Feb 20, 2007

Wine X Complains: Wine Industry Doesn't Target Gen X

Wine X Magazine foldsWine Industry Responds: What the Hell is Gen X?

It seems that a lot of feathers have been ruffled since Wine X, the magazine claiming to bring wine to those of us under 30something, folded recently in their characteristically whiny manner. Probably more feathers were ruffled with their sputtering out than in all their years of business (although the magazine is still online). Maybe it's Wine X's founder and editor Darryl Roberts' cutting comment:
"The wine industry says it's interested in young adults but spends all of its ad and promo money targeting the same people it's been targeting for the past 30 years - rich, old white people."

Which, actually, happens to be quite true.

But scroll past the actual article and Roberts' other snide comments and you discover that the industry's lack of support for Wine X was less about their own stuck-in-the-muddiness and more about the magazine's attitude towards and treatment of the industry they were covering. The whole thing is kind of like two schoolyard bullies scrapping with each other while the rest of us roll our eyes.

And at the risk of talking smack about a publication within such a small circle, it seems to me that the naysayers have a point. Wine X was one of those magazines I scratched off my "possibly contribute to" list when I read their submission guidelines. It wasn't their disgust for articles using words like oenophile, sommelier, award-winning, and so on (and on). Or their insistence on "hip, young, stylish writing." What really got my panties in a wad was the caveat:
"Please don't email or call to ask the status, as we receive more than 30 articles a week."
Um, that's because you're a flippin' magazine! Your job is to wade through query after query and article after article. It's what keeps you alive—well, kept you alive. Wine X didn't suffer from the wine industry's lack of support, as they claim. Wine X suffered from the failure to recognize that a successful magazine can't operate in a vacuum, and sure as hell can't piss all over its writers and the very people it covers. Irreverence and sarcasm are truly remarkable tools when mastered but when flapped about like a loose prick they, too, are merely flaccid and ineffectual.

The shame of it is that there really is a need for a wine press (no pun intended) that targets the under-30 crowd. The Wine Spectators and Wilford Wongs have a place and a purpose, and they offer a wealth of information that anyone with a brain in their head—of any age—can make good use of. But there is a population (small, perhaps) who enjoys both Ice T and eiswein, or for want of a better combo, Shiraz and Shakira (actually, I hate Shakira). Sorry for that. But you see my point—you don't need to dumb down the content just because you're targeting 25-year olds. And you certainly don't need to pee on the hand that feeds you. My cat did that this morning, and it got ugly.


GollyGumDrops said...

Being smug with your contributors, readers and advertisers is hardly an expressway to success. Wine & Spirit is cheerier and more approachable than Decanter, another step in that direction would be good, but X wasn't it.

Jessie Jane said...

"Smug" is a great word to describe it. Maverick magazines (and wineries), particularly consumer-oriented ones like Wine X, can only succeed with quality content. And you ain;t going to get quality content if you alienate those who can give it to you!

By the way, nice blog.


el jefe said...

Half of the blogs out there in the wine and spirit space seem to be talking about this, but I haven't yet seen one use the word "smug" - which hits the proverbial nail on the proverbial head. "We're already to cool for you, so just don't bother."

yeah - nice post!

kahealani said...

Gen X does not drink wine. Did they honestly feel there was a market there?

Jessie Jane said...

Well, you're right in that Gen X represents a disappointingly small segment of wine drinkers.

But—and this was Darryl Roberts' contention—how much of that is because they are not targeted as a viable market?

RTD (ready-to-drink), spirits and beer all spend a whole lotta money courting these kids, but the wine industry has traditionally targeted the older demos. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The point of my original post was not that Wine X folded because it miscalculated the reading interests of its target demo (Gen X), but that it failed because of its treatment of those it was trying to do business with.

I do think the idea was a solid one, in fact, and there is a reason it held on for many years when most new mags don't make it past their first few issues.

Stephen Beaumont said...

Funny, I thought Wine X folded long ago, but now I see that not only are they still up on the web, but so are a bunch of the stories I wrote for them. (I hate the Internet's sustainability some times...)

Wine X was a good idea, I though, which is why I supported it as a writer for a time. But rather than address under-30's intelligently, I think, they tried too hard to be cool and "extreme." Food and bev is not extreme, nor should it be.

Jessie Jane said...

Very good to see you here, Stephen. I agree—I think they were just too cool for school and it killed 'em. That market is so ripe that it's a shame to see a magazine like that die at the hands of its own mistakes. But that's publishing for ya, I suppose.

It's funny you mention extreme, because the Feb. theme for Beer Advocate Magazine is "Extreme Beer." This topic seems to be really polarizing. And maybe that's the real issue—extreme is one thing, but shouldn't F&B bring people together and open up possibilities rather than create factions? Hmmm, I smell a new blog entry.


stephen beaumont said...

Oy, there's that word again: "extreme." Didn't realize what a can of worms I was opening there...

I wrote a while back (in some publication or blog, I frankly forget which) that craft beer has been "extreme" since its birth. Sierra was "extreme" for the time; Old Foghorn was even more so for its time (1976! Can you believe it?!); Triple Bock was "extreme" for the mid-1990's, but so was Celis White in 1992; 90 Minute and Pliny the Younger are "extreme" today.

My point being that it's not so much about "extreme" as it is evolutionary and, in some cases, revolutionary.

Jessie Jane said...

Yeah, new and different has always been (mis?)labeled as extreme, hasn't it.

Kathy said...

Jess, nice work all around.
I remember when Darryl was putting the mag together. Smug was strong from the beginning (self-proclaimed good ideas do that, it's not just Darryl). I think there was a period of sponsorship by the Wine Marketing Council.
Do you know anyone who calls him/herself a GenX? ...leading me to believe the problem was in the concept, content rides in its wake.
Disagree slightly on the industry target: rich (as in three cars, a top-of-the-line harley and a summer house), yes. old and white? not necessarily (and certainly not globally). In fact, it is hard for mags targeting the ROWPs to shake ad money out of the wineries.
i'm going to google in the stats. may return. or may eat lunch.
nice to find you here.

Jessie Jane said...

Kathy, I found this article, which cites stats released early this year showing that the majority of "core" wine consumers (they account for 92% of the volume of wine consumed—I believe we're talking U.S. only) are, on average, rich ($75k annual income) and white ("the vast majority...are caucasian"). Old is up for grabs, as the huge # of Millenials (the real group we're talking about here) has thrown off the percentage of Baby Boomers making up the wine consumer market.

And this brings us to the real issue (or, rather, the point I was trying to make about Wine X): the mag didn't fail because of the industry but because of their own missteps. First, they pigeonholed themselves with the name, as you mentioned (if their self-professed demo is 25yo, those are millenials not gen xers anymore, and no one really labels themselves so blatantly). Second, they mistook irreverent for alienating. Third (and this is more of my opinion than any kind of fact-based observation), they never found an appropriate balance between or marrying of pop culture vs. wine coverage.

If you get the chance, will you email me? barstories@roughstockstudios.com