Monday, June 25, 2018

How long can wine bloggers keep it up?

It was back in 2012 that Andrew Jefford presented a keynote address to a bloggers conference entitled "The Death of the Wine Writer". There has been a lot of discussion of this topic since then, but very little actual data demonstrating any such thing, at least as far as wine blogs are concerned.

I once presented a post about The rise and fall of wine blogs, and other things, using data on the frequency of Google searches. However, this was not targeted specifically at individual blogs, because there were not enough data for most of them. This time, I intend being more specific. I have been told that "it’s a wine blog wasteland on the internet, with countless blogs that haven’t been touched for years" (Wine Turtle), but to what extent is this really true?


Back in 2013, it was reported that "there are about 1,450 wine blogs today, of which about 1,000 are nonprofessional endeavors", and that "only 18% of bloggers have been blogging for more than six years." This is a lot of blogs to check, so I need to subsample them.

There are only three places I could write about with any confidence. Of these, the USA has far too many wine blogs to study (probably up to 1,000, with c. 350 people attending the annual Wine Bloggers Conference), while Sweden has far too few (less than a dozen active). That leaves Australia (with more than a dozen extant), whose wine blogs I will discuss here. There seems to be no reason to assume that the situation for wine blogging in Australia is different to anywhere else, other than in the actual number of blogs.

There have been a few commentaries discussing the fate of Australian wine blogs, as there have been elsewhere. For example, in January 2015 Anthony Madigan posted in The Week That Was (a newsletter from Australia's Wine Business Magazine) the question: "Whatever happened to all the wine bloggers out there?" Andrew Graham, from the Australian Wine Review blog, responded that it wasn't that bad (Where have all the Australian wine bloggers gone?); and he updated his comments in his 10th anniversary review earlier this year.

Some data

To check the current situation, I have tried to compile a list of those wine blogs based in Australia that have been active at some time during the past 10 years, excluding blogs consisting mostly of industry news and announcements, or wine sales. My list is likely to be comprehensive but not exhaustive — I have checked every blog whose existence I heard of during my search, but I cannot exclude the possibility of missed blogs. In each case, I recorded the number of posts for each month of the blog's active period, up to and including May this year. [See the footnote.]

My final list has 63 blogs on it, with the total number of posts varying from 18 (from a 1-person blog) to more than 39,000 (from a 3-person blog). Of these blogs, 23 posted in May 2018, which is more than one-third of them.

Longevity of Australian wine blogs

The longevity of the blogs is shown in the first graph, with the horizontal axis counting the number of months from the first post to the last (inclusive), and the vertical axis counting the number of blogs. Three of the blogs are listed as ">149": The Real Review (167 months), The Wine Front (201 months), and Chris Shanahan (314 months). I have also plotted separately that subset of the blogs that have not yet posted in 2018 ("Finished blogs").

It is interesting to note the dip in the number of blogs in the "50-59 months" category, indicating that the blogs have tended to last either <4 years or >5 years (technically: a bimodal distribution). Of the no-longer-posting blogs, most of the blogs made it for 3-4 years' worth of posts, although some then died out at that time (30%). If the blogs did make it past that time, then they tended to die out after 5-6 years (30%). However, 40% of the blogs have lasted longer than this, which is double the estimate (18%) reported at the top of this post.

This seems to be the answer to the question posed in the post's title.

Starting and stopping points for Australian wine blogs

The second graph shows which years the blogs started (remember: these are only the wine-related blogs where something was posted during 2008 or later). Half of the blogs started during 2009-2011, with only 3 starting after 2013. Obviously, there was a "boom time" for wine blogging in Australia, which is now long gone.

The same graph shows the year in which the last blog post occurred, with 25 of the 63 blogs (40%) having posted in 2018. This is a lot more extant Australian wine blogs than I think people realize. They are listed at the bottom of this post.

However, it is rather difficult to know whether a wine blog is merely moribund or is actually dead. Only one of the bloggers explicitly noted that his blog was ending (and, sadly, he died shortly afterwards). Most of the other bloggers just stopped posting regularly, although in several cases the blog was actually taken offline (and I accessed it through the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine).

Monthly posts for two Australian wine blogs

It has been noted that often "bloggers allow weeks, months, even years to go by without posting a thought". As an example, the third graph shows two of the Australian blogs where posts kept appearing sporadically for several years after the regular blog posts stopped, indicating that they may not yet be dead, even now. So, baring the known decease of the blogger, or the blog itself being taken offline, we can't definitively say that any of the blogs are actually "finished".

