Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Amateur Wine Blogging Community - The Big Karoake Bar in the Virtual Sky?

It is becoming quite common to find an internet post or twitter comment that is critical of the emergence of wine blogs. The increase in the number of wine blogs is analysed by critics and defenders alike. This analysis leads to sometimes repetitious, sometimes unique and original debates on the positives and negatives of this form of wine communication (noting many would disagree wine blogs represent such a thing).

Generally I am interested, and at times amused by the discourse, and I hope this has been conveyed to some extent in the non-wine review posts on RedtoBrown (by both Red and I). If you want to read a constructive, well-written article on this topic, particularly from the perspective of what I would term a 'professional-standard' wine blogger, I would strongly recommend "Should Blogging Get a Flogging" by Patrick Haddock (aka WiningPom’ on Twitter). The post below is a slightly abstract ‘interpretation’ of the discourse mentioned above with an intentional focus on the amateur, or "amateur but hoping, wishing for professional status" wine blogs.

The Amateur Wine Blogging Community - The Big Karoake Bar in the Virtual Sky?

On many levels, writing about wine online is a bit like singing at a Karaoke bar. It is easier to sing the songs when everyone else is joining in on the action, but when you are forced to sing solo, some songbirds fly the coop. This is often the case if you are in a room of close friends or complete strangers. For one reason or another not everyone is prepared to sing at the top of their lungs in this situation out of embarrassment or a desire to avoid being ridiculed.

Like singing in the group karaoke song, commenting on a wine in the comments section of a wine website can reduce the embarrassment or focus on your opinions. One can comment on a wine and have their voice heard to a point, but the comments are in the context of a review and other people’s opinions and comments – not a solo statement that puts your opinion front and centre. Not every lover of wine feels the need to comment on wine online. Those that do tend to express themselves in the form of a personal wine blog.
"Islands in the stream, that is what we are"

For the karaoke singers and wine wine writers who are confident enough to belt out a solo rendition of ‘Sweet Caroline’ or post articles about wine in a blog like the one you are (hopefully) still reading, there is no guarantee the quality of both will even be of a tolerable standard. Alas, with both forms of expression (dare I call it ‘entertainment’) there are many who feel they are producing ‘art’ of a professional standard that should be shared far and wide (well -beyond the walls of the RSL or the confines of a sporadically visited wine blog).

Only the most deluded of both groups would maintain their output is first class every time– and if it is, they are in the minority. For many, many more people, wine blogs range from being a fleeting hobby to a  long term (if part-time) passion to which considerable spare moments are allocated.  At both extremes, only the most desperate or deluded are thinking they ‘coulda been contenders’ On the Waterfront style if they havent taken concrete steps to leap into the wine writing world in a serious way yet write as if they expect to receive the same kudos as wine writers (paid and unpaid) who have.

In many ways, the contestants on Masterchef mirror this point: if they were serious about cooking they would have undertaken an apprenticeship years ago instead of trying to break into the food industry soley off the back of Masterchef. The same applies to the wine blogger who makes no moves to work at vintage or gain wine qualifications yet still harbours the desire to break into the wine world.

"I coulda been a contender, I coulda been a paid wine writer.
I coulda produced wine promo vids like James Suckling.
Now I am a wine blogging nobody, a bum.
Do you have a dime? I need to pay my monthly internet bill"

Unlike Karaoke, wine writers and commentators are not forced to read an amateur wine blog. If you are stuck in the bistro of the local RSL or inner city pub and the Karaoke competition fires up, said punter can leave the venue or willingly endure the noise until you finish your chicken parmigiana. With a wine blog, if you are a wine connoisseur, a Master of Wine, a paid wine writer etc and accidently stumble on a poorly written example, you are one click away from safety. I cannot stress this point enough - it seems in many cases, the critics of wine blogs rarely read them (for clearly stated reasons based on the perceived quality of the content) yet also seemingly do not want them to exist in the first place either.
Kenny sings on Wine Blogging: "You gotta know when to hold'em,
know when to fold'em, know when to walk away, and know when to click that mouse and
switch to a paid wine website instead".

