Single voice v multi-voice: what next for online wine criticism?
Last month, it was announced that Jeb Dunnuck was leaving the Wine Advocate to start his own subscription-based wine review website (see this San Francisco Chronicle article). Since 2013, he had written for the Advocate as part of a team of writers under the leadership of its founder Robert Parker.
The Chronicle article quotes Dunnuck as saying:
As someone who writes as part of a brand-driven, team-based approach (on JancisRobinson.com), this is obviously of interest to me - indeed, it should be of interest to anyone writing about wine professionally. In the internet's short life so far, it's certainly true that many wine writing websites have evolved from single-voice blogs in the earliest days into fully-fledged publishing platforms today.
This is certainly the case for the Wine Advocate, which is now no longer under primary editorial control of Robert Parker, and which also has significant interest from outside investors - according to Parker himself:
This brings up a key question: what is the future for wine writing websites, and what is the revenue model? Jeb Dunnuck's pre-Advocate website apparently had 1,000 subscribers, and his new site will charge $100 a year. Putting it that way, it sounds easy to generate sales of $100k.
However, the subscription price is the same as RobertParker.com, and only slightly less than JancisRobinson.com (approx $110) and Antonio Galloni's Vinous ($120). It seems unlikely that even the most devoted wine lover would subscribe to more than one site, and certainly no more than two. Furthermore, there are very few wine writers who have sufficient reputation and following to attract enough subscribers to generate good profit - and if they all went solo, there might not be enough subscribers to go round anyway.
The same applies to wine tasting events, which writers and websites are increasingly reliant upon to generate income. As they proliferate, it becomes harder to sell tickets (a similar thing has been happening to music festivals).
Furthermore, there's a question of value: multi-voice sites inevitably offer a much greater volume of content, and different perspectives from different writers. This is not to criticise Jeb Dunnuck's move, by any means. Internet wine writing is still only in its first generation, and there's no certainty about what might happen next - or how it will be paid for.