Wine writing is drowning

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Wine writing is in its death throes, and there’s not much that can be done about it. [If it's not already dead, that is.]

Why? It is because it is drowning in the sea of content. [And here we're talking content as in media, rather than a state of peaceful happiness.]

This is not because there aren’t good writers out there – they still exist. Nor is it because of any problems in the wine world (despite what some vocal commentators suggest, wine is actually in better shape than it has ever been).

It’s because of major changes in which media content is consumed, and where the advertising spend goes.

All specialist newspaper columns, not just wine, are in trouble. And magazines are no longer profitable, so a specialist wine title is doomed, too.

This is largely because advertising money has moved. The way that newspapers and magazines survived was through advertising. Yes, they charge a cover price, but it’s the advertising that makes the money. They paid specialist contributors to produce good quality content that then allowed them to sell advertising.

And most of the advertising money has not only gone online, it is also now following user-generated content. Instead of specialists writing content, it’s the social media chatter that provides eyeballs for advertisers. So Google and Facebook now make the money that newspapers and magazines used to. They don’t have to pay their content generators.

Another, related, nail in the coffin of professional content suppliers (such as wine writers) has been the changing way we access content. When I started work in 1993 most people on the commuter train had newspapers. Now they have mobile phones or tablets. On the internet, there’s enough free content that we don’t feel much of a need to pay for any.

There’s also a vast profusion of content. The sea of content has myriad voices. It’s almost overwhelming: how do you get noticed or read?

There still exist a few professional wine writers. I’m one of them. But in the absence of specialist columns that pay well, or decent-paying magazine commissions, we’ve all had to find extra ways of making a living.

There are business models for surviving in the new media landscape, but many of them are questionable. As a wine writer, I don’t want to be involved in one of these models if it involves asking wine producers for money, as some media organizations and individuals do.

There’s still a need for words about wine. It’s a shame the old model is broken, but wine writing is not alone in the media world in having to adapt to a novel and still-changing landscape. Creativity, honesty, bravery and perseverance will be necessary for success.

7 comments to Wine writing is drowning

  • Keith Prothero

    Very true Jamie. Just look how many replies you get to this excellent article on Facebook, compared to here.
    It’s the same with all of your articles .

  • Damien

    I think you’re very wrong with these assertions.
    If you looked at ad spend, you’d see that online is still only a fraction of traditional media.
    Just think the last time you were in a shop, supermarket, or anywhere that sold magazines. Are there any less to choose from?
    Have you seen TV advertising disappear suddenly?
    The change in wine writing is simply because people don’t have an intrinsic interest in the subject. Not because of advertising spend changing.
    It’s niche and has failed miserably to keep up with people’s interests.
    Your comments are particularly ironic referring to “free content” when Decanter’s just decided to go behind a paywall. We’ve yet to see it that’ll be their demise.

  • “It’s niche and has failed miserably to keep up with people’s interests.” That is so right on – is this the Damien i think it is???? The slow spiral of death in wine writing started in the 1970s when print was still THE media for most. Elle, Vogue, Home and Garden and every major print media company started eliminating the ‘expert’ wine opinions because they did not have any relevance or hold the interest of their readers. Arguments of scoring systems and alcohol levels, inane wine and food recommendations, and the expressed opinions of people who actively disenfranchise, intimidate and embarrass everyday wine lovers. Oh goodie – let’s keep doing THAT with new media and technology!

  • Tim

    Wine writing used to suffer from high-level disintermediation–writers with agendas (like that one fella who wrote reviews of wineries he had financial interests in) or publications that took straight up pay-for-play for reviews that published falsehoods and left out important news about wine.

    Now it’s suffering from a pyroclastic flow of low-level disintermediation from uninformed goons opining about things they know nothing about, on social media platforms that are in essence giant behaviour-modification engines designed to make money from users attention.

    I was discussing this with my wife just last night, and we thanked our lucky stars that we did most of our wine learning back in the early 80’s, before wine became an economic signifier and source of value as opposed to a beverage or an industrial food product. I can’t imagine trying to self-educate today.

    Still, I like a few good writers who are honest and true, and I’ll keep reading them–you amongst that group.

  • Wine writing died years ago, replaced by free-sample shills and wannabe critics.

  • Dennis Fraley

    I read your article twice and paused for a long time to contemplate this. Sadly, I think you are correct but I’ve never stopped to really think about it. I’m not quite sure what saddens me more, the fact that this is a painful truth or that ‘we’ are so complacent in it’s truth. If something is broken, fix it. Do you not think there is any way to revolt against this and create an evolution of wine writing that will do what really needs to be done…education of a misinformed public about these amazing mystical beverages. Is all lost? I hope not.

  • Don Prial

    On the other hand, anyone still interested in excellent wine writing should check out Steve Heimoff’s wonderful book, “A Wine Journey Along the Russian River.” I found it a few months ago in the delightful Sonoma County Wine Library in Healdsburg. Deep research and history presented with care.

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