the blog slog

Friday, April 30, 2010

I first put up a website and wine blog three years ago, and followed it with revisions, updates, makeovers and complete do-overs (after hitting the “oops” button on the computer and irretrievably deleting the whole thing). But this current version, blessedly stable and user-friendly, has only been running since the beginning of the year. I made a commitment to myself to update it daily for a year, then see what gives. It’s a steep learning curve.

I’m still in the dark when it comes to gathering statistics on who is visiting this site. That chore is slowly but surely moving up the to-do list. But I know that even the verifiably popular wine blogs don’t attract a whole lot of traffic. And much of what comes is from other bloggers. Just check the comments on Heimoff or 1WineDude or Fermentations and you’ll see what I mean. So it seems that with wine blogs there is a large component of preaching to the choir – noisy and disorganized though that choir may sometimes be.

Despite the lack of a financial reward for all the effort that goes into daily blogging, it’s highly competitive. Those reader eyeballs are being tugged at mercilessly. I am lucky enough to spend much of my day working on the computer, flitting back and forth from Word docs to websites, Faceboat to Tweeter, blogs to comics, e-mail to IMs. It’s relentless, yet captivating. I can be sitting alone (well, with a cat) in my cottage in Waitsburg, Washington – population 1212 – and feel totally connected to the world, at least the world of wine, which I thoroughly enjoy. But I cannot begin to keep up with the deluge of wine blogs and wine-related websites, much less the print publications. So where is all of this going?

Tell you what, I don’t have a clue. I’ve never worked harder at writing, and been more in the dark. Compensation? Vanishing. Workload? Expanding. Competition? Relentless. I jokingly told someone the other day that for many years now I’ve been a wine writer masquerading as a musician, but I’m going to switch over and be a musician masquerading as a wine writer. Playing music has never generated any financial return, but it’s a ton of fun. Blogging? Equally unremunerative. Not quite as much fun.

Still fun though, because I’m still in the learning process. But coming up with a blog five days a week, week after week, in addition to the weekly and monthly newspaper and magazine columns, the hundreds and hundreds of wine reviews, the book writing… I am not sure it’s sustainable. I’d say the jury is out, and not just for me. Fellow bloggers, please chime in. What’s the reward? What’s the QPR on blogging for you? What’s the long term prognosis? How long will you – each of you – be able to keep on doing it? What – if anything – will replace it as far as wine writing is concerned?

20 comments:

n. davis rosback said...

your post a comment a box is way too far down on the page. i think some people might miss it.

do you want some more of what i think?
yes? okay!
here it is...

•once-a-week blog posting.
•comment on other wine blogs.
•play lots of music!
•write some poetry...
(which will probably turn into songs, knowing you).
•have some pie.


n.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Paul,

I've taken two hiatuses from my ridiculous blog because I was burned out, but returned, much to everyone's disgust, because I missed the community and because it's a fun and rewarding way to express ones self. There will NEVER be any money in blogging, and the best blogs attract an audience equivalent to attendance at an Oakland A's game in September--but imagine 60% of that attendance being other baseball players. The wine blog world is basically a lot of poodles barking at each other.

The other frustrating thing is not knowing who is actually reading your work. This might be the same as magazine work, but, somehow, on a blog, with its instant feedback and sense of urgency, it's disconcerting. I've often been recognized now as the Hosemaster in the real world by people I had no idea even knew I was alive. And I've received lots of personal emails from wineries and people offended by my jokes, but they don't comment on the blog, they just send me gripes. I almost never respond. It is just plain weird to work so hard and have no idea who is in your audience.

During my last hiatus, one from which I didn't think I'd return, I finally found a place where I'm comfortable with my blog. I don't try to keep up a certain pace. How you do five posts a week with your schedule astounds me--especially given the quality of your posts. I don't check my stats incessantly. Does it really matter if I average 20 readers a day or 200? Only to advertisers, and I don't want to accept advertising. And I don't fish for comments, and I delete commenters who are obviously fishing for hits on my blog. Finally, I only sit down to post when I'm inspired. I do NOT sit in front of a blank screen and wait for inspiration, and I don't post something just to have posted something. I need to have something to say and a way to say it satirically. I'm just more comfortable with my blog than before, accepting that it will lead nowhere and doesn't need to lead anywhere, walking completely away from it for days and not thinking about it, and, also, never never reading all the stupid, mindless, talentless wine blogs out there. That's the most depressing thing of all. To have to think of yourself in their company.

Every blogger has these thoughts you're having, I think. The great joy in blogging is the amazing people you meet that you never would have without your blog. The other joy is that you can walk away any time you like because it is a prison to which you hold the key.

Thad W. said...

After blogging for 3 years at BeyondtheBottle.com, I too have asked myself similar questions about this medium. In fact, the time and effort required keeping up with it all is very hard to sustain, as evidenced by the trail off in my posts of late. Inevitably, it's natural to ask oneself, "what is all this for?"

