Faced with loss of column inches (and sometimes even columns), many of my winewriting peers are now looking to see how they can make money on the internet.
Of course, this is how I (and a few others) started out in winewriting. But for many of the newcomers, they are used to being paid to write articles in newspapers and magazines. They value their work, and don’t like the idea of giving it away.
I value my work too. Sometimes I think it’s actually quite good. But my policy has been to give my writing away. I don’t expect ever to charge for access to wineanorak. Even bits of it. Now this has worked for Jancis Robinson, but she’s a legend, and came to the internet already a wine celebrity. Me? I’m just some guy who was drinking a lot of wine and who started a hobby website. I’m delighted and surprised to be actually doing this for a living. It would be madness for me to think that – faced with so much good free content on the web – that I could ever get people to pay to access my website.
My philosophy? Gather as large an audience as possible. Let people see my work – see what I am capable of – and, hopefully, then pick up work on the back of this recognition. I also make money from advertising on wineanorak, and that has been growing of late. But that is not the main reason that I put up content (if it were, it might make me too beholden to advertisers and reduce my independence).
Newspapers are facing the dilemma of having to make money on the web, as a recent article in The London Review of Books explores. John Lanchester sums up the issue well:
The internet is the most effective means of giving stuff away for free that humanity has ever devised. Actually making money from it is not just hard, it may be fundamentally opposed to the character and momentum of the net. And yet this is where the newspaper business now is.
Many newspapers are gaining readers through the net, but are losing money because of reduced sales and reduced advertising revenue. Internet advertising revenue isn’t making up the shortfall. So what should they do? Charge? Will people pay? Lanchester continues:
The industry is no longer going off a cliff, but it is still on a downward slope, and unless something happens to stop it, costs per copy will continue to rise relative to sales, and eventually newspapers will either die or (more likely) be so hollowed out by cost-cutting that they exist as freesheets with a thin, non-functioning veneer of pretend journalism. In the words of the OECD report: ‘Those writing about the developments of the press emphasise that despite the length of the newspaper history, it is relatively recent that non-partisan, independent press coupled with investigative journalism are the order of the day.’ It hasn’t been here for ever, and it could well go away.
Lanchester discusses The Times and the failure of its paywall (which I, along with most internet-literate people predicted), suggesting that the newspaper has lost 98% of its traffic, and only has 54 000 subscribers. He thinks that the future for papers, however, is online-only versions that charge for access, cutting out the immense cost of print versions, and being able to employ sufficient journalists to produce something of quality.
As for wine writers? It will be interesting to see who succeeds and who doesn’t in the rush to online publication. I suspect those who approach online from a print mindset, and value their own work too highly to be able to give it away, will not be the ones who flourish in this new medium.