Wine Magazines and the Next Big Thing

Next-wine-magazineAn article Sunday in the Boston Herald on the demise of Quarterly Review of Wine after 35 years of publishing its thickish, glossy, well-edited magazine brought to light a couple of issues that fascinate me.

First, in the article publisher Richard Elila made the case that "small vineyard owners with hands stained purple from grapes — has given way to corporate ownership over the decades."

Richard says:

“In the old days, I could pull five or six (vintners’) names out of a hat and interview them,” Elia said. “Now I end up talking to marketing directors — and all they care about is how many cases of wine they’ve sold.”

Richard was one of the first writers/publishers I got to know when I got in the wine PR business. He was always kind and always took time with me and taught me a great deal. He's a very insightful man. But in this explanation of the changes that have taken place in the wine industry over the years simply isn't correct. In fact, the proliferation of small domestic, family-owned wineries and the introduction of so many new imported brands into our market may be the defining trend of the past 20 years.

This proliferation of brands has driven the direct shipping revolution and has played the key role in the heightened interest in wine that we see in America today. This explosion of brands is what makes being a wine geek so much fun today and it's also the source for what I would see as the basis of a great wine publication.

But Richard Elia also noted something else in the article:

"Single-copy sales also took a hit when Borders went under last year, while Barnes & Noble has reduced its orders to focus on selling “ebooks.”

In other words, the digitization of the publishing business played a key role in pushing Elia to shut down Quarterly Review of Wine. Frankly the only question is how long will it take digital versions of books and magazines to overtake the sales of print versions of books and magazines?

I can't see any scenario whereby any major wine magazines survives into the future on the backs of a printed edition. The same can be said of any magazine. There simply is no scenario by which Americans do not continue to move toward consuming previously printed media in anything other than digital tablets. The momentum is palpable.

Of course the same can be said of wine books. In ten years I believe it will be very quain to see someone reading a printed book. The implications are fun to consider:

-What Happens to Book Cases?
-What Happens to Airport Magazine Kiosks?
-How Does the Second Hand (antique?) Book Market Develop?
-What Happens to Magazines in Dentists' Waiting Rooms?

I suspect the same thing happens to them that happened to Quarterly Review of Wine.

It strikes me that the opportunity exists for a new kind of wine magazine to appear that is published entirely in digital format, that takes advantage of the explosion of wine brands and new wine consumers, that takes advantage of interactive media built into the digital editions, and that captures the attention of the throngs of wine lovers who now tend to live their wine lives not just in the bottle but in a digital realm. This new publication will be structured similarly to traditional magazines. There will be an editorial department, separate from the advertising and sales department. It will be released monthly. It will review wines. It will profile vintners, vintages and vineyards. But there will be no paper.

The publisher that can produce an authoritative and attractive wine publication that has a great sales and marketing staff may just be the next big thing.


Posted In: Wine Media


29 Responses

  1. Edible Arts - January 30, 2012

    “It strikes me that the opportunity exists for a new kind of wine magazine to appear that is published entirely in digital format…”
    The big question is how to monetize such an operation when there is so much free media online. I have no idea; I don’t think anyone has figured out the business model.

  2. Tom Wark - January 30, 2012

    I don’t think that’s the question, Edible. You monetize it the same way the Wine Spectator, Time Magazine and Simple monetize their magazines: They build an audience that advertisers will covet. This takes a gathering of talent— editorial, money, marketing and technology talent.

  3. Erwin Dink - January 30, 2012

    Books will not go away until I, and many of my boomer peers, are dead.
    I will always pay more for a book than a magazine no matter how they are published.

  4. Tom Wark - January 30, 2012

    I’ll pay more for (most) books than magazines too. What I mean to say is that we are rapidly moving toward a time when printed books and printed magazines are well outsold by digital books and magazines. It’s game changing in every respect.

  5. Cheap Article Writing Service - January 31, 2012

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  6. Thomas Pellechia - January 31, 2012

    You gloss over Edible’s salient point. I recently finished reading an article in the New Yorker concerning the issue of online freebies and how difficult it is for magazines, newspapers, et al to get reasonable ad money from clients so that they, the periodicals, can make a profit.
    I will refrain from recommending two books on the matter, because, well, you guys don’t read books anymore!
    It’s going to take quite some time for anyone to figure out how to make a profit in magazines online, probably won’t happen much until the death–if ever–of aggregators–the freeloaders.

  7. Tom Wark - January 31, 2012

    Thomas, you should see the list of books on my iPad. By all means, recommend the book.
    But here’s the thing, we are in a transition time between print and digital. The difficulty gaining advertisers is not going to stop the move to digital. And when the eyeballs are mainly looking at screens instead of pages, the advertisers will come. They will be unable to resist the 250,000 people who subscribe to a digital edition of a Wine Publication. The issue you highlight is an issue today. It doubt its an issue in ten years.
    There will be fall out. But good marketing and good content can always react well and profitably to fall out.

