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.