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05.04.2006

The Wine Spectator Just Doesn't Get It

Let's get this straight from the get go. I'm a Specator subscriber. It's clear they've got some very smart, very talented people working there. I even had a great time hanging out with Harvey Steiman at the Wine Writers Symposium this past March. But whoever calls the shots around that place when it comes to the Internet is totally clueless or completely short-sighted and greedy. Or both.

The reason for such harsh criticism?

Very quietly, over the last couple of weeks, The Wine Spectator has entered the world of wine blogging. Quite seriously, as a matter of fact. All of their main editors are now regularly blogging. And they've chosen to put them right up front, on the home page where you can see them.

But you can't read them, of course.

No, not unless you fork over $7. 95 a month, or $49.00 per year. In ADDITION to your subscription, if you happen to be a subscriber.

Now, I understand the Wine Spectator needing to charge for some access to their web site, especially the database of wine reviews, their archive of travel and restaurant content, etc. But THEIR BLOGS !?!? What the hell are they thinking?

Where do I even start with this? How about the fact that every other major publishing outfit in the world that I know of has managed to figure out that blogging:

1. Provides a great way of interacting with your reader base
2. Is a great way of reaching more new customers and convincing them to subscribe
3. Can help you reach entirely new segments of the population that could not be bothered to pick up your magazine but very well might subscribe to an RSS feed and over time might also subscribe
4. Is a HUGE (did I mention HUGE?) potential source of online ad revenue, provided you don't artificially limit the traffic to your site by doing something stupid like requiring customers to pay to see the ads, er, your content...

Can anyone come up with any reasons why this is a good move by the Spectator? Anyone? I mean, I know they've got the largest subscriber base of any wine magazine, but that pales in comparison to the potential for online ad revenues.

I await your response in my jaw-droppingly dumbfounded state of confusion and mirth. Come on, Marvin Shanken. Get with the program. If you need me to sit down and run through the numbers with you, I'm happy to drop my snarky wine blogger hat and put on my web consulting hat for you.

Comments (23)

enoch choi wrote:
05.04.06 at 11:49 PM

because they can, and people will pay for it. it's idiotic. i just read them on dead wood. but yes, a few years ago, i did pay the extra dough to have access to their wine database. no longer. i've evolved ;)

Phil wrote:
05.04.06 at 11:58 PM

It seems the people who are making the big decisions don't really understand the value of the internet.

I've had a similar conversation with a friend who works for a major North American newspaper. His newspaper with a subscriber base of just over 200,000 has a website with the same content but at a cost of $50yr. They have just on 250 paid memberships, pretty pathetic.

My home country New Zealand has a FREE website called stuff.co.nz, which features LIVE news from the majority of NZ papers. It is the most popular website in NZ and makes good money through advertising.

Subscription based sites are a product of the 90’s, wine spectator get with the program!

Terry Hughes wrote:
05.05.06 at 3:38 AM

They aren't even that hot on dead wood. And oh so predictable.

Lenn wrote:
05.05.06 at 4:59 AM

Alder...I was just talking to Derrick about this yesterday. Any company that charges for blog access just doesn't get it. I can only chalk it up to greed and just not "getting" the whole blogging thing.

I'd think that by offering their blogs for free, with links that link back to their pay site, they might even drive subscriptions.

I'm a subscriber as well, but I've never paid for their website...and I'm certainly not going to pay for their blog when there are so many great ones in cyberspace for free.

If the New York Times can offer their food and wine blogs for free, WS should to. But, they don't seem to realize what a blog is about or its advantages.

So, we'll keep reading blogs like yours, mine and all the others. Who needs em? :)

Jathan wrote:
05.05.06 at 9:26 AM

Just do what I do, right click the link you want to read on their site, paste it into Google, and click the link that comes up on Google's page. Instant access. I read everything on their site for free.

More info on this is here:

http://winexpression.com/2006/03/30/new-hacking-wine-spectator-full-access/

Bonnie wrote:
05.05.06 at 9:29 AM

I really hope the idea fails. I mean, charging for BLOGS?! #$%#$%@! Ridiculous.

I for one will not pay the extra cash. I'd rather read your FREE blog.

beau wrote:
05.05.06 at 9:54 AM

charging for a blog = express train to irrelevance.

Consider the NY Times. Readers used to be able to access most of the paper's content online for free. The effect was that the opinion writers and many of the articles were linked to across the Web by bloggers - which resulted in an increase in traffic to the Times' Web site.

Then some bright bulb at the paper got the idea to charge for much of the content (AKA "TIMES SELECT"). Now the Times is becoming rapidly irrelevant as an information resource online.