Last year, I spent far too much time online at the expense of meeting people and visiting places connected with wine offline. I was regularly reading other blog posts and articles online, while not keeping up with more substantive learnings via books and other offline activities.

As a result, I am purposely pulling away from this online medium, following fewer folks, reading fewer blogs, and writing fewer posts. By investing more time offline, I am finding my enjoyment of wine has increased while my knowledge of wine has expanded.

I agree with your assertion that wine blogging is a bit of an echo chamber. I started blogging in hopes of connecting to real consumers; however, it seems most of my blog's traffic is trade-related. I have yet to see empirical evidence that wine blogging attracts a large consumer audience. And I have yet to see evidence that this medium is comprised of real consumers blogging about wine (if you're a consumer aggressively soliciting samples and regularly publishing press releases, your a trade blog, plain and simple).

One last point to be made on this topic. While I have turned away from spending so much time online, when I do log in to this blogosphere it is to watch the spectacle that has become wine blogging. When the measure of success becomes how many followers or "friends" you generate or your site's ranking relative to other blogs, then things have gone astray. As a result, this medium becomes less about wine and more about competitive human behavior.

PaulG said...

Thad, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Hosemaster - your efforts are truly unique and tremendously entertaining to those of us with a warped sense of humor. I still think you should look into doing a book. Nance - as I wrote, I'm re-tooling myself into a musician masquerading as a wine writer. Writing songs is my metier, not poetry. But I do appreciate the compliment, and look forward to the pie!

abc said...

Paul
That book suggestion for Ron is dangerous given the publishing folks that hang out around here. I think the practice of sitting down to write a blog post daily is good and perhaps necessary for people who are not writers by trade. But for someone like you, maybe not as much, though I do not want to discourage you at all.
-Amy

PaulG said...

Amy - not sure why you think the book idea is dangerous? Or were you kidding? I think Ron really has a unique talent. As for me and my blog, it definitely is a workout, and not necessarily one that I need, but still it's been good for me so far. As I said, I have no clue what's next.

Nancy said...

Paul,
I started contributing to a friend's wine and beer blog in November. The best part? It's a great outlet for my wine talk without boring all my friends!

As a student at Northwest Wine Academy, it also creates opportunities for me to explore, experiment, and document my new adventures and discoveries in the wine world. This is what makes it fun for me. Even in a month like March when there were back to back events to attend and review. Granted, I'm not pressuring myself to post 5 days a week! Particularly since there is not money involved. We'll see if I feel the same way in a year. For now, I enjoy it simply for what it is. A learning experience, and an experiment. That's my reward.

Dennis S. said...

Paul: what the Hosemaster said; and you hit the nail on the head with "preaching to the choir." As evidenced by who posts on wine blogs: it's other wine bloggers or wine geeks, not the general wine consumer.

abc said...

Paul
Ron knows that I would be delighted to work on a book with him. But, I do not acquire.

-Amy

Chris said...

Paul,

As a wine newb and wine blogging newb I can add that I enjoy the fact that you blog as much as your blog content. As an established pro, you have no incintive to do so, but you still share your knowledge and remain part of the wine fanatic on-line community by doing so. Thank you for that.

I can't help but contrast that with what I learned about another prominent wine pro who just this week shut down his internet forum message board to anyone not willing to pay.

Somebody has moved the cheese in the world of wine writing and reviewing and those that adapt will survive and flourish, in my opinion. Those who don't will turn to vinegar.

In the short run, it may not matter much and the established press will live for another half generation but the gen x'ers and millenials sure ain't gonna pay to chit-chat on the internet when it's a free market.

Mark said...

Paul,

I am a faithful reader. That I haven't commented is testament to my general agreement with your entries here. As a former sports scribe for a Washington daily, I most appreciate your care with language. I admire your daily discipline. I think meeting at least the year's commitment will be a reward in itself. As a part-time professional in the wine world, I have learned a great deal from you. As a longtime cheapskate, I'd really miss finding you here in the free part of a cyberspace.

Mark

Adam K said...

Paul,

I think that what are doing is somewhat heroic. No doubt your influence is great in the NW wine world (and beyond). Perhaps you do not see an immediate pay-off for your labor. But in general I think that your work on this blog has served to better an entire industry. The more we find and promote great wine, the better our entire universe gets. Your voice is large and influential in our region. Perhaps it's not easy to see, but you are raising the bar by casting light on both the good and the bad. These are tough things to measure, but look at the number of wineries in WA state (perhaps even the U.S.) producing delightful wines of ever increasing quality and character! Certainly you must know that your work has directly contributed to this growth? Rest, relax, do what you must for the future, but have no doubt that as far as the past goes, your well-informed, thoughtful and instructive blog has been nothing but a boon for me and for WA wine. I shudder at the thought of losing your blog in the sea of other misinformed, amateur-type blogs...but I am thankful for what you have done so far.

Adam K said...

