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Thursday, 22 December 2011

On The Value of Blogging‏


For a while earlier this year, I harboured the delusion of giving up the day job and becoming a professional wine-writer.

The idea was based in part on positive feedback I had from people reading my blog which I naively took perhaps a bit too literally, and partly on a mid-life sense of malaise and "why not ?" attitude.

I had a sort-of plan - a couple of periodic columns in national newspapers, a few ads on my blog and maybe some kind of "brand ambassador" status for a region I was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about (or prepared to become knowledgeable and enthusiastic about) would be a good base and I might top up with speaking fees and perhaps eventually a wine-matching column for supermarket periodical.

I was fortunate enough around this time to meet a number of fellow wine bloggers who gave my dream the cold bucket of water it required - "I do it for the free wine" is pretty much the wine blogger's mantra.

Now to be clear, I do not believe any of the people I met write positive wine reviews merely in the hope of more free stuff, as I've heard bloggers being periodically accused of; rather, "I do it for the free wine" means "I spend more time reviewing wine than I should and I'm lucky enough to get sent mostly decent stuff from PR agencies which I review honestly".

One blogger, a little older, wiser, more qualified and savvy than most, told me that what money he makes out of judging and so on, he then spends on his wine education with the
WSET, so effectively it's a self-financing hobby.

Not long after, I also met someone in wine PR who repeated the now-familiar wine-industry mantra "there's no money in wine" enough times for me really to start to believe it.

And it makes sense - wine is a topic that many people love to talk and read about generally, but few people are actually prepared to pay for that information.

As a colleague in the PR industry puts it "All the kids today say they want to be journalists, but they've never paid for an item of news in their lives - how can they not see that the business model is just not there ?"

As the proliferation of wine bloggers shows, the barriers to entry for wine blogging are low indeed - assuming you already have a computer and internet connection and routinely buy wine to drink, then your only outlay is the time it takes to bash out the occasional post (and for promotion, of course, as advised by
JancisRobinson).

I recently met up with a
fellow blogger who mentioned that at the 2011 EWBC in there were two distinct schools of thought on blogging: on one side, those who saw themselves as part of the wine trade because they blogged, wanting their opinions to be recognised far and wide, and on the other, those who love wine and enjoy writing about it but have other day jobs.


I summarise these points of view into "We are the future - our voice must be heard !" and "I do it for the free wine".

Now, I am not so arrogant as to consider that my voice “must be heard”; however, nor do I blog merely for the free wine.

A local independent merchant whose wines I review regularly once introduced me to someone with the humorous observation that it was not so much my customer relationship to him as his donor relationship to me that defined how we knew each other.

I was too polite (or slow-witted) to point out at the time that if I paid him for his wine at cost but charged back an hourly rate for the time I spend writing about it, then I'd be the main beneficiary and in fact he was getting large amounts of well-written PR material for free.

So, no money and time-consuming - so why blog other than for reasons of vanity ?

Well, for a start, vanity is not a bad reason, but her are the benefits I see from blogging about wine:

- Education #1; writing about wine has been a self-education in both the theory (grape varieties, regions etc) and practical aspects (drafting tasting notes)


- Education #2; blogging has got me into trade tastings, meeting wine professionals and producers and sampling a huge volume of wines which I would otherwise not have tried and which has developed my palate and taught me a lot about wine-making and the wine business

- Education #3; I have also got to meet in person various entrepreneurs and CEOs of start-up business to interview for my blog, chatting with them about wine, the market, SEO and business models

- Education #4; the mere fact of spending so much time in the company of wine professionals is of itself an education and I can't think of a tasting I have been to where I haven't learned something new

- Education #5; for each wine review, I usually do a bit of research, or these days refer to some earlier research I have done, consulting various wine books I own or checking facts out

- Networking; historically, I have not been much of a networker, but my "wine network" now far exceeds that of my day job and I have learnt how to network in a way I have never done before

- Social aspects; wine enthusiasts and people in the wine business are some of the most friendly I have met either in person, on twitter or in any of the various wine discussion groups on places like LinkedIn

(I believe this last fact and the lack of any really big money in the wine business are not unrelated)

- Creativity and self-actualisation; considering Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the opportunity to do something new and creative mid-way through one's career is not to be taken lightly

Somewhere at the bottom of this list come things like the free wine and entry to events - if I were in it just for the free stuff, I think I would have given up by now as the value of wine, events and so on in the year-plus that I've been doing this seriously is negligible compared to the time spent.

So, no alternative career, but at least a self-financing hobby that allows me to hang out either virtually or in person with winemakers, trade professionals, MWs and fellow writers, and occasionally to attend some very enjoyable events and dinners.
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