It’s not been a great year for wine writing. Several fellow writers have lost their newspaper columns and regular gigs. It has been particularly tough for those who rely solely on writing for their living; for many like me who have had quite a good year, it has been the lecturing, judging, consulting, presenting and other communication-related activities that has made the difference.
The big problem is the continued flight of advertising money away from professionally generated content (newspapers, magazines) onto platforms where the content is user generated (facebook, twitter, google). There’s no money left to pay writers.
Is it a tragedy? No one owes me a living. If the market isn’t there for the service I provide, then shouldn’t I just go and get a new job?
It’s just that, now, it’s the good ones who are losing their regular gigs. Talented writers who are doing the right thing.
The wine trade needs to consider who it wants to do the necessary communication about wine. At the moment, there remain some good wine writers without commercial conflicts of interest who talk about interesting wines and want to help the good guys to win.
Increasingly, there is a blurring of boundaries, and the communicators who survive are part of media organizations who increasingly look to producers to make money; who promise content to producers who pay to play, albeit indirectly. Where content is directed towards regions and organizations who have budget. Who run events where both consumers and producers pay to participate.
There are relatively few independent voices left. If those in the wine trade who have budget are smart, they will support the sort of people they’d like to do the communication. Traditionally, this has been the case. But if there’s an oversupply of good communicators then the temptation is to get people to work for free.
Of course, it’s fine to work for free, and I occasionally do gigs for people with zero budget who really need help. But normally I turn down these gigs, and fortunately there are others who do pay.
But then there are emails like this, which I received yesterday:
‘During the day we are planning to do four 45 minute masterclasses and we are looking for some experienced and knowledgeable people to moderate them. At a recent meeting it was decided that we would not pay anyone to participate in the masterclasses, but we would be happy to send you a fantastic 6 pack of top XXXX wine’
It’s like wine retail. As consumers, we get the wine shops we deserve. If we are always looking to save £1 od £2 on a bottle of wine, going to the cheapest source, then we’ll lose retailers who have good customer service and a carefully curated list. If those in the wine trade are looking to get freelancers to work for free, then they’ll lose the good ones.
In the meantime, my job is to work hard and make myself indispensable. I have to do such a good job that I’m in demand and there are enough paying gigs to make a living. But I also have to encourage those with budget to do the right thing and support good writers. Otherwise in desperation these writers will end up having to compromise and conflict their interests, or else they’ll just leave wine communication altogether. And wine needs good, impartial communicators. There are stories that need telling.