The Wine Advocate introduces new terms for the trade

Continuing the significant changes unfolding at the Wine Advocate over the past six months, the publication has announced new terms and rates for trade subscribers. Previously, subscriptions were line-priced at $99 a year. Going forward, trade subscriptions will be $199. What do they get for the extra fee? Employees can use the same login. And trade accounts get to reproduce the WA’s scores and tasting notes as shelf talkers.

This is a bizarre choice for at least three reasons: it’s hard to enforce, any enforcement would breed ill-will among the trade, and it significantly reduces free marketing for the publication in the form of shelf talkers. Retailers who use scores are not loyal to publications; rather, they are mostly loyal to high scores and will use whichever is highest and free of legal entanglements/copyright issues.

Further, the new T&C insist on the shelf talkers use RPWA–Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate–for the publication as well as identify the critic by initials and use the publication’s logo.

I guess the new owners are making a calculated risk that by doubling the price, fewer than half the trade subscribers will bolt and they will still come out ahead on revenues. To me, it’s hard to see how these changes will expand the audience for “The Independent Consumer’s Guide to Fine Wine.” If you’re in the trade, what do you think of the new rates and terms?

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14 Responses to “The Wine Advocate introduces new terms for the trade”

  1. What’s the legality of changing terms in such a drastic way in the middle of a subscription?

  2. Jean-Luc, Good question. It could be that a retailer maintains the old terms until the subscription renews. Or the changes could be immediate. I guess it depends on how much they are going to enforce it.

    Would you pay double for the right to post/use 2,000 of their scores a year as part of your sales material?

  3. Seems they are trying pretty hard to wreck their brand. And doing quite a nice job of it. Nothing like paying more and getting less. I am waiting for Galloni to launch his site tomorrow.

  4. […] This piece from Dr Vino got me thinking: The Wine Advocate introduces new terms for the trade […]

  5. Lew raises some good points about the ability to assert copyright on reviews. I do wonder if the scores would be considered a fact or fair use and would thus not be covered by copyright. Again, it really depends on how aggressively RPWA (!) will enforce these terms of use.

  6. snore……all things must pass…

  7. One of the problems wine reviewers have is that consumers can find their reviews for free by looking at retailers sites. I know the retailer has to pay a subscription fee to publish the review, but the cost is minimal. Even with these changes at the Wine Advocate the price is not that high (2,000 wine reviews for $199).

    Another problem is that it is pretty easy to find the winemaker’s tasting notes. These notes usually provide a detailed description of the wine.

    Now of course it is nice to also see what a 3rd party has to say (Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator etc. etc.), but the scores provided by the reviewers really don’t vary that much. In addition, with the improved quality of wines being produced today, it seems that every wine receives a high score. Even though I don’t have a technical tasting background, I drink a lot of wine, and I would have difficulty telling the difference between a wine that scores 87 points and 91 points.

    Let’s look at a few wines. 2009 La Lagune (WS 93 to 96, WA 95, IWC 89 to 92. 2005 Leoville Las Cases (WS 100, WA 98, Suckling 98, IWC 95, Wine & Spirits 98). 2009 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (WS 87, WA 91, IWC 89, Wine Enthusiast 91). 2009 Larkmead LMV Salon (WS 94, WA 95+). 2009 Larkmead Solari (WS 91, WA 96). The difference in those scores is less than 5%, which in my opinion is not significant. Some people prefer Honda Accords over a Toyota Camry. At the end of the day, they are both great cars.

    I don’t know if this would work, but what if reviewers used a scoring curve? A statistical method of assigning scores designed to yield a pre-determined distribution of scores among the wines tasted in a sitting.

  8. There are three possible scenarios. Retailers will either:
    1. Adopt the new subscription, mostly large, highly visible accounts.
    2. Ignore it and continue using the content as they have always done it.
    3. Abandon the publication altogether.

    I imagine #2 will be where most accounts fall and then it is up to TWA to enforce. As a wine critic, I allow wineries or retailers to subscribe to my content at the same price as anyone else and only request that they follow reprinting in its entirety with attribution of source. Having been a retail wine buyer for many years, I appreciate the value of some early insights into what is coming. TWA is only isolating themselves in a world of more open exchange.

  9. If nothing else, the creation of a “commercial” subscription to The Wine Advocate is one more nail pounded into the modern reality that wine “buying guides” in general are becoming more an more geared to the trade than to consumers.

    Agree with Doug Wilder’s comment. Status quo will reign in most retail venues. And legally, once the wine gets rated by Wine Advocate, the rating becomes a fact, which (as far as I know) can be rep-printed without attribution/credit. As far as WA’s request that retailers/suppliers/etc/ use “RPWA” and include the critic’s initials… well, good luck with that. The RP horse is way too far out of the barn to be renamed “RPWA” no matter how honest and accurate that is.

    Josh Moser makes the point “…the scores provided by the reviewers really don’t vary that much. In addition, with the improved quality of wines being produced today, it seems that every wine receives a high score.” I disagree with part one of this point: there is a huge difference between an 88 and a 92. More important, however, is the second part of the point: Wines ARE scoring higher than ever before, among the wine raters of America. And that mostly likely has as much to do with steadily rising quality as it does with grade inflation. The people and pubs who continue to apply the 100-pt scale to a market where basically everything can merit 85-95 points are doing a disservice to consumers. It’s time for a reboot: for critics to stop splitting 90pt hairs and instead declare that quality is now so readiliy available that the only sensible approach to wine criticism is to focus on style, value and context.

    It will be interesting to see, over next 6 months or so, how many wine suppliers and re-sellers actually toe the “RPWA” line. And if the new commercial subscription does not turn out to bring in more revenue, will WA continue to dream up other ways to monetize its ratings.

  10. Just when I think Robert Parker couldn’t possibly do anything more stupid, he turns around and does this………and totally redeems himself!

    How could this possibly be enforced. Will minions from Singapore be trolling wine shops in Omaha looking for illicit shelf talkers?

    Aside from the clear “fair use” issue of simply putting a brief snippet and score such as “Gumptious gobs of hedonistic fruit–Parker 97” or “A titanic, Churchillian, blockbuster Hydrogen bomb of a wine–Parker 98,” another aspect is the question of whom pays the trade rate. Many–if not most–shelf talkers are produced by importers, wineries or wholesalers and given to the retailers. Does the retailer now need to sign up for a trade subscription to display those ratings?

    And let’s not forget the greatest irony inherent in this mess. They’re pulling this stunt at the very same time that Parker’s influence is (in varying markets) arguably declining, irrelevant or toxic.

  11. an alternative would be for parker to create an mobile app that would read the bar code on any label and look up to see if parker had reviewed it. etc.
    monetize that mr. p.
    no charge from me.

  12. Here in Spain many websites are introducing this type of subscriptions, with access to the reviews, you also get a bottle of wine every month at home with the wow factor that you never know what you will receive. But people are reluctant even to our subscriptions, we will see over time.

  13. @Josh-I don’t know if you’ve ever worked on the retail side of things, but the difference between 91 and 96 is much greater than the 5% statistic. We’re talking $50 or more a bottle on average in price jump not to mention ease of sale.

    Anyway, yeah it’s weird that they’re choosing to attack the trade as a way to increase revenue. How do they plan to enforce? Luck of the draw? Anyway, I hope they don’t need the extra $100 that badly, there were plenty of other ways for them to raise revenue given the size of their audience, especially the hard core folks online.

  14. It is logical any company wants to increase revenues, but such increase sounds not very logical (doubling the price?!). I think a way forward with wine reviews from a customer perspective would be an index produced by a robot or spider that takes averages of a number of wine critics…


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