14 years ago when I was first dating Nina (my wife) she introduced me to wine. So began three love affairs with Nina, wine, and a new career working in the “new media” industry.
Cut to 2008 when Wine Spectator takes (I’m guessing) $100k of their precious marketing budget to announce something truly interesting and long overdue. On the backpage of the A section of Today’s NY TImes you will see their big color ad announcing a mobile application for Blackberries and Iphones that contains the entire Wine Specator databse of ratings and tasting notes. It’s free if you become a digital subscriber to WineSpecator. That will cost you $75 bucks or $50 if you are already subscriber.
Of course there is some irony in using the print version of the NYT to acquire customers. No accountability, no measurement, no ability to know if the $100k is working. I care so much about the NYT’s ability to survive that I’m starting to have anxiety attacks that it won’t be at my door each morning. Despite my anxiety, even I think Wine Spectator should find a more measurable way to sell subscriptions. The NYT would argue that this blog post is proof positive that they run a marketing platform that engenders buzz and conversations, but I bet I’m practically the only person that will blog about this ad today. In any event, this is less about the Times than it is about America’s preeminent wine mag.
Wine Spectator’s ratings play a vital role in the wine world. This is a company that tastes thousands of wines each year and rates them for us so that we don’t have to. This is very useful data for the whole wine eco-system of vintners, distributors, retailers, restaurantuers and consumers. We need the data and tasting notes as part of wine purchasing process. Most people sit down at restaurants with very little knowledge of wine or the wine list. Even serious wine drinkers would struggle at many restaurants because it’s so hard to really know the entire landscape of wine drinking. The industry’s geographies and vineyards have exploded. Even since I started drinking wine 15 years ago, countries such as Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Greece, and states like Washington and Oregon have risen to huge prominence. How can anybody keep up?
So now you can sit down at restaurant whip out your Iphone (if it works) or blackberry and find out from the hallowed Wine Spectator about a wine’s price, rating and other details right from your table — if you spend the $75 bucks. I want this to work, but I’m probably not spending the cash. It’s just not worth it. I can ask the sommelier for free. If I do buy it, it will be to “support WS” the way I support NPR.
I worry as I do most times that I pick up a magazine that a print publicaton has the wrong approach at the wrong time for most magazines in the world. HuffingtonPost and Politico (two crossover demographics) have US 9mm unique users and 4 mm respectively. Politico has been around for maybe a year or two, HuffPost for 3 or 4. Wine Spectator has 52k. Sure it’s an election year. But last night alone at least 52k people tried to figure out what wine to drink at restaurant. It’s probably more like 520k. You think Wine Spectator it is hurting their SEO opportunities having all that data sit behind a pay wall.
I applaud WS for finally bringing this to market about 8 years after we needed it. I hope they succeed because I want WS to make it and I want consumers to pay for more content. Still, I sense another once vibrant publication like WS will continue to buy expensive ads in another decaying institution like the NYT because they refuse to change faster than they must. Good people have thought through the Wine Spectator strategy. Let’s hope they made the right decision.