Veteran Journalists Introduce New “Wine Pairing” With Digital Wine Magazine

The stereotypes about a reporter’s love for all things caffeine, spirits and junk food are long-standing and often pretty accurate (if you don’t believe me, check out this journalist food pyramid).

But several big names in the industry have put their heads together to create a free online wine magazine called Grape Collective that they say combines exceptional journalism about wine as well as a seamless digital experience. The goal? That readers can more simply get their hands on the beverages they’ve just read about, or watched a video about, directly through Grape Collective’s website.

This is not just some amateur venture — rather, the man at the helm of Grape Collective, Christopher Barnes — was president of the New York Observer Media Group and the co-founder of the popular daily amNewYork.

Okay, so if there’s no paywall, bona fide advertisers or digital subscription packages, how is Grape Collective ever going to make it, you ask? That’s the innovation in their business model. By offering editorial content more suited to the “casual-but-curious” wine drinker, as they call it, instead of the wine connoisseur, they hope to be more appealing to the masses. And because they’re combining journalism and e-commerce, Grape Collective will support its efforts through beverage sales conducted directly through their site.

“We are rethinking a category where existing wine media focuses mainly on the affluent wine consumer, and most of the quality writing is hidden behind pay walls,” Barnes said. “Instead of charging our readers for access to our content, we’re supporting our business via direct wine sales — a customer service that also generates revenue.”

In terms of editorial value, Grape Collective is hoping to push the envelope of traditional wine coverage. Since they’re not bound by a monthly print magazine deadline, they can blog daily, and they are integrating winemaker profiles, videos from the vineyard, maps depicting the hotbeds for particular types of wine, and — I’d be willing to bet — other multimedia content.

For more on Grape Collective’s editorial department and leadership, check out a post on our sister blog FishbowlNY here.

I’m sensing a pivot in the thinking behind how niche and special interest journalism, especially as it relates to food and drink, can make money. What if food commentary publishers transitioned to a model like Grape Collective’s, or if Paste and Pitchfork nixed their advertisers and arranged partnerships with music and film sellers to support their editorial? The lines separating what we might normally consider sponsor content and actual journalism could get blurry and weird. Or, it could be a meaningful experiment for web publishers, much like the subscription models and native ads we’re still trying to make sense of. Thoughts on either Grape Collective’s method, or ideas for how special interest media organizations can make money online?

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