Context for Wine Blogs and Wine Marketers

Yesterday Tom Wark raised a few relevancy questions about wine blog advertising and audience sizes when he published Pajamas and the Status of Wine Bloggers at his own, very fine, Fermentation blog.  He floated issues from three specific points of view; advertisers’, publicists’, and wine bloggers’ themselves. Because the conversations about non traditional media formats and communities (bloggers, social media platform jockeys, and web searching consumers), are bumping up against traditional media formats and communities (magazines, publicists, advertising executives, subscribers, and newsstand browsers), the issues Tom raises really requires a combination of traditional and new media analysis.

Tom’s Pajama argument is constructed around a few inarguable facts:

  1. Only a couple of wine blogs have substantial audience size and bloggers do not give attention to audience development
  2. The community of wine blogs does not employ comparable or audited audience and demographic measurement services
  3. Placing ads on a series of wine blogs is so much more trouble than buying an ad in the Wine Spectator or other traditional wine media
  4. There is not an easy reference tool for PR and Advertising professionals to reference and contact Wine Bloggers

Every one of these points is anchored in a traditional media mindset.  I  don’t mean to condemn this style of inspection since there’s still a lot of money moving through the hands of mainstream advertisers and publicists with deeply baked industry authority from long successful careers in traditional Public Relations and Advertising.  But, the right answers require thinking that connects the colliding worlds of traditional and new media users and content creators.

newsletters are blogsIt is worth looking back to 1974 when, for example, a guy named Tom Phillips founded one of the most successful newsletter publishing companies in multiple B2B and B2C verticals.  His company was highly regarded in the traditional media world and other traditional media publishers, myself included, followed suit by adding newsletters to their traditional media franchises.  Most of these newsletters had under 1,000 monthly or weekly readers.

Economics aside (publishers did not have to rely on advertising since subscribers paid for newsletter content back here in the dark ages of content distribution), these were some of the most powerful marketing vehicles since they reached an influential audience of opinion leaders and decision makers who could spread the word. Publicists scampered and built road tours for themselves and their clients to get published in these newsletters that reached tiny audiences. Newsletter mentions were PR gold.  I had magazines with 50X the audience size, but traditional publicists understood the value of these small but important newsletter audiences.

Having 500 blog subscribers, 3,000 organic web visits a month, another 2,000 direct, social, and similar-site referral traffic on a wine blog seems as substantial, if not more so, than those old newsletter circulation profiles.

Blogs are evolved newsletter models chiseled by a new world of free content proliferation.  So let’s not lose sight of the authority individual wine bloggers and the overall blogger community carries by judging them as failed mass advertising outlets.  Most wine bloggers don’t care about the money from advertising and subscribers, and that’s what has accelerated the concept of “blogs as newsletters” to create this network of highly authoritative opinion leaders in each of their small circles.  Tom Phillips was trying to build a $500 million company and never would have pursued the model if cash didn’t come into play; cash is not the motivation for most bloggers.

social media storiesLooking to advertising and all the audience and demographic tools that make buying advertising supportable and easy misses the mark.  Do we need more than Chrysler coming forward to tell us that Facebook advertising does not work but the value of the Facebook platform, engagement, and conversations are immense?  The same holds true with blogs.  There are lots of really smart publicists out there that leverage the blogosphere through conversation and engagement.  Of course, they have to work harder for results since it is a disorganized network.

I launched a blogger conference in the interior design space where furniture and accessory manufacturers clamor to sponsor and develop conversations with the bloggers at this event in growing numbers each year. If Facebook waits for advertising to become relevant in the new media world, to trump the authentic content and stories that are spread on its own platform, they will miss their golden ring.  Consider the path Facebook is chasing with “Sponsored Stories,” leading to out of court settlements with unknowing “spokespeople” who did nothing more than “like” a product or service on the platform.  Facebook knows that advertising is not their financial answer on the social web; that it’s really about conversations and stories.  It is the same with wine blogs and the light of responsibility should be redirected on the advertising and PR community to figure that out.  Bloggers have already configured their paths, and it’s working just fine… long as money remains unimportant to this slew of content creators that got to a relevant stage of authority unmotivated by financial reward.

Waiting for traditional media database publishers to validate the wine blog category through listing inclusion, as Tom suggests, could be a false horizon to set a course for leveraging the promotional opportunity presented by the wine, or any other, blogosphere.


  • Tom Wark


    Identifying this would not be the first time I identify a false horizon.

    That said, I’m not sure what you mean when you suggest individual bloggers and the blogging community carries. Surely each blogger has some authority, but it’s most certainly true that for most bloggers that authority is miniscule and largely irrelevant. As for the “community of bloggers”, I’m not sure how to understand their authority nor how it is deployed amongst readers, the industry, etc.

    I see a few “authorities” that rose up within the wine blogging world, but frankly they are few and far between and I think that authority, in most cases, does not extend to far.

    Also, I don’t judge the wine blog as a failed mass advertising vehicle. I view it, in part, as a potential mass advertising vehicle. That said, your “newsletter” analogy is very interesting and I need to sit with it and think about it before appreciating it fully.


  • awjapko


    I guess my thinking is that minuscule is in the eye of the beholder and not largely irrelevant. At my Design Blogger Conference, the monthly audience of the 350 bloggers that attend the event is 4X the size of Tradtional Home, Better homes and Garden, and 10X the size of Architectural Digest. If I am a marketer, I better figure out how to immediately leverage that channel. And they are, in increasing numbers.

    Take it to wine blogs, the same hold true with the Wine Spectator. Each one of the bloggers has a group of people, small or large, that follow their opinion leadership for wine. It is not a race for dominance….and as you know, some of the wine bloggers with the largest audiences are getting substantial audience, up to half, from traditional media websites and their own authority with consumers is not what pulls eyeballs to the content, it is the authority they developed with the traditional media online outlet that is sharing their links. is a great example of that.

    In any event, your post was intriguing as alway, and it forced me to think deeper about this relevance issue for the blogosphere, something I think about and make my living at every day at DigitalSherpa. Thanks for the instigation.

  • Steve Heimoff

    I’m just getting tired of this continual blah blah about wine blogs. I think it’s clear by now that they are what they are, and not much is going to change in the near future. Speaking solely for my own blog, I think if I put more time and attention into it, I could grow it a little–but what’s the point? I probably have more “authority” than any other [free] wine blogger out there when it comes to reviewing and journalism, and it hasn’t made me a dime. Some of you guys are wishing for something that I don’t believe is possible. Adam, thanks for the advice you offered me and Jose, but I just don’t think it’s been worth the time for me just to get from 5/10 to 6/10. What good is it doing Alder or Tyler?

  • awjapko

    Steve, cranky day? Anyway, you’re right about one thing….you still need a token to get on the BART with a 6 Google Page rank

  • Tom Wark

    Have you ever asked someone to advertise on your blog? I ask because it sounds like you’ve either made the effort and no want to or that you expect advertisers to flock to you without effort. Or it may be you don’t accept advertising. I can’t recall about that.

    Here’s what I know: put together a good sized audience, create a simple way to serve ads on your blog, give advertisers a simple way to track the ad’s impact, sell the advertising space and you’ll make money.

  • Steve Heimoff

    Tom, no I have not sought advertising. I might, though. But that’s not the point I was making. Even if I could make, say, $20K a year, my blog would have a tiny, insignificant impact on the wine world, compared to Wine Enthusiast, where one of my scores can empty a shelf at Costco. Can any blog do that? However, as my blog evolves, we’ll see what kind of impact it has.

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