Wine Magazines and the Next Big Thing
An 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."
“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.