The state of wine writing in 2017
Much has changed since I reviewed the state of wine writing last year, yet while the pack has been shuffled, the game stays largely the same. So let's have a look at how things stand at the end of 2017.
Print: no news is Good news?
As far as I know, nobody has lost a newspaper column this year, which must count as a success of sorts. The main national columnists remain intact, and judging by the chart below, there aren't going to be many personnel changes soon.
Duration of UK wine writers' newspaper columns
However, at Decanter magazine there have been some significant changes. Time Inc. (the owner of IPC Media who publish Decanter) were bought by the Meredith Corporation in November. It is not yet clear how that might affect the fate of Decanter, which remains profitable thanks to the Decanter World Wine Awards, yet must be struggling with the challenges of nosediving advertising revenue in the magazine itself.
Furthermore, one of the brand's most important forces left the magazine earlier this year. Rumours abounded that publisher Sarah Kemp was given little option but to quit when management imposed a new direction that she disagreed with.
There are signs of positivity too, however: last week, regular contributor Matt Walls announced he had been given a contributing editor's role. Congratulations to him!
Despite the fact that dozens of wine books continue to be published each year, those that make a profit must be few and far between. For many wine writers, their purpose is to raise profile and credibility, and in many cases purely to satisfy a creative urge. The days of a wine writer being paid £1m over four years in the mid-1980s by their publisher are long gone, I'm extremely sad to say. But that's what Hugh Johnson got from Mitchell Beazley, according to the man himself in The Sunday Times last week.
The main gossip from the online world of wine writing concerns RobertParker.com. In July, the Michelin Guide purchased 40% of the company. Since Parker began relinquishing control of his publication five years ago, there have been rumours of unrest among the editorial team, and two big names departed the publication this year: Jeb Dunnuck and Neal Martin.
Both were key members of the editorial team, and while to lose one might be regarded as a misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness, to misquote Oscar Wilde. They have recruited William Kelley in replacement.
Elsewhere on the wine writing web, Decanter put up a paywall for their premium content, which must surely be related to the changes mentioned above. For all our sakes, it is essential for it to succeed, although these comments are not exactly the most favourable. Tune in this time next year to find out.
What does 2018 hold?
Despite the shifting sands at Decanter and RobertParker.com, it seems unlikely that anything very sudden and dramatic will befall such established businesses, although there is a rumour going around that Sarah Kemp might try to buy Decanter off its new owners and set it up as an independent magazine. My hope is that any changes are ultimately for the best.
The number of wine writing subscription sites seems to have reached saturation point, so I would be surprised if any new ones were established; whereas Antonio Galloni's Vinous may well continue its spending spree to consolidate its position as a challenger to the RobertParker.com empire. The joke goes that his next big recruitment will be Bob himself.
But one thing's for sure: nobody's going to be getting paid £250k a year for writing wine books.