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Does anybody read beer blogs?

Tom Johnson makes a flat-out statement in the Palate Press: Nobody reads wine blogs.

A year ago I was an unsuccessful political blogger, entertaining myself and almost no one else. Now, I’m a wine blogger doing largely the same thing, except that no one calls me a Nazi in comments anymore. Though my wine blog’s audience is only a tenth the size of my failed political blog’s audience, I’m informed by people-who-know that I am on the cusp of great success.

There’s no way to sugar coat this: wine blogging is failing its readers.

The evidence for that failure: with very few exceptions, wine blogs don’t even have readers.

The baseline numbers are appalling. Using traffic data aggregated by Cellarer and traffic rankings provided by Truth Laid Bear, the top 100 wine blogs combined would be the 280th most popular blog in the country.

Even looking at wine blogging as a niche product, we’re a disaster.

He explains why, so amble on over Palate Press and read the whole thing, then continue to Steve Heimhoff’s blog, where he asks if wine blogs are an endangered species.

I haven’t seen similar metrics for beer sites (although Martyn Cornell did something along those lines last month, limiting it to UK blogs, and 47 comments followed). Based upon sparse numbers I have seen the best read wine blogs draw more traffic than the best read beer blogs.

Does that mean beer blogs are particularly influential? Not compared to Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, I’d say.

Blogging about blogging seems way too much like navel-gazing — and certainly limits the potential audience &#151 but what I’m really interested in is the future of a) journalism and b) beer journalism. That raises a couple more questions I’m not going to try to answer now, because then we’d be into serious navel-gazing. What is beer journalism (or is there even such a thing)? And what is beer news?

Will it happen in the form of blogs or some other way online? Make no mistake. The stories you repeat to friends over a pint will be reported first online. Will they arrive 140 characters at a time? Will you read them primarily on your phone? Will there be a tasting app on your iPad? Some of these questions are related to how and some to what.

I don’t think there are answers to either yet.

27 Responses to Does anybody read beer blogs?

  1. BeerReviewsAndy March 22, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    Yeah i think people do read blogs, alot of it depends on the content. Reading and commenting are definately different things, I know a lot of people read but don’t leave comments, either because they comment on twitter or because they just come to read what has been written.

    Some blogs are used purely for promotion purposes, some for free beer, others as a creative outlet and discussion area and others as a record of what the writer has been drinking, all of which have their merrits.

    Having said that I would be interested to see what sort of traffic some of the blogs get.

    I know my beer blog gets no where near as much traffic as one of my other sites but then that is based on a huge brand so is to be expected.

  2. Stan Hieronymus March 22, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    Martyn had a few numbers in the comments. The first three wine blog in my feed reader (I don’t have that many and I suspect these are among the better read) were all in the 100,000s.

  3. Jason March 22, 2010 at 11:50 am #

    I read and follow around 60 beer blogs, and rarely miss a post from any of them. Just something I love to read about.

  4. Alan March 22, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    I don’t know how many people read blogs anymore compared to five years ago, either. In the pre-Twitter and pre-Facebook era, I had 12,000 or more daily real visits to my political website and got paid by the CBC to do election commentary. Those days are long gone and now that somewhat ignored blog gets maybe 5% of that traffic. These days, I would guess my beer blog gets maybe 7,000 to 8,000 readers a day.

    But why do they read? What is the quality of the experience? I have no idea. I just like to write for my own pleasure and discipline. I am sure it is not going to last and, as I don’t have much of an impulse to go further into the drinks trade or press, I do wonder what it will mean to me in a few years.

  5. Erik March 22, 2010 at 2:07 pm #

    I used to do some beer blogging but due to my blog being setup on Microsoft Spaces, I got bored by the lack of feedback as very few people bothered to make an account on that system. That and it started to feel more like a job whenever I opened a new beer I had not had before.. but all that aside, I think there is an interesting dilemma for beer journalism. I have been given a multiyear subscription to All About Beer magazine. Used to also get the Beer Advocate print magazine, but honestly I don’t like their tone for the most part so I let that one lapse. Since then, I have subscribed to a number of beer blogs and find now that when a new issue of All About Beer arrives, it’s a quick skim and done. I have already seen all the news on blogs which leaves basically the reviews section and an article or two as ‘new content’. I would say beer writing in print is more endangered than blogging, but that’s just my opinion..

