Tyler Colman

Yesterday, Tyler Colman posted an interesting bit of information on his blog that connected the dots in both my business and wine blogging worlds. Since much of what I do in my business is web-related, and search is the main way people find information online, I have been closely following the changes to Google’s search ranking algorithm. For those unaware of this move, Google has changed the way  web pages are ranked in its organic search to make so-called “content farms” rank lower in results. It’s somewhat of an arms race between search engines like Google and search engine optimization (SEO) ninjas who continuously work to optimize their clients’ organic search positions. And Google makes these changes on a regular basis so the search results are as optimized as possible for their users.

Tyler mused that this change might negatively affect the search position of Snooth, the online wine directory site. A quick visit to Compete produced the following chart comparing Snooth with competitors Wine-Searcher and WineZap. Although it’s early, it looks like both Snooth and Wine-Searcher took a hit of 34%-42% of their traffic respectively. WineZap, with significantly less traffic, is down about 14% from last month. It will be interesting to revisit this chart in a month or two and see if this trend continues but obviously it appears these directories have been directly affected from Google’s change.

What this means for wine bloggers is our content will be ranked higher in Google search results, particularly for wine reviews. I think this is great for those of us who produce “hand-crafted”, relevant content instead of just being a directory or aggregator.

via Dr Vino’s Wine blog

Disclosure: I am a WineZap and Snooth affiliate.

Update: As CellarTrackers’ Eric LeVine points out in the comments, seasonality is what is driving the Compete chart above. So we will not know until next month if anything has really happened with Snooth or the other sites from any of the changes to the Google algorithm. Below is the current Quantcast chart for Snooth which is inconclusive, as well. Stay tuned for another update in about a month.

Can A Wine Blogger Make A Living Blogging?

by Tim Elliott on January 13, 2011

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.

Drawing by Hugh MacLeod, gapingvoid.com

Drawing by Hugh MacLeod, gapingvoid.com

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.

via Dr. Vino’s Wine Blog

The Future of Wine Writing

by Tim Elliott on May 31, 2009

The Wine Advocate
Image via Wikipedia

“There’s something happening here / What it is ain’t exactly clear…”  — Stephen Stills, “For What It’s Worth”

I’ve been away from the blog for much of this month but have been keeping up with my reading and, oh course, tweeting. A few weeks ago Tyler Colman, who blogs as Dr Vino, posted some legitimate questions about policies at The Wine Advocate. What transpired was a discussion of wine writer ethics that at one point featured Robert Parker labeling wine blogs, “…the source of much of the misinformation,distortion,and egegious falsehoods spread with reckless abandon…”

Needless to say, I was not pleased with this comment and wrote a 3,000 word response that concluded with some advice for Mr. Parker, open letter-style. But I never published that post because I thought it would not really do anything positive except, perhaps, make me feel a bit better. Fellow bloggers Joel Vincent and Joe Roberts covered this ground a bit more diplomatically than I did, but with much the same tone.

So I was somewhat surprised to see this issue rehashed this week in the Wall Street Journal. Another discussion broke out on the subject on eBob which was somewhat capped off by a mea culpa of sorts by Mr. Parker. In my book, case closed, but I’m sure there will be some additional chatter in the blogosphere because it creates more traffic and comments.

But I think all this raises a more fundimental question; what is the future of wine writing?

Jeff Lefevere over at Good Grape made a good point about bell curves the other day and it’s clear that dominance of The Wine Advocate and other wine review newsletters is on the downward slope of the curve. Local newspapers are cutting back on wine writers even in big metros such as Los Angeles and New York. As I’ve written here before, I don’t think there is a great future for wine glossies such as the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast unless they transform their business models quickly and figure out how to make money online.

So the future is wine blogs, right? Perhaps, but there are some, such as Alice Feiring, who doubt it as she recently blogged:

And who knows if wine writing will exist in any form. If what only exists is the blog world, God help us. I’m not saying that some of my colleagues don’t give great blog, but finding the knowledgeble folk who don’t have something to ‘sell’ is tough. And then finding some voices who have done homework is even tougher.

Whatever the format, there will be a void in wine writing in the next decade that will be filled by new voices. With the rise of Millennials as major wine consumers, this format will no doubt be digital and presented online in several contexts (text, video, audio, mobile). The question at hand is if the serious wine consumer of the future will pay for this information or will expect this to be freely available and ad supported.

My gut tells me it will be a bit of both but I seriously doubt there will be a solo critic success story like Robert Parker. It’s not because the talent doesn’t exist but that the circumstances are vastly different than they were 30 years ago when Mr. Parker got his start. Back then you didn’t have to be independently wealthy in order to sample the top wines of the world. You could buy them and share them with friends at weekend tastings where everyone chipped in for the wines. This is how the wines for The Wine Advocate were financed along with Mr. Parker’s rather generous personal wine budget (how he talked his wife into this early on would make a great story, but I digress).

Today it is nearly impossible for the independent wine blogger to buy the sufficient amount of wine to provide the breadth of coverage required to attract enough readers to make a wine blog financially viable. Yes, we do receive samples but this alone doesn’t provide enough tasting opportunities; the reviewer still needs to travel and purchase more wines at retail. Both not easy given the current economic climate but even in better times one would have to spend at least $100,000 a year in order to review enough wines to make a serious go of it.

EngadgetBut I do think that several wine bloggers working together at a single blog is the future of wine writing. Each could cover a wine region or variety in depth and in aggregate this content would attract enough of an audience to sell sponsorships, drive affiliate programs and other monetization opportunities. Think Engadget but for wine.

I think we will see such a blog launch yet in 2009 and there will be several existing wine bloggers who will be convinced to write for this site as they continue to maintain their own blogs. The “Robert Parker of the future” will be a blogger but I doubt he or she will go it alone. But together, even a small team could create enough content and traffic to build the next wine publishing empire.

The time is now; the question is who will step up and try to do this first?

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