The final graph shows the activity of the blogs, with the horizontal axis showing the average number of posts per month during the their lifetime (excluding the most prolific blog, with an average of 195 posts per month!). The most common activity numbers are once per fortnight, once per week, twice per week and three times per week, with half of the bloggers sticking to 4 posts or less per month. This rate of posting indicates that the posts are mainly about wine-related topics, rather than being short reports of wines tasted.

Average number of posts per month for Australian wine blogs

However, the seven most prolific blogs in the graph (having averaged >20 posts per month) do consist mostly of wine reviews. In order, they are: Wine Will Eat Itself, Qwine, Tyson Stelzer, Australian Wine Journal, Australian Wine Review, Wino Sapien, and Grape Observer; and to this list we can add The Wine Front, with its massive average of 6.5 posts per day (from three people). I might write about these two distinct types of wine blogs in a future post.

Conclusion

It seems that 25 of the 63 wine-related blogs that have been active in Australia during the past decade have posted sometime during 2018, which is not an insignificant number (see the list at the bottom of the post). Nevertheless, Anthony Madigan's January 2015 comment was spot on. During the previous 5 years, 19 blogs had stopped posting (32% of those in existence at the time), and no new ones had been started during the previous year. He was quite right to ask his question at that particular moment. [Mind you, Madigan's own blog (Country Wine) has the smallest average number of posts per month (0.4), and he has not posted since May last year.]


So, irrespective of any perceived image problem, it seems that announcements of the death of wine blogging are greatly exaggerated, at least in Australia.



Compiling the data for this post was relatively straightforward for the blogs hosted by Blogger, because the default setup is to have a post archive actually listing the number of posts for each month. However, Wordpress blogs have no such default. In fact, only one Wordpress blog provided the information in any easy-to-access manner. In every other case, I had to count the posts manually. So, you Wordpress bloggers — I hate you all!

Only three blogs defeated my attempts to count their posts manually, all produced by wine critics: The Wine Front (39,000 posts since 16 September 2001), The Real Review (2,700 posts since 1 July 2004), and Tyson Stelzer (2,600 posts since 1 April 2010).



Wine-related blogs from Australia that have posted at least once so far during 2018:

Australian Wine Review
Australian Wine Reviews - and Beyond
Best Wines Under $20
Chris Shanahan
Drinkster
Grape Observer
Happy Wine Woman
The Inquisitive Palate
The Intrepid Wino
More Red Sir!
People of Wine
Que Syrah
Qwine
The Real Review
The Tasting Glass
Travelling Corkscrew
Tyson Stelzer
Vino Notebook
The Vinsomniac
The Wine Front
The Wine Wankers
Winemusing (formerly The Wine Muse)
Wino Sapien
Winsor Dobbin Wine of the Week
Winsor's Choice

Note that this list excludes blogs that consist mostly of industry news and announcements, or wine sales, as well as personal web pages without a distinct blog component.

6 comments:

  1. Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
    (July 8, 2009, Page A15):

    “To Rake It In, Give It Away”

    URL: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124701229573408977.html

    Book review by Jeremy Philips
    [executive vice president of News Corp., which owns Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of The Wall Street Journal]

    Book cover artwork: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41djs7vbbWL.jpg

    “Free:
    The Future of Radical Price"
    By Chris Anderson
    (Hyperion, 274 pages, $26.99)

    "It is easy to see why free is an appealing price for consumers, although how companies make money by giving stuff away is less obvious. In 'Free: The Future of a Radical Price,' Chris Anderson, the editor of 'Wired' magazine and the author of 'The Long Tail,' sets out to explain why free is an increasingly compelling business model.

    "Mr. Anderson explains how the underlying economics of digital services make free business models far more widespread than they were in the analog world. Central to the new 'free economy.' he says, are the 'near-zero "marginal costs" of digital distribution (that is, the additional cost of sending out another copy beyond the 'fixed costs' of the required hardware).' So Google spends billions on its software and infrastructure, to get its vast search engine up and running, but each incremental search costs it almost nothing.

    "Free business models, whether purveying digital products or tangible goods, are based on cross subsidy -- that's why you get a 'free' mobile phone when you sign up for a long-term service plan. In the digital realm, the 'freemium' model offers the elusive free lunch. . . . The free service is a loss leader (and cheap marketing) for premium paid services.

