Examining Wine Blogging: The New Publishers

PublishWhile it is true that upon launching a wine blog a "writer" does not necessarily appear, it is equally true that upon launching a wine blog, a new "publisher" has appeared.

Continuing to think about the nature of wine blogging on the eve of the Wine Bloggers Conference later this week, it seems absolutely clear to me that the emergence of the "blog" has resulted in a paradigm shift in realm of publishing. And this is equally true for wine publishing.

All wine bloggers may not be writers, but they are all publishers. It's important to note that the singular and most important impact of the blogging platform is the ease with which its users could use this technology to publish information for an audience every bit as large as and available to traditional, better known, more experienced, better funded and better established publishers. The key here is "ease with which".

The advent of the Internet indeed allowed wine lovers to launch pages dedicated to wine and meant to attract an audience equally interested in wine. But the need to know HTML coding was a real barrier. In addition, there were some real financial issues involved in overcoming that barrier. With blogging platform technology, there is no technological nor monetary barrier to launching a very attractive, utilitarian, and easily maintained publishing vehicle. It is nothing less than revolutionary.

It may be then, that the successful wine blogger is not the one that thinks like Gerald Asher or Jim Laube or or Eric Asimov or another excellent wine writer. Rather, the successful wine blogger is one that thinks like Marvin Shanken, Robert Parker, Joshua Greene or Adam Strum—all successful publishers in the wine arena.

Wine Bloggers, given control of the platform on which they display their writing and thoughts, are obliged to consider all of the following and must consider it, I think, if they have aspirations to build an audience of any size:

-Appearance of Content
-Costs of Maintaining Their Blog
-Needs of their audience
-Advertising Programs
-Marketing Their Product
-Most Effective Methods for Distributing their Content

These are all the things that publishers, not writers, must think about.

Now, it's easy to dismiss this placement of bloggers into the publisher category by noting that the audience served by most blogs is minuscule compared to the wine publications headed by those publishers noted above. But consider that publishing is not a venture the requires huge readerships and huge circulation to survive. Most "trade" publications tend to be relatively small in readership and are in fact limited by the relatively small number of potential readers in the trade they serve.

Now, consider FERMENTATION. On average, 20,000+ unique individuals read this blog on a monthly basis. There are other wine blogs that have far more readership than this. And there are many others that get far less. But consider also that the this 20,000 figure is equal to or more than a number of well-established wine trade publishing efforts. Am I not a publisher? If you look to the right and left, you'll see ads. You may have noted that I always announce (distribute) new content in a variety of ways. Though it may not appear to be so, I do think about the appearance of this blog. And I write for an audience I know is reading it: Primarily those in the wine trade.

However, what's true is that very few wine blogger/publishers approach their efforts in the same way that professional publishers do. Put another way, wine bloggers rarely pursue profits.

Very few wine blogs are vehicle for income. Very few wine bloggers are looking to turn a profit. Very few wine blogs intently pursue advertising. And few if any wine blogs demand subscriptions. Furthermore, It's questionable whether a traditional blog layout and format is well suited for this goal. Were a traditional wine blogger to go about attempting to create a full blown, on-line wine publication, I'd bet it would soon fail to look like the traditional blog with its "diarist" format and semi-regular new content. For success, I think, It would have to transition into something else entirely.

Nevertheless, I can say this with confidence: All wine bloggers are publishers. Furthermore, I think the better wine blogs are those that recognize this and take close account of the various responsibilities of traditional publishers.


14 Responses

  1. Steve Heimoff - August 13, 2012

    Couldn’t agree more!

  2. Thomas Pellechia - August 14, 2012

    You may have finally hit on the definition of blogging.
    Now, based on the plethora of failed and declining publications overall, and based on the small number of successful wine periodicals in print, how many wine publisher/bloggers do you think the world can sustain and support?

