In a recent blog post, The Wine Bible author Karen MacNeil asked whether we are witnessing the end of wine writing. “Wine writing as a profession, a craft, even sometimes an art, is disappearing,” MacNeil writes. “And it’s not clear what, if anything, will replace it.”

MacNeil lists a number of factors contributing to wine writing’s demise. They include the popularity of alternatives to wine, the percentage of adults cutting back or abstaining from alcohol, the decline in outlets where wine writers can get paid, and other factors.

Most of the things MacNeil lists are unequivocally true. Are we in fact witnessing the end of wine writing?

Let me first say that many factors affecting wine writing have nothing to do with wine. The number of outlets available to writers – all writers – is diminishing. Newspapers are near the end of a mass extinction event. Magazines are close behind. Few will survive.

No one will be surprised why. Over the course of 25 or so years, eyeballs have steadily moved on-line. Advertisers have followed suit, drying up print dollars.

Shouldn’t on-line sites provide more opportunities for writers? Opportunities, perhaps. Paying ones, no.

Compensation has been going down for years. There are fewer places to write for and existing outlets are paying less.

These technology-driven changes are by no means writer-specific. Traditionally, much of the money musicians made came from album sales. Bands toured to promote albums and thus sales. Streaming services eliminated that revenue. Money is now in touring, a complete flip.

Some issues are, however, specific to wine. The industry sailed into a well-forecasted storm of a smaller demographic that is also less interested in wine. The industry blinked and failed to adjust.

Additionally, the model for on-line revenue is based in large part on the number of eyeballs. Wine is very niche, which means that number is always small. Worse, it’s getting smaller. As MacNeil notes, there are also people willing to write about wine for nothing, which no industry can sustain.

What comes next? We already know the answer.

For people interested in making a living writing about wine or writing in general, the lifeboat is personal, or perhaps group, subscription-based sites. Many writers have already moved to Substack or to personal sites, as I have.

Why? The outlets these people wrote for have either gone under, laid them off, or pay too little. This trend will accelerate as more media companies founder and more writers become frustrated with the lack of proper compensation.

Monetizing one’s own site is not easy. It’s also far from lucrative unless the topic is sufficiently broad. Writing for oneself does, however, offer the opportunity to substantially exceed freelance dollars. More importantly, freelance money is going away.

Will Substack and self-branded sites allow wine writing to survive in the long or even medium-term? Not necessarily.

First, it’s labor intensive to start and sustain a brand. Second, there is a risk of subscription saturation. Third, the model is far from recession-proof.

There are, however, few if any other viable alternatives. One is to draw a lesson from the music world: Establish an audience with writing and use that audience to generate revenue by other means.

That is not an easy path either. It’s also similar to people who write about wine as a side gig. For those who want to write full-time and make a living doing it, that feels like defeat.

The cold reality for broader media is that things are going to get considerably worse before they might get better. As a result, wine writing in particular will likely be greatly diminished from what it was before. In that regard, I share MacNeil’s sadness.

I do, however, believe that – whatever happens next – wine writing will continue on for one simple reason. Many of us write about wine in part because we are passionate about the subject. Many of us also write about wine because we have to.

Wine writing might be shrinking. Wine’s soulful properties that compel people to write about it remain unchanged.

Postscript: For people who have already subscribed to this site, I offer my sincerest thanks. You are the reason I am able to continue writing and that this site exists. I ask for your continued support. To those who have not yet subscribed, now is the time. Please subscribe so that this site may continue.

This article has been updated. 

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