blog). It has nothing to do with the wine biz. This is every industry and every blog.
    There are a lot of different (not all mutually exclusive) objectives. Why do you write? Your answer begets your objectives. Some writers often have multiple interests too. The answers may be different for different topics.
    Enjoying community, making friends, having fun, provoking people, recording your own thoughts, and exploring different viewpoints, testing and developing a plot or a thesis, the list goes on and on.
    Traffic/ads/awards don’t matter at all in those examples. In fact, the bigger your audience gets, the absolute lower your signal to noise ratio gets in your discussions.
    I think some others (e.g. the most popular one?) do what they do out of a deep insecurity to be liked. Social Media in general is a natural outlet for him /them. There are also straight economic reasons for some to play the fame game. Fame = money = choices. It has zilch to do with wine for folks like that.
    What’s more and more apparent to me is that real ‘influence’ cannot be measured or even estimated by computers. One post you make Tom, might find its way to Congressmen/women and that one vote might prevent the CARE act. You’ll never know, but it would be immensely influential.

  11. Marlene Rossman - July 26, 2011

    Tom, congrats to you!!!
    A well deserved win!

  12. Richard Jennings - July 26, 2011

    I’d love to hear your take on how the award “ceremony” as you called it was handled at WBC11. It didn’t seem like much of a ceremony to me. Quick video displays of the logos of the nominated blogs, and then the screen showing the name of the winner. I was amazed at how they were able to condense it down to just 10-12 minutes out of a 3-hour program. It seemed to me like the organizers did everything they could to minimize that aspect of the program. There was also no explanation of the awards, how they started, or how the winners are arrived at.
    I’ve been involved in a lot of award events in the past (I spent many years working in the entertainment industries), and I’ve never witnessed such a perfunctory process of announcing awards. I know you started them, and no doubt have some very complex feelings about it at this point. I, for one, would be interested in hearing how you felt.

  13. Allan Wright - July 28, 2011

    The Wine Blog Awards ceremony in 2010 was quite interesting. Presented by Mutineer, it very much fit their irreverent style. Was it for everyone? No. Did they put in a huge effort to make it good? Yes.
    The Wine Blog Awards ceremony in 2011 was also quite interesting. Was it for everyone? No. Did they put in a huge effort to make it good? Yes.
    We the organizers of the Wine Bloggers Conference volunteered to manage the entire WBAs because Tom was ready to give them up. They take a lot of work. We don’t get compensated. Neither do the judges or the presenters. For the ceremony, we try to recruit someone who has talent, time, and motivation to create a good ceremony.
    We are open to volunteers who would like to put on the 2012 Wine Blog Awards ceremony.

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