Tag Archives: wine writing

“Monetizing” the blog: Is it worth the trouble?

monetizing blog
“Pay up, or never read about cheap wine again!”

How should the WC turn a profit on the money-losing blog?

Jan. 10 update: Thanks to everyone who emailed suggestions, kind words, and encouragement. I was especially surprised that so many of you said I was giving the blog away for free when I should be charging money for it. Wrote one reader: “l subscribe to Netflix, AppleNews+,and various financial newsletters, why not a wine letter?”

Why was I surprised? Because I’m a cranky ex-newspaperman and was taught that circulation is all that matters. Which, as so many of you noted, is a very old-fashioned and irrelevant concept in 2021.

So I’ll look at the best way to do subscriptions  and report back. And not to worry, it will include a discount for everyone from the blog who signs up.
The end of 2020 marks another milestone for the blog – I’ve lost money on it for 13 consecutive years. Which raises the question: Is there any way to make the blog profitable? Should I even try?

The blog’s primary goal when it started was marketing, to get my name and work out among the wine world. If I made money with it, so much the better. The blog has done the former beyond any expectation. I’m continually talking to people who know the blog and who know what I do even though there doesn’t seem to be any reason they should.

But money? Not so much. Again, in the blog’s early days, that didn’t matter. I had a more or less thriving freelance business, supplemented by teaching and a little consulting. But the pandemic has put a kibosh on the freelance business, which had already been in decline. And the latter were always supplements, and never a way to make a living (and, for what it’s worth, haven’t fared all that well over the past couple of years, either). So yes, now it would be nice if the blog turned a profit.

Many of you, at this point, probably want to ask: “But what about all those ads, Jeff? Don’t they make a difference?” Yes, if you’re the New York Times or ESPN or any site that gets millions and millions of visitors. A half-million isn’t enough: I’ve never earned more than $600 or $700 a year from ads. That doesn’t even cover half of the cost of the site’s hosting service.

So that brings us back to “monetizing” the blog – it it worth the trouble? Because, in the post-modern, 21st century world of blogging, making money on the blog means doing one of a variety of choices that are less than appealing:

Sponsored content: Sponsors pay me money, I run posts they write to plug their products, and you may or may not be the wiser. “Oh, look, the WC found something nice to say about Winking Owl!” The surprise is not that I find sponsored posts morally reprehensible; I am who I am, after all. Rather, that so many wine sites that pride themselves on objectivity take the money and run the posts.

Premium content: Pay a fee to get special, subscriber-only content. The blog’s reason for being is to make wine accessible, so making part of it inaccessible to most visitors doesn’t make much sense.

Begging for money: It’s not called that of course, but that’s the result. Typically, there’s a button on the blog visitors can click to send money. Or there are sites like Patreon, which all the really hip sites use. Neither sounds like me, does it?

A paywall: The Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate have paywalls. Enough said.

Pay to go ad-free: This is the least annoying of the choices, but it raises more questions. How much do I charge? How much will it cost to set up? Will anyone care?

Hence, nothing will likely change, and the blog will continue to limp along financially. Unless, of course, someone else has a better idea? You can leave a comment or send me an email.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite posts of 2020

favorite posts 2020
“I guess we’re gong to have to start giving scores, Churro.. All of the funny blog posts we wrote in 2020 fell flat.”

These seven posts weren’t necessarily the best read, but they were among my favorite posts of 2020

Welcome to the Wine Curmudgeon’s sixth annual year-end top 10 list, which is not about the most read posts. Or necessarily has 10 items. Anyone can do that. Here, where being contrary matters. we honor the best posts I wrote in 2020 that not enough people read.

Why not a best read list? Because Google takes care of that, as we see every year with Barefoot’s blog dominance. Rather, these are the posts that I enjoyed writing, thought were important to write, or both.

Here, in no particular order, are my favorite posts of 2020:

• I wrote three wine video parodies this year, and none did as well as they should. Spock drinking rose isn’t funny? Robin Hood kicking down the Trump wine tariff isn’t funny? Bruce Lee kung-fuing snotty wine judges isn’t funny? The parody posts never do well; I’m beginning to think the blog’s readers take wine much too seriously.