  6. Martyn Cornell March 22, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    From what little analysis I’ve done, Alan’s, I suggest, is very probably the most popular beer blog on the planet: it’s the first “proper” beer blog to turn up (at around number 43) if you just enter the word “beer” into Google. I’d be very surprised if any UK beer blog got more than 1,500 or 2,000 hits a day, and there are probably only a couple at or approaching that sort of level.The vast majority get many, many fewer than that: fewer than 100 a day was probably normal, I’d estimate. (My own best day ever just tipped over the 1,000 mark, I’ll own up, and I’m currently running at some way below that)

    Now, guessing that most people that regularly read beer blogs read several blogs, and at the same time 40 per cent or so (minimum) of hits are going to be one-off arrivals Googling for something specific, not looking for a beer blog per se, I’d actually be staggered if the number of people regularly reading beer blogs in the UK was much greater than 5,000 people in total: I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was only 3,000 or fewer.

    Given that the US is five times larger than the UK, that gives a “market” of about 25,000 or so likely regular beer blog readers in the US, which if I recall correctly (I CBA to check) is about the same number of people who belong to BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer respectively. Alan, of course, is based in Canada: my guess (he can tell me if I’m wrong) is that he’s getting about 2,000 or so hits a day from the Land of the Maple Leaf, that is, from practically every regular beer blog reader in the country, and another 4,000-plus from south of the 49th parallel, with the others coming from “rest of the world”.

    Anyway, what does this say about the popularity of beer blogging? That they’re not read by very many people at all. BUT the best blogs, in my experience, are read by brewers and “opinion formers”, and I suspect the best blogs have an influence far, far out of proportion to their readership. If that makes us feel any better about shouting at a very small number of already converted people and passing strangers …

  7. Sean Inman March 22, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    Considering that the craft beer industry is relatively young and that blogging is even younger, I think we may not have seen the best and/or influential beer writers yet. And with the hazy future of print vs. digital still being played out, where these people will be found may not have emerged yet.

    What may be the most telling factor is why are people blogging about beer? If it is from a place of genuine passion, then the readership will follow. It may take awhile and it may only be a devoted few but that would be fine by me.

  8. erik March 22, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    Just to clarify – are we talking about beer review blogs, beer news blogs, or just all of the above?

    There is an absolute glut of review sites, and I’m not sure how much they lend to discussion overall. I tend not to even bother reading them because they’re so just ubiquitous and there’s no good way to assess whether or not somebody really has a decent palate or they’re just making crap up. BeerAdvocate and RateBeer have the advantage of scale – if you see 30 reviews that all say more or less the same thing, then you can at least get an idea of what you’re going to get. Now if only we could somehow remove the enormous amount of snark….

    I tend to read a lot of op-ed stuff. When people are smart I want to hear what they have to say. Like Martyn notes, I tend to think that the best blogs have an exaggerated influence. After all, it doesn’t matter how many people you have reading if you have the right people reading.

  9. Sean Inman March 22, 2010 at 5:56 pm #

    I agree wholeheartedly about the glut of review sites. And even more wholeheartedly (if there is such a thing) about the snark on comment threads.

    I will continue to check back on blogs where I can see the passion in either the words, the photos or the opinion about craft beer.

  10. Alan March 22, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

    Martyn, right now I am at 45% US, 33% Canada, 7.3% UK and every 14.7% for everyone one else. Only 19.12% of Ukrainian visitors are new. Which gives me either hope or spammers.

    More interesting, however is the idea of whether having “exaggerated influence” is the same thing as having “an influence far, far out of proportion to their readership.” I would expect that all beer writers have a disproportionate influence as so few people read about beer while beer is such a massively interesting and compelling and comforting experience.

