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Wine bloggers: profile, motivation and influence

A survey of French wine bloggers

Guillaume Lempérière has recently published a study on French wine bloggers. It is part of his marketing research work at the Rouen Business School. Here are some of his findings (just a selection of some of the things I found most interesting).

The objective is to see how blogs is an alternative way for consumers to get informed and in what way bloggers have an impact of the market. “The bloggers’ independence give to the [wine] recommendations a certain credibility far from all commercial interest” he says in the introduction. Unfortunately that is not necessarily so. It is far from obvious that the bloggers are free from all commercial interests. Nor is it always clear that the opinions are independent. But the study is no less interesting for that.

The sample and the platform

Guillaume Lempérière contacted 160 bloggers with his survey and had 49 responses. That is probably a quite substantial part of all significant wine blogs in France today.

The blogging platform used is dominated by WordPress. After WordPress the technology choice is very francofrançais (unique French). Here’s the split:

  • WordPress 31%
  • Overblog 24%
  • Canalblog 20%
  • Blogspot (Google) 8%
  • Other (6 different tools) 16%

Surprisingly the blogs have on average been in existence for quite a long time, in blogging perspective: half of the blogs exist since more than three years.

Traffic

Traffic is a very nebulous subject. How many visitors does a blog have? Unless you are using the same statistics tool (Google Analytics, StatCounter, Clicky, WordPress stats, other platform specific tools…) it is very difficult to know if any comparison is relevant. The visitor statistics can be very different depending on what tool you use or on how well you understand the terminology. Guillaume Lempérière does not go into that discussion but simply lets the bloggers self-report the visitor numbers.

  • Half of the blogs surveyed has less than 2500 “unique visitors” (UV) per month
  • 25% have between 2500 and 10 000 UV per month
  • 25% have more than 10 000 UV per month
  • The median number of UV for a blog is 2500. (The number for the average is 8460 UV but that number is skewed by some blogs with exceptionally high numbers.)

As I mentioned, these numbers should probably be take with a substantial pinch of salt! Perhaps the most interesting conclusion is that probably none of the blogs have visitor numbers significant enough to have any real market impact or to be big enough to earn any significant income from advertising (if any is carried).

Publication frequency

  • 47% of blogs publish articles 1-4 times per month
  • 18%: 5-7 times per month
  • 35%: more than 7 times per week

A full third of the blogs publish well more than once a week. This probably reflects the trend to publish more and more articles, more often, on wine blogs. Today it is becoming more and more common to publish almost every day or every other day. Is that a good trend or does it reflect a parallel deteriorating quality and banalisation of the contents? You’re the judge.

Motivation

It seems that only around 20% of the bloggers are “professionals”. But again, this is difficult to judge since the catogorisation is a bit vague.

  • 6% blog to “earn a living”
  • 14% blog to “become known in a professional environment”
  • The remaining 80% say: to share a passion, as a pass-time, keep track of wines I like, and other things
Wine bloggers' motivation

Wine bloggers’ motivation

Wine reviews

90% of the blogs have done some kind of wine reviews. Most of the wine reviews are without ratings:

  • 70% only written commentary
  • 14% 5 or 8 star ratings
  • 14% 20 (or more) point ratings
  • 2% smiley

Contact with the producers

For most of the bloggers it is important with a direct contact with the producers. “Just” tasting the wine is not the focus. The survey postulates “To be in contact with the producers is a key to the quality of the wine blogs” and asks if bloggers agree. The result:

  • 45% totally agree
  • 31% agree
  • 14% neither agree nor disagree
  • 2% don’t agree
  • 8% absolutely don’t agree

To agree to that phrase is obviously a privilege that one can afford when one lives in a wine producing country. For a wine blogger who does not have easy access to wine grower it is of course difficult to agree. Or quite simply if a French wine blog ever writes about foreign wines.

Wine samples

Wine samples is a favourite discussion subject among (some) wine bloggers. So how common is it in France and what do French bloggers think about it?

  • 60% (only 60%?) of the bloggers would be OK with receiving wine samples.
  • The 40% who say no have as reasons for example that they want to be fully in control of their editorial choices or that visiting the winery is a key part of blogging (making samples irrelevant).

So how common is it?

  • 40% of the bloggers have never been contacted by a producer over the last 12 months, according to the survey
  • 20% have been contacted 1 to 5 times
  • 8% have been contacted 6-10 times
  • 35% have been contacted more than 10 times (!)

It is no great surprise that the bloggers with the highest traffic to their sites are the ones that have been contacted by wineries most often: the bloggers that have been contacted more than 10 times have on average 16 000 unique visitors per month. Those that have never been contacted have on average 1150 UV per month.

My guess is that the number of solicitations from wineries must look very low compared to the US (and perhaps the UK).

