The Brave and Attractive Move in the Wine Writing World
One of America’s most prolific wine bloggers, Jeff Siegel, has abandoned his long-standing wine blog for the blue skies of Substack, the subscription newsletter format, and making a buck. The trail of free posts, free observations, and free access to “The Wine Curmudgeon” runs from 2007 to 2021. In that time, Siegel grabbed the mantle of champion of the drinker of cheap wine. Now, he wants to make a buck after 14 years of giving it away for free.
I can’t find one reason to criticize him or fault him for this decision. It’s a great idea.
The editorial subscription model for wine content is hardly new. The Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate, and Vinous are only the most obvious examples of publishers toiling to deliver up compelling value to subscribers interested in various facets of wine. Moreover, early on—back in the 80s and 90s—a number of individuals (perhaps two people) wrote and charged for newsletters. I’m thinking of Connoisseurs Guide to California Wines, Restaurant Wine, and The Grapevine, just to name a few. The eminent Dan Berger has long been charging or his weekly newsletter.
What is somewhat new to the wine editorial world is asking readers to finally pay for the musings of a single writer who has spent the past decade or more giving it away for free. It’s not the evolution of the blogging format. It’s the evolution of the value equation.
Here’s what will happen when the blogger turns to a paid subscription format: Their audience and readership will plunge overnight and significantly. They will feel increased pressure to meet scheduled publishing deadlines. They may find they do not have nearly the same level of engagement in terms of comments and discussion. And of course, there is also the risk of public embarrassment if the venture fails to attract enough subscribers to justify keeping on.
This is a lot to give up and risk. But of course, there is an upside. The readership that chooses to pay for a writer’s musings is far more likely to read closely. The pressure to publish regularly should actually be seen as a good thing. And there’s the income.
Jeff Siegel charges $7 per month to receive his daily content that comes right into your email box. When he finds 500 subscribers, that’s $3,500 per month. That’s $42,000 annually and more than enough to put kids into a good private school. It’s a new car…annually. It’s enough to finance a few months in France for the family. That’s also a lot of $15.00 and under wine. Moreover, double that to 1,000 subscribers and now you are talking college education, home purchases and more.
The Wine Curmudgeon is well worth the $7.00 per month for someone like me since Jeff often writes insightful commentary on the business of wine that helps me think more clearly about the business I work within. His take on inexpensive wines is probably the best there has ever been, but I personally am less interested in this as my cellar has tons of wine in it for now. But there will likely be more people interested in this side of his writing than the industry info.
Jeff’s publishing format is Substack, which basically figured out how to monetize email newsletters in a simple, easy-to-manage way. There are a number of high-profile writers using Substack including Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan. At the moment, however, the number of wine writers utilizing the Substack format is relatively small with Jeff among the most prominent.
Is this the future for serious wine writers who blog? I can’t say. I can say that from this bloggers perspective it is a VERY, VERY attractive alternative. And it feels like as a movement goes, it’s still very early in the process of serious writers switching from giving it away to charging a small amount to subscribers. That’s also something that is VERY, VERY attractive to this wine blogger.
Yet, wine writing is very niche to begin with. Passionate though wine drinkers are and talkative and inquisitive though wine tradespeople may be, this realm of editorial content remains relatively small in comparison to so many other areas about which people dedicate their writing lives. For the wine blogger turned paid publisher, even of someone of Jeff Seigel’s caliber, things could end badly as easily as they turn out profitably.
That said, the upside of this kind of development is VERY, VERY, VERY attractive to this wine blogger.