• Even though my podcast with restaurant wine guru Cara Klein at the start of the pandemic didn’t get big numbers, it could have helped make her an Internet wine star. After Cara’s appearance here, she showed up on a variety of other wine blogs throughout the year. As she much deserved — old white guys aren’t the only people who know about wine.

• In the mid-1970s, legendary wine professor Maynard Amerine warned us that price was no guarantee of wine quality. And no one read this post on this blog?

• The WC apparently doesn’t understand about turning a post viral. What’s not to like about good witches battling bad witches to save the soul of wine? Or do you want just want scores?

• I do know why the series of posts about Churro, the blog’s new associate editor, didn’t do well. A dog writing a wine blog, even as a joke? That’s awfully goofy. But it should have been done boffo business. Think about all the things it says about the wine business and wine writing.

More on the WC’s favorite posts:
Favorite posts of 2019
Favorite posts of 2018
Favorite posts of 2017

Winebits 675: Wine packaging, wine writers, Brazilian wine

wine packagingThis week’s wine news: Swedish wine drinkers say plastic bottles could be OK. Plus, a gift suggestion for the wine writer on your list and Brazilian wine makes a comeback

Yes to plastic? Two-thirds of Swedish wine drinkers say they’d consider buying wine in a plastic bottle. This is stunning news, given plastic’s unsavory reputation among wine drinkers and even though Swedes are not exactly a perfect fit the for typical wine drinker. The study, from Britain’s Wine Intelligence consultancy, may be another sign that the traditional 750 ml bottle and cork-style closure has competition. Plastic and PET bottles came in third behind boxed wine (74 percent) and the 750 ml bottle (85 percent). It’s probably significant that the traditional bottle didn’t score in the 90 percent range, given that most of the wine in the world is still sold that way.

Wine, of course: The weekly PR Newswire tip sheet offers holiday gift ideas for writers. The list includes the Jed Steele Writer’s Block wines, a long-time favorite among the wine writing community. This reminds me of my failed attempt, in the blog’s early days, to get someone to make a red and white $10 blend, called something like Wine Writer’s Plonk, with a scruffy wine writing type hunched over a typewriter on the front label. Several winemakers told me the idea was not cute and would not sell and that I should stick to wine writing.

Brazilian wine: The pandemic is boosting Brazilian wine, long known mostly in this country for its role in the white zinfandel boom. China’s Xinhua news agency reports that sales were up 37 percent from 2019 to 2020, and sales in July were triple the amount in March. Brazilian wine, even in Brazil, is little respected, but the pandemic seems to be changing that. Says one analyst: “The great challenge for the sector now will be maintaining the customers that it gained during the pandemic,” after investments to improve wine quality over the past several years.

Photo courtesy BlogYourWine.com, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 674: Holiday season wine snobs edition

wine snobsThis week’s wine news: The wine snobs celebrate the holiday season

Ice in a glass of wine? VinePair asks sommeliers when it’s OK to put an ice cube in a glass of wine, because we need guidance on this subject from people with initials after their names. The post, believe it or not, includes a section on how to properly add ice. It’s pieces like this that make me wonder if I’ve wasted the past 13 years writing the blog. How about this advice? Add a cube or two when you feel like it. Which, in Texas in August, we feel like a lot.

The kindness of strangers? Mary Margaret McCamic, MW, writing on the Karolus Wine Imports blog, notes that “many of the most exciting bottles that I have enjoyed were the result of the generosity of collectors.” How does one respond to that? Does this mean that when the Big Guy comes over, and we dip into the wine closet for my latest $10 find, it’s not exciting? It’s pieces like this that make me wonder if I’ve wasted the past 13 years writing the blog.