  8. Hardy Wallace - January 31, 2012

    That someone hasn’t jumped on this yet is crazy…

  9. Thomas Pellechia - January 31, 2012

    You missed the point. Advertisers have not shied from the digital world–they simply refuse to pay ad rates that would keep a magazine profitable–why should they? When the outfits that don’t pay for content also don’t need as much in ad rates?
    In the beginning, “content” consisted of researched, reported and written stories; that meant having to pay reporters and writers a living wage for quality information, that lured advertisers willing to pay per eyeball.
    Today, “content” is taking someone else’s possibly researched story and abusing it so that it fits a short attention span and then selling your operation for relative peanuts, hoping for volume rather than quality.
    Real magazines cannot compete, not unless they stop paying for quality “content,” and many have.

  10. Charlie Olken - January 31, 2012

    Perhaps, Tom W., you have missed the move to digital that most of the newsletters (save for WA) have already taken. Tanzer, Berger, Connoisseurs’ Guide are already there.
    The thing that is keeping WS and WE from going that way altogether is the value of print advertising. They have essentially been giving away the print publication so that they could sell advertising. That is the biz model upon which they depend. The newsletters like mine do not take advertising and thus subscriber revenue is the only financial driver. Fortunately, wine reviews are stil fungible.
    I am 100% confident that the Wine Spectator will make whatever transition is required whenever it is required. It already sells a digital version and has advertising there. But, the reason it persists in print is that electronic advertising is still not as lucrative as print advertising.
    Perhaps you are right that digital will replace virtually all forms of print, but to do so, you will also have to be right that there is an advertising model that makes sense in the digital arena. So far, that model does not exist.
    And, so far, the large body of Internet readers have shown little inclination to pay substantially for general information.

  11. Steve Heimoff - January 31, 2012

    WE will be in print for many years to come. Trust me on this one: I know. It will also be digital via Zinio and perhaps other platforms. I wrote an article 20 years ago in which a tech guy predicted the imminent demise of print books and zines. Hasn’t happened yet. Won’t.

  12. Tom Wark - January 31, 2012

    Thomas, you and I have divergent views on what people who have and do read wine magazines want. I and absolutely confident that the kind of folks that have read and subscribed to wine magazines in the past do in fact want to be exposed to authority and expertise that I am confident they will look for beyond the aggregation sites.
    More importantly, however, is the ongoing move by readers to a digital environment. When the majority of people have tablets and when the majority of people consume professionally produced content in a digital format, advertisers will migrate their ad spending there.

  13. Tom Wark - January 31, 2012

    At some point down the road, WE will have to face the decision of what to do about their print edition that is a money loser, particularly in the face of the fact that the majority of their new subscribers come in through the digital window. This era is coming. Book publishers know it and so do wine magazine publishers. The migration of advertising from print to digital will be determined by the speed by which eyeball migrate from print to digital.
    As for the print book…No…it will not disappear. But I promise you that (assuming your health is relatively good) you will live to see the day when more new books are purchased in a digital format than in a print format.

  14. Thomas Pellechia - January 31, 2012

    First, books and magazines are different subjects.
    Second, you continually fail to address the point, beyond repeating over and over that you have faith things will work out for the better–may I call you by the name Pangloss?
    As advertisers seek the cheapest avenue, print magazines cannot continue to pay for quality information. So, the magazines either stop providing it (go under) or they go digital. By going digital, they find themselves competing in a new market, one that does not concern itself with quality information but only with “hits.” As the information is reduced to bare bones spurts of incomprehensible paragraphs, literally stolen from what little real information is still being produced, advertisers see cost savings and they reduce their budgets to accommodate, thereby weakening the remaining magazines and quality information that clings to survival.
    What you haven’t done yet, is convince me that you can foresee not that things will change–things always change–but how they will change for the better. In other words, how will quality and profit manage to endure under such an ongoing and present onslaught of devaluation?

  15. Tom Wark - January 31, 2012

    You said:
    “By going digital, they find themselves competing in a new market, one that does not concern itself with quality information but only with “hits.”
    This is where you and I disagree. I am confident that regardless of the delivery vehicle, quality will win out. We see it happen all the time in the realm of content. People still want to be exposed to authority. It’s what guides them.

  16. Edible Arts - January 31, 2012

    I hope you are right that quality will win out. But what made magazine publishing possible was that quality had to be distributed and that was expensive. The Internet dramatically reduces the distribution costs. So if a “magazine-type” format is to be monetized online, it can’t depend on owning the means of distribution. It will need to control access to quality content. But that will mean that content providers will have to stop giving it away for free.
    Your blog is a testament to the reluctance of content providers to withhold their labor.

