Friday, October 25, 2013

Sommelier Journal suspends publication

The world of writing has lost one of the best outlets for current, interesting and useful information pertaining to wine. Minutes ago, Sommelier Journal announced that it has "suspended publication." Perhaps the magazine is not completely dead as David Vogels, former editor and publisher of Sommelier Journal, said in the letter sent to its contributors (which includes yours truly), that his team is "currently negotiating with a group that hopes to purchase the title and resume publishing the magazine at some point within the next year." Subscribers will have the remainder of their subscriptions fulfilled by Wine & Spirits Magazine.

I contributed four articles (see other articles) and had several more scheduled for 2014, so this news comes as a shock and a disappointment to me personally. Though the magazine's intended audience was industry professionals, I thought many of the stories and profiles were great for general consumers and knowledgeable enthusiasts. Sommelier Journal wasn't beholden to advertisers (perhaps why it struggled economically) and that showed with its diverse stories on all things wine, spirits and beer. No region or wine was too small, unknown or unheralded to warrant attention. I think that openness is what made Sommelier Journal one of the better wine publications for learning something new rather than hearing the same thing repeated annually.

I can only hope that it is sold and rebooted, and I think the industry will be a better place if that were to happen. I can only speculate that Wine & Spirits is involved (based on the fact that they are honoring remaining SJ subscriptions and that Vogels recommends contacting Josh Greene at Wine & Spirits or Neil Beckett at The World of Fine Wine for pitching stories that were promised to SJ), but do not know for sure. If they are, it would be interesting to see how Sommelier Journal would fit into a roster of wine publications a la M. Shanken Publications. Again, that is only speculation.

The main matter of concern with the loss of Sommelier Journal is that it decreases the number of voices. One of the best parts of the wine writing world today is the shear number of diverse opinions, voices and opportunities for spreading information. Fewer paying, print publications is a bad thing for writers and readers. Sommelier Journal recently tried to take the leap digitally and expand services online, but apparently the the lack of advertisers and the small subscription base was not large enough to support the operation. Perhaps this was the reason that Wine Advocate (which did not accept paid advertisements) took on investors. Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator both must obviously make a fair profit from their advertisements. I'm not claiming that Sommelier Journal was as large or as influential as those major publications, but it was no less important and that is something to be sad about.


  1. Any Idea waht the criculation was. I too was troubled whan I received David's email on Friday.

  2. There are two major business models in winewriting, and have been for some time now in my several decades of experience in the field. There are the slick paper magazines, with their advertising based revenue streams and their fancy looking content, and there are the non-advertising-accepting newsletters with their subscriber based models.

    To my knowledge, no one has brooked that divide, and, in this day and age of very expensive printed matter, virtually all the non-advertising pubs have nearly exclusively adopted an internet, digital model that does not produce a print edition.

    Parker is the obvious exception. We here at Connoisseurs' Guide held out until a few years ago when it became obvious that we could not charge enough for print to make it profitable. So we went digital and 85% of our readers came with us. Now we fast-print only enough copies of our newsletter to satisfy those who somehow cannot hit a button and print a PDF on their own. And of course, the charge for that is outrageous and yet does not even pay all of those costs because we are embarassed to charge so much.

    If Somm Journal is to come back, it either needs a giant sugar daddy willing to invest megabuck into gaining so many subscribers that it can get its print costs under control or it will have to come back as a digital publication dedicated to the inner circles of the wine community.

    The one thing about which I am absolutely sure, however, is that the Internet is not going to let us ever be short of commentary on wine from virtually any perspective that we want. At the same time, I am also fairly sure that the day of the paid winewriter/stringer may not ever again exist simply because there are so many free words out there.

  3. A little good news to share: Sommelier Journal is going to be newly revived by Meredith May of Tasting Panel Mag. The deal is set to close tomorrow. Keep an eye out for more info.

  4. Jaime, I look forward to hearing more!