The motivations for this form of ‘wine writing consolidation advocacy’ are varied, but part of me cannot help but think it is due to the inexorable dilution of the paid wine writers craft – not the democratisation of wine writing per se, but the dilution and diversification of wine writing, wine communication and wine expression that is paradoxically both bad and good for the wine industry.

Just as a pitch-perfect rendition of ‘My heart will go on’ during a Karaoke night will not change the music world one iota (though it might make the night of the Newtown RSL Bingo crew), the writings of an amateur wine blogger will rarely affect the wine industry. The inference that people are starting up wine blogs to match the quality of printed wine publications, receive thousands of free wine samples, make money and make an impact seems to be an assumption made more by the critics than the advocates. A fraction of these outcomes would be ample reward for most wine bloggers who are doing what they do out of a personal passion, not an alterior commercial or narcissistic motive.

"Aww Hans Blix! How many times do I have to tell you:
My amateur wine blog will not eat into your Wine Spectator circulation figures!"

In conclusion, will wine blogs take over the wine writing world? Highly unlikely. Will they form an at-times interesting and engaging niche in the wine communication and wine appreciation discourse? They already have, and this is an upwards trend. Will they ever represent the wine equivalent of Gwyneth Paltrow in the movie Duets? If they do, I will not linger long on that wine blog!

Post intended for debate/pondering/instant closing of the Explorer Tab. Thoughts and comments welcome.


Stu said...

Enjoyable piece. The other point to note - students of management will love this - the barriers to entry are low/ minimal.

I think there'll always be a paid for market, for good well written content. Not just reviews, opinion pieces or the like. The model may change, but the market will likely be there.

Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Stu

I agree that there will continue to be a market for high quality content. The market will change and evolve, but still be there (even if it contracts) In my opinion you can definitely see the difference between a high quality paid written piece by a good writer and a quickly composed article on a free website. There are obvious exceptions with free websites/blogs, but as noted thay are the exception to the rule.
An example I use is sports blogs vs sports newspaper websites - I follow a bunch of Liverpool FC blogs and UK newspapers, but I rarely - if ever- bother reading the opinion articles from the LFC blogs as they are not offering me a new angle to the stories posted in the newspapers. An exception is a LFC blog that focusses on statistics - this is an angle I am interested in. I eagerly click on an opinion piece from the Guardian on LFC as I know this is well written.

Thanks for your comments.


Chris Plummer said...

More slick musings Brown and I particularly love the images and captions.

I've got a lot to say on the issue but once again, I don't where to start! I will tell you though, you've provided some inspiration for a future Oz Wine Toon :)

Chris P

p.s. there's an awful lot of fashion blogs out there, I wonder if they cop as much scrutiny in the eyes of their established media. Does anyone read Cosmo?

Andrew Graham said...

Great post mate, as usual your analogies are king.

I'd actually argue, however, that wine blogs have more pull than you think, and are indeed having an impact on Wine Spectator circulation figures. It's probably only a chip at the edges, but it's noticeable....

Brown said...

Hey Chris,

Thanks for your comments - any post that leads to more Oz Wine Toons is a good post :-)

Fashion blogs - cannot say I have read many and it is suprising that there isn't more scruitiny. Not sure how a RedtoBrown Fashion Review would go down......

Brown said...

Hi AG,

New media and its impact on traditional media is a topic that interests me greatly, and there is an angle to this in the wine world. I did note that the emergence of wine blogs was already a 'factor' in the wine writing/communications world, just that for many bloggers there is no intent to conquer the wine world, and for many who have this aim, there is not enough talent! :-)
In saying that, there are enough quality wine blogs that I follow to suggest the eschelon, the tip of this 'movement' has more than enough talent to impact on traditional wine media. An ongoing debate I am sure to post about in the future as it is definitely one of those topics that invariably comes up when I am at a tasting or reflecting on a nice wine at home.



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