It’s the sign of the (NY) Times

Not long ago, after having taken to task a blogger for what seemed to me like a lapse in journalism standards, the blogger called me “an old school journalist.” The message was that times are changing and guys like me ought to get used to it.

Of course, my response was that if journalism has come to the point of blurring the lines between standards and gratuitous conjecture, then old school I’ll remain.

Speaking of old school, this is no dig at Eric Asimov (he does a fine job) but when Frank Prial left the NY Times weekly wine column, it was a big loss.

The people seeking scores and direction to the futures market didn’t care for Prial’s wine writing. Instead of wine reviews, Prial wrote wine stories. Surely, because of the personal experiences, some of his information was one-sided, biased, and even could be mean-spirited (like the time he said that white wine gives us something to do with our hands). But his columns generally included tidbits as well as important bits of information, and they always came wrapped in a literary package, which is why some of his die-hard fans mourned his leaving.

In fact, there was a time when reading the NY Times was a pleasure almost akin to the old pleasures of the New Yorker Magazine. These days, however, while the latter is close–but not up to–its old standards, the former seems to have slipped immeasurably, to the point where being concise often means writing convoluted English—and the “corrections” column in the paper these days is almost as long as feature articles.

Not to worry. The NY Times has the answer to its woes. The newspaper is going into the wine club business. Why not?

The wine club business is like those credit cards that started popping up a few years ago seemingly issued by the companies that have their logos attached to the cards. Of course, the company credit cards have always been issued by banks or credit card companies that are parts of banks, no matter whose logo is on them. And so, Global Wine Company will operate the NY Times Wine Club. That company does with wine club partnerships the same thing that credit card companies do with other businesses—they handle the transactions for a fee. The only difference may be in how the fee is applied and who pays it.

No matter who issues the credit card and no matter whose logo is on it, the consumer gets to buy on credit, receives some sort of bonus or points benefit, pays the same introductory low interest on outstanding balances (that rises to Mafiosi proportions as time goes by), and goes into penury when the outstanding balances become anvils.

No matter who runs them, wine clubs perform one service: they ostensibly bring together the consumer with “unique” wines or at least wines with a “unique” story. Some clubs tout their ability to save consumers loads of money; some clubs tout their ability to make consumers feel special; and some clubs simply sell plonk and make it seem to consumers like they are saving money while being members of an exclusive group of connoisseurs.

In the case of the NY Times Wine Club, consumers are promised access to wines from small, family-run wineries at an average $15 a bottle and below, based on volume.

Global Wine Company calls the NY Times a partner. A quick glance at the Global Wine Company Web site shows they have a few partners. It also shows that many of the wines available at one partner’s site are available at the other partners’ sites—so much for exclusivity. And each partner offers about the same discount of 20%, which is what a good shopper can normally get at a good “bricks and mortar” retail shop—so much for saving money.

There is, however, something exclusive going on at least at one of the partnerships: that outfit charges an average 10% and more for the same wines that two other partners of Global Wine offer—so much for feeling special.

One of the pleasures I get from wine is shopping for it. I like people, so I like talking with the retailers and the checkout cashiers. I also like touching what I intend to buy, reading its labels, looking at the package, comparing its price with the prices of the hundreds other wines in the shop—hell, I even like the smell of a wine retail shop, which seems always to have a residue of a bottle broken long ago but not quite out of the carpet yet. You can understand, then, why I don’t get the wine club craze.

I do understand the Internet craze, and that is what wine clubs have tied into. In fact, that’s what journalism is tying into also, and that’s why companies like the NY Times have had to seek new revenue streams. Wine is a $30 billion industry in the U.S. The NY Times is a big business, too. Seems like a perfect pairing, no?

Seems to me like rare steak with Auslese; but again, I don’t get the club craze.

Incidentally, if you are in the market for a classical radio station or a Boston newspaper, the Times has one of each up for sale. On the other hand, if you are interested in, say, Breggo wines (a nice little producer in the Anderson Valley north of Mendocino) right now they are listed at three Global Wine Company partner sites, at two different prices.

Maybe the Times can do better.

Global site

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
August 2009. All rights reserved.

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