Is Wine Writing in Decline?

wine writingThe dismal future of the wine writing business has been a staple of conversation ever since newspaper and magazine advertising cratered over a decade ago.

Joe Roberts posted the latest in the genre last week on his blog 1 Wine Dude.

What I mean is that the future of the wine writing profession is f*cking bleak. As in, step-over-the-dead-bodies-of-your-former-comrades bleak.

Citing statistics from Tom Wark’s survey of wine writers, the prospects of earning a living writing about wine are indeed bleak:

-No more than just over a quarter of wine writers earn 50% of their income from wine writing.

-Most writing about wine earn very little income doing so…..

-Two-thirds of those who primarily write for their own blog or publication earn 10% or less of their annual income from wine writing….

There are more people wanting to write and communicate about wine, with fewer outlets outside of personal blogs and social media, and even fewer that are willing (or able) to pay anything even close to resembling a living wage for it.

Joe is absolutely right. There is little opportunity to make money writing about wine regardless of talent or motivation, and that is unlikely to change.

But I want to resist Joe’s assumption that wine writing is equivalent to professional wine writing. The fact is there are a lot of talented, dedicated people writing about wine despite the lack of remuneration. Some of that writing is well informed and of high quality. Wine writing is one of those activities, like acting, painting, or writing novels, that people want to do for its intrinsic value, not because of an external reward.

The vast majority of writers of fiction and non-fiction make little money from their writing. A 2015 study by the University of London found that only 10% of authors earn a living from writing alone. A similar percentage earn a living from art.

So wine writers are no worse off than anyone else who chooses writing or other creative endeavors as a career.

We have a disturbing tendency in the U.S. of thinking that the only people who are competent and motivated to do X are people who are paid to do X.  Writing and the arts are perhaps the best example of an activity where this assumption doesn’t hold.

In fact, throughout most of human history amateurs have been central to culture. After all, the root of the word “amateur” comes from the Latin amare, meaning to love. We have the Ancient Greeks to thank for the skilled amateurism of the Olympic games and skilled amateurism was central to the Renaissance ideal.

Its long past time we give up the idea that doing something purely for love is somehow second rate.

It’s worth noting that Tom Wark in his survey of writers had a more hopeful view of wine writing’s future.

If wine continues to grow in popularity, if the now fully adult Millennial generation is as committed to the beverage as they seem, and barring any economic catastrophes, I’m confident that the wine writing project will continue full speed ahead. More new voices are coming. More new publishing exercises meant to meet the needs of new generations will arrive. Even new ways of understanding and communicating about wine are likely to appear.

I think Tom is right about this, not because some magical model of paid journalism will reappear—it won’t—but because people will continue to find wine is an object of love worth writing about.


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