All aboard!

beau wrote:
05.05.06 at 9:57 AM

I should however point out, that even the Times "gets" blogging (at least on some level). At least Asimov's blog isn't behind a paywall. At a minimum, WS shouldn't be charging for a blog

St.Vini wrote:
05.05.06 at 10:07 AM

I still question whether Spectator is really that relevant anymore.....Does anybody really need reviews of 200-lot wines? Look at their advertisers, all highest of the high end. Not things most of us could afford, so who are they really appealing to, our desire for affluence? Ironically, its blogs like this one that (IMO) are helping to create a new era of consumer information. Free, relevant, and unbiased and WS still wants me to pay for their content?

Vini

Terry Hughes wrote:
05.05.06 at 3:10 PM

St Vini, you hit the nail on the head.

Not only would I rather read Alder's FREE blog,
I'd be far more likely to trust the opinions of the author than I would so much of what's in WS.

Anonymous wrote:
05.05.06 at 3:12 PM

And to add insult to injury, there are ads behind the subscription barrier!!! For things like credit cards and airlines, so not just self promo ads. I thought you paid a fee to be rid of ads!

Alder wrote:
05.05.06 at 3:18 PM

Dear anonymous reader,

I hardly know what to say. You're telling me that not only does the Wine Spectator charge you to use their site, they also have the audacity to make you suffer through banner ads as you read articles? That's low. Dastardly in fact. I know no other web site to which I have a paid subscription that operates this way.

I guess this certainly proves my point, but in such a sad, painful way for their online subscribers.

Todd wrote:
05.05.06 at 4:06 PM

Nope, I certainly can not. Makes -zero- sense.

I subscribe to the RSS feeds, but WS blogging? Meh. . . although it would be nice to hear from Matt Kramer more often. . . .

johng wrote:
05.06.06 at 9:18 AM

I kind of have the opposite feeling about the Spectator. I do not subscribe to the magazine, which to me is a big, glossy lifestyle magazine - about a lifestyle I can't afford BTW. But I do subscribe to the website, which gives me access to their complete catalogue of wine reviews and news stories. As for their blogs, who cares? If it's behind a paid screen, it's not really a blog anyway, is it?

Brett wrote:
05.08.06 at 8:50 AM

What next - a poll tax when they ask your opinion? Live Free or Die, as they say in South Carolina......

Natester wrote:
05.08.06 at 12:27 PM

I believe its New Hampshire that is the Live Free or Die State.

As for WS, I totally agree that the blogs should be free! The only thing paying could do that is good is to weed out potential site wreckers or people who aren't as serious as they'd like. But, still this isn't enough to justify charging and cutting out a huge potential client base.

Jassmond wrote:
05.08.06 at 6:34 PM

South Carolina? You must be trying to pick a fight with all us Granite Staters. Nothing against South Carolina, but don't make me go all Daniel Webster on you....

Brett wrote:
05.09.06 at 5:32 AM

Oh my bad! Maybe it's First in Freedom or something. No offense to Hampshuh! I don't get out enough - all shutin and all.....

V Honoré wrote:
05.11.06 at 4:44 PM

Squires´ Bulletin Board already has 8,500 subscribers. They will never compete with something like that...and it´s for free!

D Medin wrote:
05.18.06 at 3:40 PM

As a reader, I can tell you WS isn't asking you to pay extra for the blogs. It's part of the subscription access that includes the database and everything else. Why would I complain that they're blogging too when now I'm getting more for my money? (Hey, it's a business for them, not a hobby.) And they still have free forums that anyone can join.

Alder wrote:
05.18.06 at 3:56 PM

D Medin,

You are correct. The reader who implied that it was "extra" to read their blogs wasn't quite clear on the pricing, and perhaps my post misled them. For those who are current online subscribers, like yourself, clearly the fact that they have blogs does mean you are getting more for your money.

The laughable thing is that by allowing only paid users access to the blogs, they're thwarting the very aspects of blogs which make them a good idea in the first place, namely their ability to export content all over the web and drive traffic to the site, as well as their ability to foster community and attract readership.

Wine Person of the Day wrote:
06.05.06 at 3:37 PM

I think the larger issue is, Wine Spectator is too powerful. If they were just one wine magazine among many, no one would care if they charged for their blog. The hegemony of Wine Spectator is dangerous for the wine industry, because everyone wants to make a Spectator 100, so all the wines are starting to taste the same: Big, superripe and super oaky. Many, many California winemakers loathe the Spectator, although they're afraid to say so publically.

Alder wrote:
06.11.06 at 10:11 PM

In an interesting twist to this whole thing, I just discovered that the Spectator gives away its podcasts on iTunes for free.

http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=152047865

Arguably these are far higher cost to produce and would be much easier to justify charging for than their blogs!

(shaking my head....)

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