  11. Swordboarder March 22, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    Interesting is both the estimated number of beer blog readers and the fact that the numbers are all the same readers.

    It actually reminded me of the Beer Business Daily. The number of clientele is limited so their subscription cost is $480 per year in order to pay their employees.

  12. Dave Selden March 22, 2010 at 10:37 pm #

    With my own recent experience promoting beer goods (33 beers books – tell your friends), I received fairly high beer blog coverage (thanks, Stan and Alan!), and have to say – didn’t see the surge of sales I’d hoped for.

    But I think Martyn hit the nail squarely on the head – I have reason to believe that taste makers and thought leaders with larger audiences DO read beer blogs, and the product’s inclusion on those sites/printed pages has been immensely beneficial (where “immense” is a highly relative term).

  13. Pivní Filosof March 22, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    My blog in both its language variations get about 12000 hits a month, of that, a good proportion are from people who are looking for information about Prague (where to eat, etc), then there are the “beer people” and those who arrive more or less randomly thanks to a search engine and are not likely to linger very long nor come back.

    Now, I don’t think many of those people that get to my blog looking for information about Prague take much time, if any at all, to read all the other ranting I publish. So my question is, how many “non-beer people” read beer blogs?

  14. Joe Stange March 23, 2010 at 7:35 am #

    News is popular. Occasionally I get a scoop, and when I do my traffic tends to blow up. People seem to be excited by new, useful information… the same thing that journalism is supposed to provide. None of this should be a surprise.

  15. erik March 23, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    Just thinking about the question ‘how many “non-beer people” read beer blogs?’

    None. Why would they?

    Unsurprisingly, I tend to see a lot more traffic on columns that could possibly appeal to the general public vs. columns that are about the industry, industry trends, or things that would appeal only to people with a base knowledge about the industry.

  16. Mike March 23, 2010 at 8:04 am #

    The responses here fall into line with what I have long thought: beer blogs are read mostly by other beer bloggers: of the 13 responses above, only two are from people who have not linked a blog to their name.

    I have no idea how many beer blogs there are, but I suspect that the vast majority are written by people who like beer and have too much time on their hands. And this is what I see as the biggest problem not only for beer blogging, but for people, like Stan, who genuinely know something about the subject, actively do research and have the ability to write well.

    Personally, I don’t see much future in beer blogging or beer news, but that may be because beer is something I would rather enjoy than study.

  17. Pete Brown March 23, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    Well, Martyn’s analysis claimed my blog was the most visted UK beer blog, and my hits are very much in the order of hundreds rather thasn thousands per day. I thin I’m up to about 1500 a week – and till just now I thought that was good!

    But never mind the quantity, feel the quality. Unless you’re number one in any medium, on any subject, the point is not how mnay read you, but who reads you.

    If I was just to take it from the comments tha are left, I’d be of the firm belief that the only people who ever read me are other beer bloggers. That’s wrong: other beer bloggers are merely the only people who comment, and the last research I saw on blogging suggested that an average of 1% of readership ever comment.

    Through conversations at events and in the pub, and the odd follow-up comment and e-mail, I’m slowly coming to realise that many of the slent majority who read my blog are movers and shakers in the industry, and they don’t comment for obvious reasons. Very often they’re nto happy with what I write, but I know of several occasions when my blog – and not just my post, but the commenst arising from it – have had a significant influence on key business decisions – perhaps even inspired new beers or new marketing strategies. Assuming I’m right in what I’ve written – big assumption – that’s got to be good.

  18. Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com March 23, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    From our stats I think the 80/20 rule applies quite neatly for our blog, and I reckon that (also following the ol’ 80/20 rule!) this is true for 80% of the general blogosphere (the exceptions being the blogs are no longer really blogs, Huffington Post, Mashable, the big boys in each sector).

    I’d say 80% of blog traffic is based on long-tail natural search (with spikes for news stories) and 80% of those that comment are fellow bloggers in the same area of interest.

    Give or take…!!!

    Numbers aide, it’s always worth it when someone says they found out something they didn’t know or was inspired to buy a beer they wouldn’t have otherwise, so that makes it worth it regardless.

