Monday, January 2, 2017

The rise and fall of wine blogs, and other things

Google Trends looks at recent trends in web searches, and it has been used to study patterns in web activity for many concepts (see Wikipedia). One possibility is to search for wine-related concepts.

Google Trends aggregates the number of web searches that have been performed for any given search term (or terms); and it can display the results as a time graph, for any given geographical region, or as a geographical map. Here, I will use both time graphs (aggregated monthly) and maps. The Trends searches are somewhat restrictive, but they may show us something, anyway, about the period 2004-2016 (inclusive).

I first looked at the expression "Wine blog" (which will bring up English-language searches only), and hence the title of this blog post. The Trends graphs show changes in the relative proportion of searches for the given term (vertically) through time (horizontally). The vertical axis is scaled so that 100 is simply the time with the most popularity as a fraction of the total number of searches (ie. the scale shows the proportion of searches, with the maximum always shown as 100, no matter how many searches there were).

Google searches for "Wine blog" from 2004-2016

Both worldwide (above graph) and within the USA alone (below), the results are somewhat depressing if you happen to be writing a wine blog — the resulting trends are very consistent over the years, and searches for the term are now only 25% as common as they were in 2010.

Google searches for "Wine blog" in the USA from 2004-2016

Perhaps people already have found the blogs they need, and thus are no longer searching for them, or interest by new readers is declining. I am told that the majority of people still use family and friends for wine recommendations, so writing a wine blog based solely on reviewing wines may be a bit of wasted time. Tom Wark's Fermentation blog attributes this decline to a switch to specialist social media, such as Facebook and Twitter; and Jamie Goode's Wine Anorak blog notes that the move of advertising dollars to these media has had a negative effect on wine writing in general.

Charles Olken, at the Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine, has also noted that blogging itself seems to be dying in the wine world. So, I also had a bit of a look at some individual wine-related blogs, to see how each might be getting on through time; but Google Trends rather rudely tells me that "your search doesn't have enough data" for most of them.

So, for comparison we might look at a few wine commentators, instead, to see how they are faring. The obvious first candidate is Robert M. Parker, Jr.

Google searches for "Robert Parker" from 2004-2016

There are a number of people who might be very happy with this graph, as the sport of Parker Bashing is as popular as bear baiting once was. Nevertheless, I think that it is still safe to conclude that Parker's popularity has been waning for quite some time. Either that, or he is so well known that no-one needs to search for him any longer!

Since we can plot a map, we might as well do so. The shading of the map regions indicates the relative proportion of searches originating from that location, with darker shades indicating more searches.

Map of Google searches for "Robert Parker" from 2004-2016

Not unexpectedly, Parker's web searches originate mainly from the USA, although Hong Kong and Singapore also feature strongly. Canada, Australia and western Europe are the other obvious centers of interest. The Chinese apparently do not care much, in spite of their (prior?) interest in Bordeaux wines.

For comparison with Mr Parker (male, from the USA), the obvious choice is Jancis Robinson (female, from the UK).

Google searches for "Jancis Robinson" from 2004-2016

In this case, the searches have not so much decreased in number as become less variable through time. Otherwise, Robinson seems to have maintained a remarkably steady degree of interest over the past 13 years, albeit with a slight decline over the most recent 5 years.

Map of Google searches for "Jancis Robinson" from 2004-2016

However, her map seems to indicate a somewhat restricted sphere of influence on web searches, as her searches have originated almost solely from within the United Kingdom.

Google searches for wine magazines from 2004-2016

Finally, we can look at a couple of the wine-related publications. The Wine Enthusiast has shown a fairly steady interest on the web, with a small decline over the past 10 years, assuming that web searches for the term "wine enthusiast" are aimed at the publication. However, the Wine Spectator has shown a rather dramatic and consistent fall in interest, so that now there is very little difference in popularity between the two. The Wine Advocate (not shown) has consistently had about one-third as many searches as the Wine Enthusiast; and there is little point in thinking that web searches for "Decanter" will necessarily be targeted at the magazine of that name.

Note that both magazines show a very distinct burst in search activity at the end of each year, just before Christmas / New Year. I suspect that this reflects searches for information about what wines to give wine-interested friends and relatives (and bosses). And rightly so!

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