No affordable wine? Megan Krigbaum, writing for Punch, laments the loss of affordable Beaujolais on restaurant wine lists. She defines this as Beaujolais costing less than $100 a bottle. It’s pieces like this that make me wonder if I’ve wasted the past 13 years writing the blog. $100 is affordable? For whom?  This also begs the question of Beaujolais’ availability on restaurant wine lists, and especially in the middle of the country. But what do I know? I put ice cubes in un-exciting $10 wine.

Winebits 673: Wine.com sales, restaurant wine, tasting notes

wine.comThis week’s wine news: Wine.com reports 217 percent sales increase, plus restaurants are headed in the opposite direction and another critic ponders the need for toasty and oaky

Wine.com sales: Wine.com, the U.S.’ biggest on-line wine retailer, ended the first six months of its fiscal year with a 217 percent sales increase compared to the previous 12 months. Can anyone say pandemic? Even without the increase in on-line retail caused by the coronavirus, sales for the previous 12 months were up 102 percent. One key to the jump: repeat sales from customers who pay $49 a year for free shipping, similar to Amazon Prime’s free shipping. Sales from those customers increased by about one-fifth more than overall sales for the past 12 months, as more of those customers bought more wine on-line. This raises the question again: How, once the retail world returns more or less to normal, will we be able to go back to thinking of on-line wine as something special, and not something we buy every day?

Not so good news: Tom Wark, writing on the Fermentation blog, asks: “Do we allow a huge swath of restaurants across the country to simply disappear in the wake of COVID and state’s restaurant shutdown orders or do we act to aid these institutions?” This has been the elephant in the room as the pandemic continues, with restaurants — rightly or wrongly — bearing the burst of government restrictions. I don’t know that I agree with all Tom writes, but his piece is well worth reading.

No tasting notes: Guy Woodward, writing in the British trade magazine Harpers, pulls no punches: “Who reaps the benefit, for example, of reading that a wine has notes of  ‘gentian, elderflower, seaweed, mussels, salt spray, chicken stock, sage, fennel, peach kernel, lemon, alkali and wet stone’?” This is the second British shot over the winespeak and tasting notes bow in recent weeks — quite a surprising development, given how entrenched the two are. Again, reason for optimism that some in the wine business understand the need to make wine more accessible.

Wine Curmudgeon most popular posts 2020

popular posts 2020
“Churro, we need to find a way to boost blog traffic. Your being cute didn’t do much.”

The Wine Curmudgeon’s most popular posts 2020: Not necessarily about cheap wine, and a lot fewer visitors

What does one make of a blog about cheap wine when a majority of the most popular posts weren’t about cheap wine — or  were even wine reviews?

That’s where we find ourselves as the blog celebrates its 13th annual Birthday Week. Only four of the top 10 posts from November 2019 to November 2020 were sort of about cheap wine. And one was about as far removed from cheap wine as possible — a six-year-old post about the $300 Coravin wine opener at No. 10.

Ordinarily, I’d blame all this foolishness on our overlords at Google, whose search engine algorithm has more to do with sending visitors to the blog than anything I write. But the past 12 months also saw a precipitous decline in traffic, about one-third from last year’s 600,000 or so visitors. That no doubt also contributed to the bizarre top post results — fewer visitors exaggerates the importance of the posts that do get traffic.

So what caused the drop? The pandemic, almost certainly, combined with the U.S. presidential election. There were other things on people’s minds that didn’t involve finding a $10 wine that doesn’t taste like alcoholic grape juice. Even sites like Linkedin, which should be immune, may have had some traffic declines.

Which I understand. The problem comes if traffic doesn’t recover if and when we get back to normal toward the end of next year. What’s the point of a wine blog where no one wants to read about wine?

The top 10 posts of 2020:

1. The four-year-old “Barefoot wine: Why it’s so popular.” This was the top post in 2019, as well, and was No. 7 in 2018. But it didn’t make the top 10 in 2016 or 2017, which makes no sense given how the Internet is supposed to work.

2. The Kim Crawford wine ad critique, which moved up from fifth in 2019. There are 38  comments, most very harsh about the ad; that’s not only a lot of comments for the blog, but that so many people agreed with me is also unusual.

