One of my predictions from 2010, as yet unrealized, is that a wine blogger would figure out a financial model that would make our efforts more than just a labor of love. Fellow blogger Joe Roberts at 1WineDude is blazing the trail on this at the moment but Tyler Colman, who blogs as Dr. Vino, looked at this question in a thoughtful post yesterday and has concluded that side gigs (books, speaking, consulting, teaching) are the only ways to make a living wine blogging. Later in the post he speculates that app stores might be a way to make some money but is somewhat skeptical about this opportunity.
Tyler may be right but in the comments is a link to Jamie Goode’s blog and a post about this subject from a couple weeks back. Jamie starts off with similar conclusions of giving away content to boost his personal brand and reputation to get side gigs but then compares wine blogging with the plight of the newspaper business. And while it is true both need to figure out new business models I don’t think wine bloggers will find the same path as newspapers and, by extension in the same financial quagmire, magazines.
That brings me back to Tyler’s “ray of hope”, mobile apps. The success of Apple’s app stores for iPhones, iPads and more recently Macs shows that consumers are willing to pay for convenience. And they will tolerate some level of advertising even after paying a dollar or two for the app. So for wine bloggers, making our content available on the app store opens up some interesting opportunities even if the app is free. The trick will be to make the app experience better or more useful than just hitting your site on the mobile web browser.
Another way to make money is to go down the path of Allen Meadows, the publisher of Burghound, and to develop a niche for a newsletter. In order for this to work, however, the wine blogger would have to spend a considerable amount of time (and probably money) tasting and writing up thousands of wines each year. And if someone did this, there is no guarantee an audience would develop for their paid content. Sort of a ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma. That said, I think fellow bloggers like the teams at Catavino and New York Cork Report are best positioned since they have established brands and credibility in their respective niches.
The bottom line for me is wine blogging is in the early silent movie making period of development. There have been some successes but we have not yet established the new language of digital wine writing. Once the wine blogging equivalent to a zoom and tracking shot are invented, we can see if wine blogging can actually be a business. In the meantime, I’m experimenting with different monitization strategies to see if they work. For the past 6 years, the “side gig” has been the only thing I’ve found personally successful.