Am I wrong?

This radical difference is for two cumulative reasons, I believe: a) French winemakers often do not understand well the need for marketing (or how to do it), and b) French wineries in general do not see the internet and blogs as an important communications channel and don’t understand how it works (and even less with social media). A third factor is probably many French people’s (and thus wine bloggers’) attitude that anything that smells like marketing or “commercialism” is bad and should be avoided.

Am I wrong?

Conclusions

Some of my conclusions from the report have been explained above. The above points are only a selection from the report but the ones I thought most interesting.

Here is what Guillaume Lempérière concludes himself:

Independence

He sees a desire by the bloggers to maintain an independence mainly (as I understand it) reflected by the unwillingness to accept samples and by the fact that most blogs are not primarily oriented towards earning any income.

Lemperiere contrasts this to results in other countries. He cites one study where 47% of British blogs carried advertising and one where “international” bloggers in 70% of cases willingly accepted samples. “The independence is thus very variable according to the country in question” he says, which to me seems to be a false conclusion perhaps based on a lack of understanding of different cultures and different ways of reasoning in different countries. Just as an example, I remember reading one American blogger (can’t remember which) who said that for a wine blog to be taken seriously it needs to carry advertising. Having no advertising would mostly be a sign that the blog has no big significance. (I would not take that too literally but it does show a very different attitude.) The author (and many of the bloggers) seems to have the misguided belief that you cannot at the same time be independent / impartial and have advertising. What would that say about the majority of French media?

The importance of the people aspect

Lemperiere underlines that most bloggers have stated that “the contact with the producers is synonymous with editorial quality” and often that you cannot judge or critique a wine without visiting the winery.

I can certainly agree with this to some extent, meeting winemakers is always useful. But one also has to understand the absurd limitations this puts on wine blogging if taken too literally. A wine blogger (or wine journalist) is in many ways no different than any wine drinker. Most wine drinkers never meet the person behind the wine so obviously it can be meaningful to write about wines without meeting the winemakers or visiting the vineyards. But having been there can add another dimension!

Wine producers and the internet

Finally Lemperiere says that the French wine producers say that they are interested in the internet and wine bloggers, but that in reality few have done anything about it (this is based on another survey).

So, what are your reactions to this French wine bloggers survey? Write a comment!

BKWine and BKWine Magazine was not part of this survey. (I don’t think anyone thinks of as as a French wine blog, if at all.) But just as a comparison, here’s some of the above from our perspective:

  • We do use WordPress. We previously used Blogger/Blogspot/Google but moved to WP when we rebuilt and restructured the site (we now have four sites and blogs: BKWine Magazine, BKWine Tours, BKWine Photography, and BKWine Vinresor).
  • Some while back we had 30,000 UV on our site. When we rebuilt all we do on the internet we lost a substantial amount of traffic (all old links and page addresses disappeared) and are now back up at around 20,000 UV per month. Again, I stress that it is very questionable to do comparisons between sites if you do not know where the numbers come from, i.e. which tool has been used! We use Google Analytics, StatCounter and Clicky (some overkill there!).
  • We publish on average more than one new post each day, so more than 30 per month.
  • Our motivation is multiple. It is part of our business (wine journalism, wine tours, wine photography), but it is also as a way of sharing a passion for wine, food and travel. So in a way, we actually live from (and for!) what we do on-line.
  • We do not carry advertising but are considering doing so. We do not think that we would lose our independence or editorial control if we started carrying advertising. (That is of course very much a question of your own journalistic ethics! Of course you can become “corrupt” by advertising, if you choose to. There are indeed real examples of that too.)
  • We publish plenty of wine reviews but also much else. We do not in any way think it is important to have met the winemaker to write about a wine. But we are enthusiastic about meeting winemakers and visit wineries because a) it allows us to write a different kind of contents, more in depth articles, and b) it is lots of fun.
  • We typically do not currently use ratings. (Although we have one section on the site that systematically uses numerical scoring.)
  • We are happy to accept wine samples! However, we receive very few samples, less than once a month. Much less. We would be happy to receive more samples! (Wineries take note!) Why?
    • a) Samples allows us to taste a wider range of wines than we could have without them,
    • b) we think it is very positive when wineries are proactive in their marketing and contact media (in an intelligent way),
    • c) if you are an honest and competent taster and wine writer the fact that someone gave you the bottle does not change how you evaluate the wine.
    • (In fact, most professional wine writing would be impossible without free samples from wine producers.)

Here are some French sites that have written about this study:

The full report:

This post is also available in: Swedish

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  1. BKWine Brief nr 108, August 2012 | BKWine Magazine - August 23, 2012

    […] Read our analysis here: Wine bloggers: profile, motivation and influence […]

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