Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wine Spectator: A Particular Bouquet

I’ll start with a public thank-you to Marvin R. Shanken, Editor and Publisher of Wine Spectator for sending me copies of the January/February and March 2013 issues of this over-sized and luscious magazine.  I knew Mr. Shanken through my work at MPA, the magazine association, but I am nonetheless flattered he would have read my mind and sent me absolutely free-of-charge this gorgeous title, at least until August 31, 2013, because that’s what the mailing label indicates.  But I will play my part and, prompted by an article in the Jan-Feb. issue on the New York Finger Lakes, I promise to drive to the region and fill my SUV with crates of Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, not because I particularly like these wines, but as a reader I feel a certain responsibility to the advertisers who pick up most of the costs of producing such a fine magazine and are likely paying for me to thumb through Wine Spectator between keystrokes.

The mailing label also tells me this welcome and useful gift is courtesy of my business with This is standard magazine circulation practice called “controlled circulation.”  That is, magazines are sent to a “controlled” group of people who have expressed a deep interest in a subject.  For example, I sent scuba diving magazines to registered divers, bicycling magazines to those who cycling more than 5,000 miles a year, and running magazines to those who participate in more than a dozen organized running events annually.  And this is very good business because such readers are often more valuable to a publisher and advertiser than those who purchase a discounted subscription, get it as a gift, or from an online magazine agent.  It is not unusual for publishers to raise a toast to this important readership.  We are money in the bank and when spoken about in business meetings we are saluted when the executives talk about the “lifetime value of the customer.”  That’s us.

In its heft, size and capacity there is something very comforting about Wine Spectator.  Sorry, I am now talking about the business model and not the wine.  I have no specific knowledge of this title’s P/L, but I must make note of its high and consistent pricing strategies across print, digital and back issues.  Other magazine would kill for a metric that says a lot about reader engagement and where she might reside in terms of purchase intent, another phrase beloved by the audience development folk. 

I do recall in those early, heady days of digital disruption that this magazine was not eager to jump feet-first aboard the digital bandwagon and romance every e-reader that came down the pike or lust after a presence on every platform.  Good move.  

Over the years, various media wags have suggested that the print magazine business in time will bifurcate with the high-touch, high-end glossies such as Wine Spectator and Vogue at one end and highly-focused special interest magazines, such as Snail Watching and Attic Vases at the other end.  These categories will survive and prosper.   Those left in the middle, such as a Newsweek will be sold for a buck and go digital only.  The publishing spectrum has become more complicated than that, but Wine Spectator is assured a place at the head-of-the-table.

The magazine is aging well.     

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