Monday, July 9, 2018

The ups and downs of wine-blog posting

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about How long can wine bloggers keep it up?. At the time, I mentioned that I recorded the number of posts per month for all of the Australian wine-related blogs that I could locate. This allows me to look at changes in the rate of blog posting throughout the life of each blog. In this new post, I will show you some of the more obvious patterns. I will use individual blogs as my examples, but I will group them into sets with similar patterns of posts — what types of wine blogs are there?

The individual qualities of wine blogs have long interested people. For example, back in 2013, Lettie Teague searched for Five wine blogs I really click with. She searched "not just a handful of blogs here and there but hundreds and hundreds of wine blogs from all over the world." However, the fate of blogs is almost always the same — only one of her chosen blogs has posted since the middle of 2017. Unusually, one of the bloggers did actually put up a "good-bye" post (Brooklynguy's Wine and Food Blog).

In my previous post on the subject, I illustrated the coming and going of the Australian wine blogs from the beginning of 2006 until May 2018 (150 months). In all of the graphs shown here, "Time 0" is the time of the first blog post for each blog, so that the graphs illustrate what happened to the blogs through their lifetime. I have excluded the three most prolific blogs, which all started long before 2006 (these would fit into the last two graphs below).

The first graph simply shows the number of blogs (in pink), illustrating that the number of blogs decreases through time (ie. many blogs last a short time and only a few make it for a long lifetime). For the cognoscenti, this is called a Type I survivorship curve (note the logarithmic vertical axis).

Number of Australian wine blogs and their posts

The blue line shows the average number of monthly posts for those blogs still surviving at any one time. The average remains steady at 4-5 posts per month for c. 5 years, by which time the number of blogs has halved. Thereafter, the average becomes much more variable, depending on which blogs are still going. The longest-lived blogs keep up a high average monthly number of posts (eg. >10 years = >10 monthly posts) — if the blogger is still going after 6 years, then they really have something to say!

We can now look at the individual blogs, looking not at how long they last but at what happened along the way. The blogs are arranged in groups, although there is nothing definitive about the following groupings. They are merely examples of patterns that appear in the data. Not all of the blogs are actually shown here.

The next graph shows a few blogs that burst out the blocks with a flurry of activity but then slowed down over the first year, followed by a slower stream of activity.

Australian wine blog postings

The next group of blogs did the opposite, starting relatively slowly but followed by a burst of activity later on. This burst could take up to 2 years to kick in. In all cases the burst was not sustained by the blogger.

Australian wine blog postings

For the next group, each blog shows a series of episodes of bigger activity, rather than a single burst. These bursts usually represent different topics of interest to the writer; for example, reporting on travels to wine regions. It is easy to see these blogs as extensions of those in the previous graph — some bloggers get a second or third wind, but some do not.

Australian wine blog postings

We now move on to a group of blogs that all have regularly had a relatively high number of posts (eg. >3 per week). Some of these bloggers decreased their activity after an initial burst, but they still maintained their prolific rate of posting. For example, at one point Full Pour simply halved the number of posts from one month to the next, but then continued at the new rate.

Australian wine blog postings

The Intrepid Wino was the most erratically posting blogger I encountered — on some occasions wine-tasting notes were uploaded in bulk, with a maximum of 171 posts in one month (off the top of the graph) — the nearest competitor was Wine Will Eat Itself, with a maximum of 98 (see below).

We now move on to those blogs that have consisted mostly of wine-tasting notes. Obviously, these notes are relatively short, and so there can be a lot of posts in any given month — here, we are talking of up to 1 per day, or even more. However, you will note that the bloggers illustrated in this next graph all decreased their activity after an initial burst.

Australian wine blog postings

The final graph shows those blogs consisting mostly of wine-tasting notes but where the number of posts increased dramatically at a particular time. You can all guess what that time was — the blogger started receiving large numbers of wine samples, for free, rather than basing their comments on their own drinking habits or on group tastings. The most blatant example is Wine Will Eat Itself — sadly, here the prolific activity was stopped by the death of the blogger.

Australian wine blog postings

This sort of activity by wine writers has long been questioned. For example, David Shaw wrote a pair of articles for the Los Angeles Times way back in August 1987 (Wine writers: squeezing the grape for news, and Wine critics: influence of writers can be heady), revealing what was then presumably unknown to much of the reading public — many if not most newspaper and magazine wine writers were paid very little money, and relied on wine producers and marketers in a way that could easily be seen as a conflict of interest.

The main issue, of course, is that the writers usually prefer to write favorable reviews, and therefore simply ignore all wines that they view unfavorably. This means that some of the Australian wine blogs simply catalog (mostly) Australia's wines, one bottle at a time, but actually ignoring most of them. This may not be of much help to the reader, who is not being warned about what to avoid.

This also produces an uncritical view of the world. We all know what a 5-star review says before we read it (as we also do for a 1-star review), so why read it? These reviews provide an unrelenting tone, which ultimately becomes tedious. The real interest lies in the 2- and 3-star reviews, because something went wrong, and we need to assess whether it would also be a deal-breaker for us. Wine bloggers, please take note.


  1. For those interested in reading David Shaw peerless critique investigation of American wine writers and wine critics, I proffer these links.

    From Los Angeles Times “Main News” Section
    (August 23, 1987, Page A1ff):

    “Wine Writers: Squeezing the Grape for News”
    (Series: First of Two Articles)


    By David Shaw
    Times Staff Writer

    -- and --

    From Los Angeles Times “Main News” Section
    (August 24, 1987, Page A1ff):

    “Wine Critics: Influence of Writers Can Be Heady”
    (Series: Second of Two Articles)


    By David Shaw
    Times Staff Writer

    And some background on a pivotal figure in David's investigation -- Los Angeles Times wine writer Nathan Chroman -- I proffer this:

    From Los Angeles Times “Obituary” Section
    (March 20, 2012, Page Unknown):

    “Nathan L. Chroman dies at 83; Beverly Hills lawyer and wine writer"


    By Dennis McLellan,
    Times Staff Writer

  2. David wrote:

    "The main issue, of course, is that the writers usually prefer to write favorable reviews, and therefore simply ignore all wines that they view unfavorably."

    In 1989, Robert Parker was interviewed by American wine magazine "Wine Times." (Later to become "Wine Enthusiast" magazine.)

    Parker discussed the topic of publishing tepid wine reviews:

    WINE TIMES: ". . . Are there lots of wines you taste that you don't evaluate?

    PARKER: "Yes. I try to focus on the best wines in 'The Wine Advocate' [newsletter], or especially when I do the 'Buyer's Guide' [book], my publisher doesn't want to take up space with [scores in the] 50s, 60s, or even 70s. When I'm looking for a best buy, I might go through hundreds of wines, or when I go through the wines of Hungary or Yugoslavia, I'll never put most of them in 'The Wine Advocate.' I could never justify taking two or three pages to publish those results. . . ."

    Quoting Robert Balzer and his weekly wine column in the Los Angeles Times:

    "Balzer is often criticized for being too friendly with many wine makers, and he readily concedes that, having "grown up with the industry . . . it's almost familial."

    "Balzer is also criticized for writing invariably favorable reviews of wines.

    " 'There are far more good wines that I want to write about (than I have space for),' he says. 'Why should I bother to write about something I don't like?' "

    [Source: "Wine Writers: Squeezing the Grape for News," Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1987, Page A1ff]

  3. Denouement . . .