Wine Spectator’s Killer App

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.


The AaronCohens Film

10 years ago, I conceived of a comedic documentary concept rooted in my name.  This fall the concept has turned real and work has begun on a film called The AaronCohens.  The project gathers all the people named Aaron Cohen from around the world to meet each other and share stories about being AaronCohen I’ve started a blog for the film at We are building a community there.  I’ve now become Facebook friends with 50 Aaron Cohens from around the country and world.  If you know anybody named Aaron Cohen and want to introduce them to me I would appreciate it.

The AaronCohens is an exploration in identity.   Obviously making a film is challenging, but social media, user-generated content, and the amazing breakthroughs in video and broadband technologies will make it significantly easier than it was a decade ago. I look forward to sharing more about this project in the weeks, months, and potentially (but hopefully not) years to come.

As the Magazine Industry Dies

Maxim sounds like it’s close to edge.  Last week, I read  this post on Paid Content and must admit I’m not surprised except that it appears Quadrangle was taken for a ride and that Steve Rattner has lost his touch.   Meanwhile, I stumbled upon (no pun intended) the new Wired Magazine retail store on 18th between 5th and 6th in NYC Sunday.  I had fallen off the diet wagon and was sipping some City Bakery Hot Chocolate when I wandered into a massive showroom for Wired Magazine advertisers.  But seriously ask yourself, “Will anybody really buy a flatscreen tv here”  How about MBT sneakers or a Nikon D90 camera?

My guess is the store will not do enough revenue to cover rent never mind labor, but hey the CondeNast advertising team will claim that thousands of prospective buyers interacted with the Lincoln MK something that was parked in the back.  Conde’s sales people will claim that they have created an interactive brand experience. And they did.  But will it justify continued multi-million dollar commitments from the falling-into-the-abyss General Motors?

Non-magazine folks might ask, “Why can’t Wired just publish online, cut costs, and raise their profitablity?”  Here’s the answer:   CondeNast (great editorial company that it is) refuse to commit themselves to reinventing the magazine industry.  I write this as a major, major magazine fan.  The New Yorker is, without question, my favorite media brand in the world.  I recently had the gall to bother David Remnick at a restaurant just to tell him how much I admired him and valued his magazine.  The only other celebrity I’ve ever interrupted was Joe Montana — and, let’s face it, he’s Joe Montanta.

But I’m 41 not 25 and magazines are dead.  With all that CondeNast has going for it the best they can do is to acquire Reddit and shutter and their 12k uniques/month some $10-30mm dollars later.

We know newspaper and print industries are falling off the proverbial cliff.  I know that Conde Nast is to big to radically reinvent completley.  But why not take the Wired brand and experiment?  Is there anything to lose?

Obama’s Internet Use Will Change World

One need look no further than changedotgov to understand how Obama and future presidents will use the Internet to communicate in a completely unfiltered way with citizens and the world’s population.  Obama uploaded his weekly radio address earlier today.  Already a 155,000 people on YouTube  have seen it on by Saturday at 5PM EST.   Remeber all of this behavior is “ondemand.”  People opting in to watch.

Meanwhile Obama is using his campaign infrastructure to continue to send his constituents his messages including today’s address.

In today’s speech, Obama says he’s going to pass progressive legislation to invest in alternative energy and national infrastructure.  The Washington lobbying machine will gear up to drive those dollars to individual states and to ensure that traditional speical interests (Oil, Auto, Teachers Union)  maintain their traditional hegemony.

Obama and his administration have a chance to seriously dampen special interest power by mobilizing his army of volunteers and millions of Americans to send emails, call congressmen and even to raise money to combat certain special interests.  The question is will Americans cotinue to engage beyond the election?  Will they stay motivated to fight for what they believe in, even when a presidential race is not on the line?

Obama’s domestic Agenda

Today’s radio address begins the beginning of a progressive political era in Washington.  Obama has said that he will create a sustained economic stimulus plan focused on improving the country’s infrastructure and investing in the still amorphous alternative energy economy.

