Wine Writing Income Continues to Challenge

By Susan Kostrzewa

Gloria Steinem once said that writing was the only thing she ever did where she felt she should not be doing something else.

Most writers accept that writing, and in particular wine journalism, is a profession and passion that has chosen them, and not the other way around.

But at what cost? A recent controlled survey of 20 journalists working in the wine media field revealed that while fulfilling, the wine writing trade was still extremely challenging as regards livelihood.

Survey respondents working in freelance and full-time roles in the wine media field answered questions about per-word rates, frequency of jobs, types of projects and other contributing income in the household. Some key points:

– The average wine writing income was between $15,000-25,000 a year.

– Most were making the majority of their wine journalistic income from traditional print editorial sources (magazines, newspaper).

– For freelancers, wine media income constituted between 10-25 percent of their annual income, the rest typically supplemented by additional wine-related gigs such as teaching, lecturing, consulting, judging and in about half the cases, another unrelated full-time or part-time job. In all but three cases they were living in a household with a second income.

– The average per-word rate received for their work was 25 cents to $1 a word.

Additional research revealed that the median national income for work as a wine editor was $50,000 to $66,000 a year.

The good news? As wine and food trends continue to grow in the U.S., the demand for knowledgeable and talented writers and experts in the field grows. But the field is still very competitive, and slow to respond, it seems, to media rate trends on other categories.

[Editor’s Note: Susan Kostrzewa is the Executive Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine. She presided over a conversation and research session at the 2013 Symposium for Professional Wine Writers about how wine writers were compensated for their work. The session was extremely interesting, if a bit depressing, so I asked her to summarize the conversation in a brief article here on Vinography.

The following statistics were the result of an anonymous survey of Symposium attendees, a separate survey from the one referenced in the above piece. Please note, the survey referenced above was given to freelance wine professionals already active in the wine writing field, while Symposium attendees were both seasoned professionals and interested parties just starting in the business. The results overall for both still reflect the same trends, however. ]

How much do you make annually on your wine writing?

less than $5,000: 15%
$5,000-$10,000: 22%
$10,000-$25,000: 25%
$25,000-$50,000: 19%
greater than $50,000: 19%

Which media types contribute the most to your annual wine writing income?

Magazine: 29%
Newspaper: 18%
Web sites/blogs: 20%
Other: 33%

What percentage of your overall income is from wine writing?

0- 10%: 29%
10-25%: 18%
50-75%: 21%
75-100%: 33%

What is your current per-word rate for wine writing projects? If you are paid by the project, please convert to a similar per-word rate.

Less than 25 cents per word: 26%
Less than 50 cents per word: 27%
Less than $1 per word: 21%
$1 a word or more: 27%

What category of wine writing represents the majority of your income?

Editorial print (magazines. newspapers): 37%
Editorial digital media (Web articles/notes, blogs etc): 35%
Commercial (promotional, marketing, PR): 28%

What other types of writing or work do you do to supplement your income?

Other wine editorial/media (wine education, wine tour guiding, etc): 21%
Wine trade/service: 29%
Food service/retail: 29%
Unrelated profession: 22%

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