  3. Fredric Koeppel - August 14, 2012

    I would love to engage in more publishing aspects of my blog, including marketing, perhaps tweaking the design, doing more social media work, pumping up the content to include more than wine reviews and commentary on the industry, but I also have to make a living as a freelance writer for a newspaper covering visual arts and the business of restaurants and wine and food retail and wholesale in Memphis, all for a pittance (and no benefits) compared to what I made as a full-time reporter. And I think that’s the case with many bloggers in all fields; it’s difficult to find the time to treat the blog as professionally and thoroughly as they would like when the realities of the mortgage and the utility bill intrude.

  4. Rob McMillan - August 14, 2012

    Its the perspective I’m working on Tom. Many seem to just play the numbers and link to or post on as many different SocMedia platforms as they can. It might be the right strategy but might not.
    I think of wine blogging like any other product: 1) Have something to say your customers want to consume. 2) Think through and define a distribution strategy. 3) Measure and define effectiveness.
    If you don’t have something worth reading, having the best publishing/distribution strategy will be useless. In the same way, having the most interesting blog with no distribution strategy is equally unsuccessful.
    The last point is defining the measurements of success. Thus far – probably like most bloggerd – I’m not making a profit in the traditional sense. I’ve not monetized it at all. I might at some point support a wine industry charity, but money isn’t my success measure. And like the real publishing world, getting to a point of making money directly in media can be elusive.

  5. Thomas Pellechia - August 14, 2012

    One might also remember that publishers aren’t responsible for all the other stuff AND the writing (or, as it is referred to these days, the content).
    Trying to do it all is a sure way to losing sight of one or more functions, and that goes double for people trying to do it part time, for no compensation. In the case of bloggers, it’s often the writing–er–content that suffers. Not always, but enough to make it bad for everyone else.

  6. Tom Wark - August 14, 2012

    I could be wrong, but while publishers do tend to delegate, they also are responsible for setting the tone or direction of a publications.
    As for bloggers, whether they like it or not, they do work n the role of publisher. Also, undertaking certain types of marketing is not so intrusive as you might thing. While I don’t solicit adds, I don’t devote too much time to managing the adds I have. And while the marketing of this blog is not comprehensive, it is done fairly efficiently.

  7. Tom Wark - August 14, 2012

    Your point about measuring success is well taken. Whatever benchmark is set is personal. I measure the success of this blog by the level of readership, interaction, revenue and third party endorsements.

  8. Thomas Pellechia - August 14, 2012

    Publishers set overall goals for the publication–editors maintain the tone and direction, and they also watch over the writers. This is the crucial point, and this is where blogging often fails.
    One person simply can’t do it all–effectively.
    Unfortunately, it generally takes the tuned-in to come to that realization. So many others haven’t got a clue what it really takes to publish information effectively, accurately, and entertainingly.

  9. Tom Wark - August 14, 2012

    Yep, that’s what the publishers do. And the editors.
    But keep in mind, where a blog is concerned, the publisher generally has one editor and one author to deal with and that editor and author are almost always available for discussion. Making the process of doing everything doable.

  10. Thomas Pellechia - August 14, 2012

    You can interpret it any way you want, but I’ll stick to what I posted, because “doable” is not the same thing as “effectively, accurately, or entertainingly.”
    No matter how you want to spin it, there is a reason for editors.