The Republicans held the line this week with the automotive industry and with Waxman replacing Dingell on the House’s energy committee, the cards are lining up to focus all governmental intervention in Detroit on huge fuel efficiency improvements.  Fortunately, for Obama, who really wants to invest in environmental and educational change, he will face little resistance to spending initiatives this spring.  The country’s political leadership is scared not to spend money during this recession.  As we have written before, some people fear we really are heading into a depression and think the economy will fall off a cliff in 2009.

Obama now has a chance to use the disastrous economic climate to invest in a progressive agenda on his three key issues: Energy, Education, and healthcare.  On energy, expect to see tax incentives and investments made in what is likely to be the fastest growing sector in America:  Alternative energy.  People will get rewarded for making their homes more energy efficient, producing wind power, recycling, and my longshot, riding bicycles in lieu of cars.

Obama has a chance to radically address education.  We do not know who Obama’s choice for Education will be, but I’m hopeful he will make his most radical appointment here.  Today’s NYT says that Obama will govern from the center-right with appointments like Clinton, Daschle, and Geithner.  We have to govern from the radical progressive on education.  We have to try anything and everything.  We have to be provocative.  The Atlantic ran a well-researched story about Washington D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee this month.  That’s the kind of innovation we need now.

Finally, what can Obama do in healthcare that doesn’t cost a fortune and will not face resistance from the HMO, Pharma, and AMA lobbies?  This is the toughest and most concerning of the issues because so many people have no insurance and the cost of healthcare has risen so much faster on a percentage basis than anything other than higher education.  I’m most worried about this issue, but I think the appointment of Daschle shows it’s going to be more reform rather than revolution and I’m ok with that.  If we can get radical change on energy and education I could live with reform in healthcare — at least this term.

Coolest Company in the World

This week, Better Place cut a $1bn dollar deal to bring electric car charging stations to the San Francisco area.  Better Place is without question, the most ambitious startup to ever come out of Israel and perhaps the company that has the best chance of restructuring the automobile industry in the next 5 years.

The Better Place Station

The Better Place Station

Better Place will replace fossil fuel burning cars with electricity consuming cars using a series of battery swapping stations around a given metropolitan area.  Nissan is the first company to build the cars.  Israel became the first country to commit to building the infrastructure and now Denmark and San Francisco are joining them.

Remember when everybody (Jobs/Bezos etc) hyped the Segue has an urban lifestyle changing device?   Well I’m hyping Better Place. To be sure, creating electricity can create CO2 emissions when we use coal, but there are many sustainable and renewable ways to create electricity. Denmark, for example, gets 20% of their electricity from wind.

There will be much more to say about Better Place going forward.  I am following the company closely.  But I wanted to introduce you for two reasons:

First, the wheels are really coming off the economy.  Everybody is terrified.  Shai Agassi gave us hope this week  announcing  that he will raise $1bn (in equity!) to change the Bay Area and help us out of global energy and environmental crises.  Second, to me Better Place symbolizes the rise of Israel as a first world economic power.  I don’t care how small the population is.  I don’t care about the geographic location.  The cooperation between universities, the military and the government coupled with a relentless entrepreneurial spirit among Israelis makes it the most undervalued population in the world.

Better Place is headquartered in Silicon Valley, but make no mistake, it’s an Israeli multinational company.

Will the Iphone still Suck?

Today Apple releases a new version of firmware for the Iphone.  I wrote my first post about the Iphone several weeks ago.  I have been plagued my dropped calls, the absence of connectivity, crashes when the phone switches from 3G to E to Wireless.  In the past month, nothing has changed, though overall the experience has gotten better from July to now.

On a day when Verizon Wireless releases the Blackberry Storm, Apple really needs to step up and make this a business-ready device.  Better battery life, better call quality, zero dropped calls and a more useful typing dictionary would go a long way.  Otherwise, I have to go back to Verizon Wireless which is clearly superior as a network and Blackberry which has the edge on business use.