I think that part of the problem with wine blogs has to do with authority/credentials or rather, the lack thereof. I don't know how many times I read a blog and the information is just flatly incorrect or just grossly uninformed. I mean, my brother spoke to me of one the other day where a top producer's label was confused to be a vineyard. Most of what I typically witness is someone who has recently discovered wine and has spare time to blog. They are learning and should be encouraged to do so more and more. But do they really need to be writing to others about wine just yet? I don't know if some of these bloggers realize how influential they can be...but that is another conversation. I guess what I am saying is that those eyes who would benefit from spying your blog are instead reading a watered-down or even ignorant blog. Now, don't get me wrong, in many ways I am a mere beginner when it comes to the wide-world of wine...but then I am not writing blogs. In the beginning of 'Death in the Afternoon' Hemingway makes an interesting point about those who truly have a passion for a thing. Yet somehow the majority of wine blogs, and perhaps bloggers in general, defy his observations of a true connoisseur. Is there a way to require/encourage credentials? Maybe, since you have done so much to promote wonderful wines and wineries, they could find a way to promote you and your blog in return?

1WineDude said...

Funny, I"m also kind of a musician and maybe kind of a wine writer (if having the blog counts).

Why couldn't I have fallen in love with hedge funds instead?

:-)

PaulG said...

Thank you all for your generous praise. Slog on!

Josh Wade said...

Paul,

I'm a newer wine blogger and yours was one of the first recommended to me. Aside from writing about wine, I am a learner and I am a consumer. I read most of your posts and I usually learn something and almost always make mental notes about the wines you talk about. A blogs influence CAN be pretty far reaching, it is just not always realized by the author.

As far as post frequency, stats, competition, and the mention of poodles...I feel you should only do something if you LOVE it. I'm a musician and play guitar in church just about every Sunday. That requires Tuesday rehersals and being at pre-service practice at 7:45am. It could also get tiresome, but I LOVE it.

As far as monetization and Ron's comment about "there will NEVER be any money in blogging," I have to disagree. It depends on how you approach it. Can you live on google ad clicks as a wine blogger, certainly not - but - in my short time, I have made a little extra side money for speaking engagements, ads, event sponsorships, etc. I also have three business deals that could either break my nest egg or add to it substatially. None of them would have been possible without the community interactions on Twitter and Facebook.

Regarding consumers...they DO read your blog. I know because I'll be out somewhere and people will reference you. I know because on my Facebook page there are over 200 comments each week and rarely are any of them from a blogger.

Keep up the good work, do what you love and love what you do!

Josh

1WineDude said...

Paul - you might want to make it easier for your readers and fans to comment. Case in point: leaving this comment required me to take the following steps:
1) Write comment
2) Select profile
3) Log-in
4) Press post comment button
5) type captcha
6) press post button

And *then* the comment has to also be approved...

PaulG said...

Dude, I do apologize for the process seeming to be so complex. Not sure how to make it simpler, quite honestly. I have to moderate comments because of one particular meathead who kept posting obnoxious drivel (and now must resort to sophomoric posts about me on his own blog). I think that Heimoff's process is about the same, as are most blogs, no?

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul,

Indeed, blogging can at times be a slog. I always say to people, "If blogging is a marathon, please tell me that this is Heartbreak Hill!"

Some of the things that make it difficult you and other bloggers who have commented have mentioned - lack of remuneration (I am fond of telling people that I can tell them in exact dollars and cents how much money I have made from the blog) and the difficulty in assessing the overall impact.

While it seems that most of the readers of wine bloggers are other wine bloggers, I don't think this is the case. Rather, it seems that wine bloggers are much more likely to comment on blogs than others. Not sure why this is the case. It seems that - even with the ability to comment anonymously - people are still somewhat intimidated. Some clearly are not.

Still, I would agree with Josh at DrinkNectar that the overall impact is very difficult to assess. I think of two stories in particular. I don't think that they are by any means representative but they are telling.

I was at a winery release party when I was approached by a gentleman I had never met before. After introducing himself, he said that my blog was the reason he had moved from the east coast to Washington State and had started working as an assistant winemaker at a winery. I had never heard from him before or since. To say that I was speechless would be an understatement. Another woman e-mailed me a while back saying that she had bought 12 cases (!) of a wine that I had given high marks to and wanted to say how much she had enjoyed it. I had to read the email several times to make sure it wasn't a typo.

My point with both stories is how what you do can have such a profound impact but often you have no idea. Both stories left me deeply, deeply humbled, a bit frightened, and...inspired. At the end of the day after writing a post, I always feel a certain exhilaration about being in Washington and writing about it at this point in time. It makes up for the times when I feel otherwise.

While a fairly thankless task, please know that I find your blog both necessary and profoundly inspirational. I have learned so much from it about so many different things. Your efforts are more than appreciated.

PaulG said...

Sean, I like the Heartbreak Hill analogy. And it is certainly gratifying to hear that your work has had a profound (and hopefully positive) impact on someone's life. I very much appreciate your efforts and have certainly learned a great deal from following your posts.

1WineDude you will be pleased to know I've made the comment process a bit easier. We'll see how it goes. Thanks for the input!

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