Recently, I discussed the way that the internet has changed the landscape of wine writing. I considered the impact on wine writers of an enormous increase in the volume of published wine media. Against all this noise, I asked, how can a professional wine writer ensure that their voice is heard?
Now I’d like to address a pair of related questions: has the increase in volume of wine media resulted in increased choice for consumers of this media? And has quality suffered as quantity has risen? Are we drowning in a sea of mediocrity?
We have certainly seen a vast increase in accessible wine media over the last decade. In the past, though, almost all wine media used to pass through gatekeepers – editors. Now, a large portion is self-published, in the form of blog posts, content-based personal websites, social media, and even apps. I have no data on just how much wine media is self-published versus the amount that passes through editors, and I’m not sure you could compare the two even if you could develop a metric. Some professional writers are now taking a hybrid approach, with a slice of their output bypassing editors in the form of social media and self-published books.
Lovers of traditional print publications might suggest that despite the increased volume of accessible wine media, quality has actually gone down. They may have a point. Good editors do an important job in commissioning competent writers to produce valuable articles. Decent editorial budgets allow good writers to make a living out of writing. With print, you end up with more talented writers, who, given a decent fee, can do the necessary research and produce writing that is worth reading.
The internet has squeezed editorial budgets and reduced the range of print publications that can pay for content. Writers are paid less and have to write faster to make a living, as well as taking gigs that can compromise their independence. Editors have been leant on by their commercial departments and have to produce content that keeps potential advertisers happy.
While there’s a lot of free, self-published content on the internet, much of it is of poor quality. The twin gate-keeping jobs of editors – hiring people who can actually write and then editing their work to improve it – was an important quality filter, and without it, there’s a lot of unreliable, mediocre material being published.
But the counter view is that even before the internet put the squeeze on print publications, wine media weren’t exactly experiencing a golden age. Wine magazines were still full of advertising, the features were mostly boring and stereotyped, and editors weren’t doing a whole lot of editing. The roster of writers represented a bit of a closed shop, and some were pretty complacent. By lowering the barrier for entry, the internet has allowed new voices to emerge on the basis of merit. Also, social media has allowed everyone to join in the conversation, which is really exciting. Gone are the days of the expert dispensing wisdom to the reader with no further interaction.
I would love it if someone were to pay me to write one in-depth, illustrated, properly edited 8000 word article a month, funding my travel so I could be completely independent, allowing me the time to produce something exceptional (assuming, of course, that I am capable of exceptional work). In this way I’d love to be the wine writing equivalent of a low-yielding old vine. It would be incredibly satisfying. All I’d need is enough monthly income to cover my living costs. Imagine a publication filled with articles like this, in a magazine with high production values. Sadly, it’s not a business proposition in the current climate, and I don’t think there has ever been a wine magazine that has done this.
So, for now, I do what I do. I’m a high-yielding vine. I do the best I can within the existing constraints, and I try to make a living while adding something meaningful and lasting to the world of wine that I’m part of. This means embracing both print (with editorial gatekeepers), traditional book publishers (with commissioning editors), and the internet. I love what I do. I’d just like to be able to do it a bit better, I suppose.