    "Advertising is plainly the best known free model. You don't pay for Web searches, any more than you pay for network television, because in both cases ads are attached to the product you are getting free. As Mr. Anderson notes, though, advertising can't pay for everything online. If you have a blog, 'no matter how popular,' the revenue from AdSense -- a Google service that places ads on Web sites -- will probably never 'pay you even minimum wage for the time you spend writing it.'

    "Of course, that's fine for bloggers more interested in fame or influence than in money or for blogs (like Mr. Anderson's own) that are loss leaders for more lucrative endeavors, such as writing books or making speeches. But if you have to earn a living from the Web, 'free' can be a problem. . . ."

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  2. Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal "Off Duty" Section Online
    (March 29, 2013):

    "Five Wine Blogs I Really Click With"

    URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323419104578376630145206770

    By Lettie Teague
    "On Wine" Column

    "Most of the bloggers were doing it just for 'personal satisfaction,' Mr. Wright [*] said, since the possibility of making money was quite small. Alder Yarrow, who writes a much-talked-about blog, Vinography, told me that he earns $12,000 to $16,000 from it annually, most of which comes from banner ads. Said Mr. Yarrow, who began his blog in 2004 and has a day job: 'Monetizing a blog is very hard if you don't want to sell products, sell advertising to wineries and therefore look like a shill.'

    "Most bloggers are more like Alice Feiring, a traditional wine journalist and blogger who has never made 'a cent' from her blog, the Feiring Line, which she started in 2004. (It's one of the few that I read on a regular basis.) But unlike most other bloggers, Ms. Feiring has a newsletter; she has 450 subscribers paying $65 a year for 10 issues. 'The blog was a soapbox; the newsletter is a mini-magazine,' Ms. Feiring explained."

    [*Allan Wright of the Zephyr Adventures tour operator, who has organized Wine Bloggers Conferences in North America.]

    ReplyDelete
  3. Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times Online
    (March 20, 2013):

    “Wine Advocate Sues Ex-Critic Antonio Galloni for Missing Tasting Notes”

    URL: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2013/mar/20/news/la-dd-wine-advocate-sues-excritic-antonio-galloni-for-missing-tasting-notes-20130320

    By S. Irene Virbila
    “Daily Dish” Column

    "The breakup of the Wine Advocate’s Robert B. Parker with his former lead wine critic Antonio Galloni is getting ugly. . . .

    ". . . now the Wine Advocate is suing Galloni for breach of contract -- and fraud. According to a story up at 'the Wine Cellar Insider' by founder Jeff Leve, 'the problem is that prior to the sale of The Wine Advocate, Antonio Galloni, who was being paid $300,000 and expenses per year, contracted to write about and review the wines of Sonoma, California and other regions for Robert Parker and The Wine Advocate. Galloni refused to deliver the work product once he ended his business relationship with the company. He claimed that he was unable to finish his report on time as it would not do justice to the region.' Read more of Galloni’s side of the issue at his site.

    "First thought: $300,000 is an astonishingly high salary [for Galloni’s contributions to The Wine Advocate], especially since I remember seeing a tweet sent by someone at The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley in February [2013].

    "Only three of the wine writers in the room earned more than $25,000 per year from their writing."

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for an interesting but somewhat depressing article. For more than 15 years I wrote a DAILY financial blog but ceased when I retired. Three years ago I started a bi-monthly (mostly) wine blog (traderbillonwine.com), and despite its intent to get people to trust their own palettes, it has not picked up readers except sporadically.
    Why do you care what Parker or WS or any other reviewer thinks if YOU don't like it?
    I also highlight winemakers and SMALL wineries that are doing a great job in hopes people will try them or visit the winery instead of the big ones. In other words, I will mention a wine or winery that I like what they are doing but I really want people to think for themselves and chose their own favorites. There doesn't seem to be much interest in that.

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    Replies
    1. My interest in bloggers has, I guess, been because I started this blog during a down-turn in blogging, worldwide. Other forms of social media have become more prominent, instead. However, this is not necessarily depressing, if the blog performs some useful purpose. Visiting small (family run) wineries has always been more fun for me than the corporate ones, so such a blog is interesting. Daily wine blogs, on the other hand, tend to have little more than tasting notes, which is of interest only to those with direct access to the wines.

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  5. William:

    "Why do you care what Parker or WS or any other reviewer thinks if YOU don't like it?"

    Too many wine collectors suffer from cognitive dissonance.

    See this lampoon:

    https://mir-s3-cdn-cf.behance.net/project_modules/disp/db950c3989818.5601cbb9befe6.jpg

    ~~ Bob

    ReplyDelete