One of the most common questions that people ask the Wine Curmudgeon (and it came up several times last weekend at DLW 2011: Missouri) is whether I get paid for doing this. And how I get paid. And if there is any money in being a wine blogger.
The answers, which are complicated, say a lot about the direction that wine writing is headed. More, after the jump:
Nevertheless, much of the content on the Internet comes from writers who aren't paid. (I'd even guess that most of it is unpaid, though I've not seen any statistics to support that.) There are two reasons for this. First, if someone is willing to work for free, someone else is always going to take advantage of them. Always. Second, the very nature of the Internet makes payment problematic. It's unorganized, it's undisciplined, and it doesn't require much in the way of the qualifications. If you want to write for the New Yorker, you have to prove you're worthy of the magazine. If you want to write for the Internet, all you have to do is to start typing.
So why do people write for free? Because, sadly, too many of them are under the impression that all it takes is one or two brilliant posts and they'll become the next Robert Parker or Gary Vaynerchuk. Someone with piles of cash will see the writer's self-declared genius on the Huffington Post, and will start smothering them with those piles of cash.
Which, of course, doesn't happen. Every wine media success story, even those based on the Internet, has its roots elsewhere. Vaynerchuk just didn't start jumping up and down on YouTube and become an overnight success; he was a successful wine retailer for more than 20 years, and figured out how to use that experience to leverage his Internet stardom.
I'm not so sure that one of the reasons that so many wine writers are so critical of wine bloggers is because they're irritated that the bloggers didn't have to prove their worth first. Because there is a definite divide between those who consider themselves writers and the rest of us, whom they see as something less than wine writers -- even though many of the self-described writers don't have a traditional media outlet for their work and get by as often unpaid freelancers who have day jobs to support their writing.
That seemed to be one of the themes during this winter's wine writer certification controversy. Somehow, all us bloggers are preventing the writers from reaping the money and fame that they deserve. What the writers miss is that there isn't much difference between a wine writer and a wine blogger anymore. Writing is writing, regardless of where it appears. Some writers, like Eric Asimov, are more talented than many bloggers. And some bloggers, like myself (if I may be so bold) are more talented than many writers. It's not about where you write; it's about how well you write.
Which is where the money comes in. I spend about two-thirds of my time writing about wine, but only get about one-third of my income from it -- freelance articles, blog advertising, producing wine events, and a few odds and ends. So I write about other things to make a living: Mostly politics, business (ask me about pet retailing and wind energy), and food. Which doesn't bother me. I've only been a full-time wine writer for 2 1/2 years, and I don't expect overnight success. Success comes from building my brand, from doing the blog consistently, and from getting my name in front of people who can offer me paying gigs -- writing assignments, speaking engagements, and the like. And that takes time, and it's time I'm willing to put in. Otherwise, I'd have to get a real job, and who wants to do that?