  11. doug wilder - August 15, 2012

    This article brings up several salient points about the combination of writing, publishing and marketing. I am responding to it because over the past eighteen months I have personally experienced a transition in how I publish my content. I am happy to share my observations on the challenges of doing so in the hope that it may inspire other online journal writers to consider the ramifications of alternatives to how they distribute content.
    The area I agree with most is the fundamental shift in design, content and responsibility when a writer/publisher decides to transition from a journal and develop the ‘full-blown’ online publication. As you know, between October 2008 and April 2011, I wrote an online journal focused primarily on reviewing domestic wines. Each post usually focused on one producer or event, but it was difficult to commit to any regular schedule of publishing. I had a few months where I posted in double digits while others saw nothing. The number of readers, and RSS feed subscribers were relatively modest compared to Fermentation numbers, yet in April of 2011, based on a several factors I made the decision to shut down the online journal and announced that over the next six months my platform would be shifting to an online subscription publication reviewing a well-defined niche of wines that launched in October of last year. Readers had the opportunity to ‘test drive’ for free during the development phase. I completely lost my blog readership yet was confident that what would follow would represent a more engaged, committed audience.
    The major design change was (as you point out), the requirement to shift away from posting content as journal entries to a more traditional layout of reviews arranged alphabetically not very different than what you would expect to see in any of the major subscription-based wine publications. Over the last ten months, the magazine has evolved and added new functionality based on new publishing technologies and the honing of theme elements. I look back now at issue one and almost don’t recognize it as me.
    Beyond that was the full understanding that as a paid subscription publication there were fundamental responsibilities to include a broader spectrum of wine reviews now encompassing a scoring range of 80 – 100 points. Previously, I didn’t see much reason to devote space to wines I rated below 90 points but then I was writing more for myself and giving away the content. Additionally I elected to not allow or solicit paid advertising, instead relying solely on subscriptions to support the revenue generation from the magazine. During my online journaling days, the exclusion of ads was more for aesthetic reasons and I have no regrets now that they never figured into the current model and overwhelmingly subscribers appreciate it. Eventually another magazine offering advertising will appear but be editorial in focus.
    Reviewing and publishing is a solo endeavor and I continue to fine-tune the process for efficiency. Even with producing a hard copy edition, I don’t feel overstretched. I have an editor but more often than not the things that emerge as typos are not based on sentence structure but represent a lapse in proofing myself that would not be caught otherwise. The nice thing about online publishing is the ability to correct instantly. As the first anniversary is coming up, I realize the need for an assistant to help with marketing and communication as the next level of the business plan kicks in for Q412.
    If I can share an additional insight: Any endeavor like this needs to be approached with a commitment to something bigger than yourself. Having subscribers makes what you do an investment in satisfying their needs and if anything those attempting it should plan on over-delivering what they promise. Be a generalist, or a specialist but once started it needs to be maintained, evolved, improved and grown. My observation of even the best-regarded online wine journals is that they attract a limited number of regular responders, many of them fellow colleagues. By contrast, very few of my subscribers are other writers and if they are receive complimentary PR issues.
    As far as marketing goes, that is probably one of the biggest challenges – where to commit resources. So far an organic, word-of-mouth approach has produced steady growth, yet I just took out a full-page ad in a 50000-circulation publication to see if it spins off a new category of subscribers.
    On top of a full time forty hour a week wine industry job in sales and social media, publishing a magazine probably adds an additional 40-60. That doesn’t include the four – five weeks of travel to wine regions I write about over the next twelve months) covering all of my own travel, lodging and meal expenses.
    Ultimately it comes down to a personal choice on how to pursue writing about the subject of wine. There are some talented writers out there I would pay to read who taste profusely and give their content away. Richard Jennings is an example.
    Last word: Anyone seriously considering a change would be well advised to make an investment in branding your writing by securing a unique URL and spend the money to publish your work on a CMS platform that is professional in nature. Personally, I use Squarespace, a ridiculously powerful and simple to use platform devoid of advertising.
    Incidentally, I have re-established the online journal as part of my publication (actually two, one for subscribers and one for registered users) that act as informational outlets based on their unique populations.

  12. Tom Wark - August 15, 2012

    Thank you so much for giving some insight into what a full blown, one-man, online publishing effort amounts too. You don’t note it, but part of the recipe is courage, which you clearly possess along with the passion that takes you through.
    However, I can confirm that your upcoming focus on marketing is necessary. You failed to mention the name and URL of THE PURELY DOMESTIC WINE REPORT (PDWR), located on the internet at: http://www.purelydomesticwinereport.com
    Your point about the immediacy with which something online can be changed is well taken also. It’s a big advantage, especially for the overwhelming majority of bloggers that have no editors.
    Continued success…

  13. doug wilder - August 15, 2012

    I appreciate the kind comments. Change is always risky but sometimes doing nothing is worse. You are spot on about the need to pursue the marketing aspect too. The ad I mentioned was far from a trivial expense but has already created exposure in ways I hadn’t thought possible.

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