  19. Sam March 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    I’ll chime in as a non-beer blogger. I don’t stop in everyday, but at least once a week to catch up, and comment maybe once every couple of months. Ditto for about another 20 beer related blogs (including Pete’s and Filosofo). I’m not sure why Steve sees being 285th as failure, and I don’t understand why he is surprised by the number. The topic he is writing about is niche. Most people don’t care about the ins and outs of wine, and even less people feel they know enough to discuss it. This in contrast to politics (apparently his “popular” blog) where everyone has an opinion.

    Rather than counting hits he should be trying to figure out how to strengthen the conversation with the readers he does have. That conversation will in turn bring in new readers. That’s the new journalism, adding value. But Steve isn’t going to do that coz it doesn’t sounds like he wants to build emotional value, he just wants to be popular so that he gets the money. That is why his blog is failure. The numbers don’t mean anything.

  20. Stan Hieronymus March 23, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    Hey, I need to figure out a way to have you guys write some posts. Excellent feedback, including from non-bloggers like Erik and Mike.

    It’s not just that we have a ton of beer blogs these days, but you might have noticed that in recent years three new magazines devoted to beer have rolled out as well as a drinks magazine that regularly covers beer (Imbibe). Throw in more coverage in newspapers and non-beer magazines and that’s a lot of stories for somebody to think up. I don’t need to see another story about collaborations – until somebody tells me something Don Russell didn’t like two years ago.

    Anyway, here’s a fun metric. For some reason there was a spam spike on Feb. 17 (akismet tracks those things) with 1,052 spam comments. In contrast there were 791 real visitors (no bots, worms, automatic stuff).

  21. Andy Crouch March 25, 2010 at 8:25 am #

    Good morning Stan,

    I don’t labor under any misconceptions that my online writing is reaching any larger audience. Rather, I believe it’s talking more and more to the niche. I do a fairly healthy traffic on my website (but still within the numbers we’re discussing) but that number is tiny compared to any general subject website and infinitesimal compared to any non-niche media. And until I find a way to properly monetize my time spent on my website, I’m not likely to spend more time updating it (at present, I write only when 1) I have a previously published piece to post or 2) when something particularly irks (or rarely, pleases) me. That’s the nature of the blog, it is truly self-revelatory. That was my thought before I started writing online, when I started, and to this day. As a professional writer, there are better ways to make money than blogging but few parallel its ability to lose it.

    Best,

    Andy

    P.S. Sorry I’m a little late to the party. Since RSBS has gone down, I frankly haven’t read a beer blog until today. Perhaps that says something.

  22. Alan March 25, 2010 at 9:06 am #

    I was going to mention RSBS going down. A huge resource lost that will make beer blogging less relevant through having to hunt out new voices to hear.

  23. Adam April 4, 2010 at 1:25 am #

    Alan, did you really mean 7-8k readers a day? That would probably make you the #2 beer site in the world behind Beer Advocate & possibly more trafficked than RateBeer?!

    There are many ways to slice up beer blog content: news, reviews, events, beer and food, general commentary, etc. I don’t know that there are fewer people reading beer blogs but just that the number of them has exploded w/ many funneling into those review/commentary sectors. A visitor that frequented your blog 2 yrs ago is now doing his own thing.

    If you look at Google Search trends, traffic appears to have declined for both BA & RB as well. Not sure if there is a correlation between search traffic & actual traffic though.

  24. Adam April 4, 2010 at 1:37 am #

    Nevermind on 1st pgraph: http://www.sitemeter.com/?a=stats&s=s10beerblog

    Does no one have an OPML file with a ton of beer blogs? That’s all RSBS is . . . someone’s beer-only Google Reader made public essentially.

  25. Alan April 6, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    Adam, I seem to have around 6,300 daily readers via Google reader and about 500 to 600 a normal day on direct visits and presume a few other avenues are open for people finding me. But I think the BAers and RBers get way more than that. I had in my mind that I was less than 10% of their activity.

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