3. The 10-year-old Barefoot wines (again) post was third for the second year in a row. How does a post that old get so much traffic? Ask our overlords at Google.

4. The residual sugar post was fourth, after being second for two consecutive years. This is something I am quite proud of, that wine drinkers can come here and get practical information to help them make intelligent decisions.

5. The Louisiana shrimp boil wine and food pairings post l call it my contribution to making the pandemic a little less difficult It’s also the first wine and food pairings post to make the top 10.

6. Ask the WC 1 — another pandemic-specific post, I think. It offers cheap cava suggestions, though why a seven-year-old post that was only partially about cheap cava is beyond me.

7. The 2020 $10 Hall of Fame. Long gone are the days when that year’s Hall of Fame was the most visited, and a couple of others would be in the 1op 10. Again, I have no idea why, and it’s more than a little sad.

8. Will the pandemic bring permanent changes to the three-tier system? This is self-explanatory — and  one of the few hopeful things to come out of this year.

9. A post about discount wine retailer Grocery Outlet. Which, hopefully, is coming soon to a town near you.

10. That damned Coravin post. I wonder if it’s because I actually discussed its value to wine drinkers, instead of fawning over it like most of the Winestream Media.

A few other thoughts:

• The $10 wine category was 34th for the second year in a year. Double sigh.

• The various five-day, $3 wine challenge posts dropped out of the top 10. The highest ranking one was 15th, and again, I have no idea what that means. One would think this would be a very popular pandemic-related post.

• My undercover, illegal interstate wine shipping post was 16th, which isn’t bad since it didn’t post until the end of July.

More about the blog’s top posts:
2019 top posts
2018 top posts
2017 top posts

Wine Curmudgeon blog ranked 29th among Internet wine sites

Internet wine sites
The WC is No. 29 — suck on that, premiumization.

British retailer’s top 101 Internet wine sites list says WC can really pound that keyboard

The Wine Curmudgeon blog is ranked 29th among wine sites on the Internet, according to a survey by a British wine retailer. Yes, I know there are many ways to interpret that, and most aren’t printable here.

But given all that has happened to the blog over the past 18 months, including declining visitor counts, less love than ever from our overlords at Google, and the increasing difficulty in finding cheap wine worth drinking, it’s worth mentioning that our cause is still making an impression in the cyber-ether.

Hence, the details about Corking Wines’ Top 101 Wine Writers of 2020. There I am, at No. 29, between Great British Wine and The Wine Stalker, and just two spots behind the Indian Sommelier. But I’m also two spots ahead of The Wine Ninjas, so that’s something.

Jonathan Doubtfire, a marketing executive for Corking Wines, an on-line wine retailer in York, emailed that the rankings are based on “a number of factors. … We started off using a tool that estimates traffic, readership levels, etc. Then the wider team got involved and we reviewed each site on the shortlist, in order to establish the final order on there.”

Using site numbers is typical for these kinds of lists, which usually include various social media metrics (and yes, one has to use the word “metrics” when one writes a sentence like that). Given that I haven’t used social media in almost a decade, I suppose my performance is that much more impressive. And the selectors liked one of my wine tariff posts, which is surprising since it’s not traditional wine writing, but consumer journalism. Which, of course, is about as anti-wine writing as possible.

The sites on the list are most of the usual suspects, though it’s more international than this list (where I am merely No. 44). Also shocking: No Wine Spectator or VinePair, which are usually among the top handful of sites on most lists. But Jancis Robinson (No. 4) and Wine Folly (No. 1) are ranked here, and those are more or less the same kinds of sites as the Spectator and VinePair.

Does this ranking mean anything? Hopefully. Maybe it means there is still an audience for quality cheap wine, despite all of the indications otherwise. Because there are days when I have my doubts.

But if I did this for awards or rankings, I would have quit long ago. I do this because I love wine and want others to know they can enjoy it without deep pockets or wine foolishness. It’s about professionalism and writing for the people who come to the site, and not to impress anyone in the wine business with how smart or wonderful I am. Because how will that help anyone learn to love wine?