  17. Rusty Gaffney MD - January 31, 2012

    There already is an excellent digital wine magazine (newspaper): Oregon Wine Press, although it still has a print edition.

  18. Thomas Pellechia - January 31, 2012

    Give Ariana Huffington a call. She’ll learn ya.

  19. Tia Butts - January 31, 2012

    There are some digital wine magazines out there. Palate Press comes to mind and then I believe for iPad only there is Uncorked and By the Grape (more international in flavor) I don’t have an iPad, so I haven’t yet checked out either. I am interested to see if they last. And of course, lots of other magazines are going to iPad too, like Food & Wine, etc. I think we’ll see more and more of this.

  20. Tom Wark - January 31, 2012

    LOL…I hear you. But no one goes to the Huffington Post for substantial news coverage.
    Further, have you notice that no one is stealing the content of the Wine Spectator or Wine & Spirits. They can’t. It’s easy to protect this kind of property.

  21. Randy Caparoso - January 31, 2012

    Unquestionably, we’re moving into a digital age. I, for one, have always been an inveterate consumer of books (as a reader, not a collector), but I haven’t bought an actual book in months: I download into my Kindle.
    Yet funny things happen on the way to forums like this. As a columnist and representative of Sommelier Journal, we have found this: although we have always offered online subscriptions of our magazine, the overwhelming majority of our subscribers (like, 98%) prefer to receive it in actual paper form. They want to touch it and feel it, not just read it (and despite my prejudice, I have to say that it’s highly readable), trees be damned.
    Ergo: not all wine publications are alike. As much as this digital age is looming over us all, I have a feeling that certain things will stubbornly remain the same…

  22. dmcker - January 31, 2012

    As someone who’s been in some of the Internet and other journalism and publishing trenches for a couple decades or more, I’m afraid my views are more in tune with Thomas Pellechia’s (and Edible Art’s) than yours, Tom. At the present point in time I want to use the term ungrounded optimism. Content volume has increased geometrically over the past decade while content quality and quality-content length have gone rapidly in the opposite direction. Ability to audit and confirm content veracity and sourcing has also become much more difficult.
    We all want to hope for the best but I think we rather need to have some new heads on new shoulders want to do things in new ways in this new environment. People who care to publish in the ways that certain people care to make smaller-volume, more transparent wines that don’t pander to fruit-bomb palates, perhaps? An easy analogy yet hard to see how institutions that will exist over decades are to be built up.
    A couple of examples of business models in the making:
    –First, another context, with O’Reilly Media’s content for the IT world and how it’s been transitioning to the digital environment its engineer-readers have helped to build.
    –Second, in the wine context, would be an idea like Snooth.
    Pretty radically different examples, and it’d be interesting to hear Tim O’Reilly and someone from Snooth step in and join the debate.
    Not sure I know exactly how O’Reilly’s model can translate to wine. And also pretty sure I don’t like Snooth’s current inchoate state. The next few years will be interesting times for digital publishing, without a doubt, but I don’t think, at all, that we can count on quality content appearing before us unless we as readers demand it in various noisy ways.
    Oh yeah, and no way can I see future publications as being monthly or even weekly. That’s old thought and logistics, and definitely not utilizing one of the strengths of digital. Daily, hourly…?

  23. Thomas Pellechia - February 1, 2012

    “Oh yeah, and no way can I see future publications as being monthly or even weekly. That’s old thought and logistics, and definitely not utilizing one of the strengths of digital. Daily, hourly…?”
    Exactly, dmcker…and that’s the looming threat to both accuracy and quality.
    “LOL…I hear you. But no one goes to the Huffington Post for substantial news coverage.”
    Interesting, Tom: that’s exactly my point. Have you any idea how much money that Web site has made offering virtually nothing of substance?

  24. Tom Wark - February 1, 2012

    First, daily news isn’t a new thing. People have been demanding and getting daily news and information via newspapers, radio and TV for decades. This is not a new development. And the Huffngton Post is not the first organization to serve the deserve for “light and quick and simple” news.
    As for quality content, we have to ask what gives readers the idea they are in the midst of quality content. This is a complex subject, but I think it comes down to the idea of “authority”.
    Take the New Yorker or Popular Mechanics or Time or Sports Illustrated or The Wine Spectator. All of these publications trade on readers perception of them delivering authoritative content. And I’d argue they do, even in the midst of the digital revolution.
    I see no evidence that quality and authority will not still be sought out in years ahead.
    Finally, even with the huge increase in vapid content that results from the emergence of blogs and social media, there is dearth of high quality content still produced from professional writers, editors and publishers either online or offline. It’s merely is now accompanied by access to more semi-quality stuff and bad stuff.
    Call me optimistic, but I don’t think consumers of written content are stupid or lazy. I think they will look for authoritative sources, they will continue to pay for access to it on a monthly or weekly basis (particularly when it is so easy to access and transport via digital tablets and mobile devices).
    But all this aside, I can guarantee one thing. Printed magazines and printed books will be in the minority in a decade. This is as inevitable as the move from using horses to deliver the mail to using motor vehicles to deliver the mail was inevitable.

