By Philip James
As of last week, April 27th, the well-known eBobParker Bulletin Board switched to Wine Advocate subscribers only, effectively killing the worlds largest wine forum with no notice to its members, some of whom had been using the site for over 8 years. The official reason given: that it was “too costly” to supervise and maintain.
The supervision refers to Mark Squires’ heavy-handed involvement, and the maintenance, I’m assuming, refers to the server costs.
In a world that’s inexorably moving towards open and free, its mind boggling to watch one of the old vanguard continue to make such mis-steps. From Parker’s lambasting of wine bloggers to the allegations of pay-for-play, it’s a tough time to be “old media” in the wine industry. There’s an erosion of quality journalism, driven primarily by a glut of free, and engaging content, and compounded by users voting with their (closed) wallets. While sites like WSJ, and debatably the NYT, may survive by erecting a pay wall, the rest of the newspaper industry is a clear bellwether of what is occurring here.
Open sites like Wine Searcher and Snooth, and others have significantly larger user bases than Wine Advocate, and its ilk. Snooth is 3 years old and reaches over 5 million users per month and has 400,000 registered users, and while a Snooth user results in less revenue than an Advocate subscriber, the volume of users, and the growth behind sites like Snooth is considerable.
Today hardware is cheap: $250 for a basic server per month. How much did it really cost to maintain the forums? For $250 per month, and I know a fair bit about scaling web applications today, was it really THAT much of a burden to subsidize? Surely hosting the conversations of that caliber of wine lover generated an incremental 2 or 3 subscriptions to pay the costs?
And what happens to the homeless in this case? They disperse, joining boards like WineBeserkers or Snooth, and Snooth is very happy to pay the $250 per month to host the conversations of some of the most active and knowledgeable wine lovers on the planet.