  25. Thomas Pellechia - February 1, 2012

    If writers want to write, er, provide content, in the new environment, we should be sure not to forget to get a day job, too.
    I don’t doubt your final sentence at all, but it says absolutely nothing about quality and about making a profit from it.
    You mention that authority will prevail, and that only proves to me that you haven’t dealt with enough online editors lately. Not all of them, but most probably haven’t the chops to recognize authority; how would that promote the voice of authority?

  26. Mary Rocca - February 1, 2012

    Thanks for getting a good conversation started. There is a new online magazine all about Food & Wine. It is absolutely beautifully done, and has already caught the attention of the NY Times, which noted it under “what we are reading”.
    Please check it out- it seems just like reading a superbly created glossy magazine. It is SpenserMag- Spenser was the generic name for a butler, back in the day… here’s the link:
    Disclosure: My daughter Camille wrote an article about Sour Beer in the most recent edition, so yes, I am a bit biased!
    Mary Rocca,
    Rocca Family Vineyards

  27. Thomas Pellechia - February 3, 2012

    Went to the site, Mary. Asked for writer submissions policy. No answer. Did they pay your Camille for her writing?

  28. doug wilder - February 3, 2012

    Mary, I went to the site and liked the look of the magazine, very nicely done. It also brought my eyes to the publishing application they use, Issuu. I think I will look at that closely for the future. Another one to look at is HP’s It is slick, inexpensive, responsive and scalable. They even have a newsstand where products can be sold. Will I see you @ PNV?

  29. Jennifer Golden - March 10, 2012

    Vintner’s Vision The 1st Ever Live-Streamed & Interactive Online Wine & Food Show
    I am sending you a copy of our press release (below) in hopes that you may find it news/blog worthy. You can also watch a clip form our premier episode which broadcasted March 4th, 2012. To view a clip visit
    We have been received tremendous excitement locally, and are booked through May and with a wait list of twelve vineyards and eight restaurants.
    Our current line up includes J. Dusi Wines, Clayhouse Wines, Paso Port Wine Company, August Ridge Vineyards, Windward Vineyard, and Ranchero Cellars. We are also covering the 20th Annual Zinfandel Festival and the 20th Annual Hospice du Rhone Wine Event.
    Kind regards-
    Jennifer Golden
    Co-Executive Producer
    Vintner’s Vision
    Vintner’s Vision — California Central Coast Company Launches Weekly Live Internet-Broadcasted Wine & Food Show
    Streaming video broadcast format allows new level of audience participation and interactivity with winemakers, vineyard owners and restauranteurs.
    PASO ROBLES, California (February 27, 2012) – In collaboration with 92.5 Krush | The Perfect Blend radio station, we will launch our premiere episode of Vintner’s Vision on Sunday, March 4th, a new style of wine and food show”, says Brad Golden, co-founder of Central Coast LIVE!
    Vintner’s Vision is an ongoing, weekly show that centers around the art and culture of wine along with interesting food pairings from the California Central Coast. The show will be one hour in length and will feature multiple hosts from the local wine community. Esteemed guests will include participants from vineyards and wineries, winemakers, sommelier’s, restaurant owners and chefs. The show will be broadcasted to the Wine & Food channel on
    Additional guests may also join remotely via Skype video calls. Audience members can chat, email or phone in questions and comments and interact with the panel in real-time. “This level of audience participation is unprecedented and will prove to be an integral part of this new type of video programming”, Golden adds.
    Each show will be recorded and excerpts will be made available on the Website for future on-demand viewing. Golden continues, “Our intent is to build a comprehensive library of entertaining and educational shows, that will appeal to anyone from wine experts and enthusiasts to someone recently interested in wine.” Foodies will also enjoy Vintner’s Vision as Central Coast chefs share their exquisite culinary offerings during the show.
    Central Coast LIVE! Is positioning itself as an alternative video content provider by employing new streaming technologies and producing Internet-based broadcasts from the beautiful California Central Coast. Shows will cover such topics as concerts, arts and entertainment, educational programming, non-mainstream sports such as equestrian events and roller derby, programming for kids, wine and food and so on.
    Viewers can watch these programs on their computers, smart phones and even on TV by adding n Internet-enabled set-top box to their entertainment center.
    Listen for our advertisements on 92.5 Krush – The Perfect Blend radio station.
    Brad Golden, Media Relations
    [email protected]
    (805) 423-5906

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