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Important News for Winedoctor Readers

From its beginnings more than twelve years ago my principal aim in writing and publishing Winedoctor has been the provision of high-quality, reliable, detailed and regularly updated articles. Over the years my commitment to the site, and to wine, has grown in a manner previously unimagined. I travel to Bordeaux between one and three times each year, and I visit the Loire Valley once or twice per annum, in order to visit, taste and report. In addition there are a long string of tastings in the UK which I attend, giving me plenty of early starts out of Edinburgh in order to get to London on time. It can be exhausting at times! I believe that what is published on Winedoctor makes it all worthwhile though, and feedback from readers – both wine professionals and consumers – who have found the site useful supports my belief. Thank you all, for the constructive criticisms received over the years, as well as your occasional words of praise.

So the last twelve years (well, nearly thirteen actually) have been a success. What of the next thirteen, and beyond? Naturally, in the coming years, I would like to continue to develop Winedoctor even more, with more detailed reports, broader coverage and even more frequent updates.

If something is to be done, one should do it; one should undertake it firmly.
~ Buddha

Beginning with Bordeaux, in the pipeline in the next twelve months is the publication of an extended guide to region (to be followed by the Loire), updating those pages already published, and adding many more. In addition my existing Bordeaux profiles are all being overhauled, and within a couple of years these should be complete. There will also be more focus on Bordeaux that we can all afford, with forthcoming profiles of cru bourgeois estates and the domaines of ‘lesser’ appellations lined up for publication. And naturally the vintage-focused reviews will continue; this year I will spend eight days in Bordeaux for the primeurs, generating a report even more detailed than that for Bordeaux 2011. There is also an ongoing report on Bordeaux 2010, (Pauillac 2010 published today), and later in the year I will return to Bordeaux 2009 and Bordeaux 2011 once more. As for the Loire, I can promise a huge broadening of my profiles, renewing and updating those currently online, and adding many new ones. The Loire coverage is, I believe, already the most extensive and detailed discourse on this region available online, and these further additions and updates should only enhance that. As for the vintages, it has become my custom to look at the most recent releases, so this year’s reports will touch on 2012 and 2011, but I will also continue to fill in the gaps in my vintage reports with Loire 2007, to come later in the year.

And of course, I can’t completely ignore the rest of the wine world. A trip to the Douro is planned for October; I hope I can pull this off, as it might clash with a major Bordeaux tasting in London, and I will also be leading a tour to Bordeaux with a well-known wine travel company that month. It looks as though October is going to be busy; it is already putting my organisational skills to the test, and it’s only January…..

Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death (nor charging a fee) can erase our good deeds.
~ Buddha (with additional material by Kissack)

Well that is my plan for the year. There is, however, one very significant change coming to Winedoctor that I have not yet covered, and it is perhaps the crux of this post. Since its inception in the spring of 2000 Winedoctor has been free to access, funded by the gracious support of an elite band of sponsors, as well as me dipping my hand into my own pocket, quite deeply at times, as the costs associated with flights, hotels, the hire of a not-quite-luxurious vehicle (the one pictured below – my transport for the Bordeaux 2011 primeurs – is typical) and so on soon add up. With twelve years of Winedoctor behind me I have decided that this is no longer the way forward for the site, especially if it is to continue to develop in the ways that I have described above. Having realised that, I have concluded that the time has come for me to charge for access to my writings on Winedoctor.

Hire car, Bordeaux, tastings to come....

This early warning of this change is to ensure that regular Winedoctor readers, and I know some have been reading for many years now, are aware of this forthcoming development; throwing up a paywall overnight just isn’t my style. The decision has not been taken lightly, and has been the product of a year of considered thought and planning, along with a long period of behind-the-scenes development (details of which I won’t bore you with). More precise information on the access fee, payment method, which articles will require a subscription to access them and other details can be found below. I will not be asking for payment until March at the earliest, so although change is coming soon it is not immediately imminent. I want to be straight with Winedoctor readers, and ensure the forthcoming change does not appear as if ‘out of the blue’.

I have posed some likely questions and answers below. If they don’t answer your particular query, please feel free to comment or ask questions using the form at the bottom of this post, or if you prefer you can, as always, email me.

Why change to pay-to-access?

I realise I have already explained this above, but it seems worth reiterating and expanding here. The detailed articles on Winedoctor take time to research, and travelling to Bordeaux, the Loire and other regions necessitates expenditure. It has come to the point where, if I am to be able to continue devoting the amount of time to Winedoctor I currently spend on it, and if I am to be able to expand and develop it in the way I have laid out, it becomes necessary to charge a fee. Having an income from this site would protect my ‘Winedoctor’ time from the many other pressures upon it, which are undoubtedly increasing year-on-year, and in truth the major risk to the continued development of the site. If the site generates some income, it will allow me to fence off my ‘Winedoctor’ time and thereby safeguard the existence and development of this site into the future.

Doesn’t the advertising pay for the site?

The advertising has purposefully always been low-key; only the home-page has more than one small banner. The income is small and contributes towards the costs incurred (described above), but does not cover it.

When will the Winedoctor paywall be established?

I aim to establish the paywall in March. I could set it up today, as the software is installed and has gone through integration and testing. Nevertheless, throwing up an overnight paywall smacks of rudeness and arrogance, neither of which are attributes I desire. I hope the time between my initial announcement, and the paywall being established, will be sufficient for regular readers to acclimatise to the idea of Winedoctor being a pay-to-access site.

Will all Winedoctor content be behind the paywall?

Not all of the Winedoctor content will be behind the paywall, but the meat of the site – the producer profiles, tasting reports, en primeur assessments, wine guides and so on – will be pay to view. Some content, including some new content, will remain free to all. The blog posts will remain outside the paywall, and my weekly wine of the week reports will also remain free to view.

What about the Winedoctor notes on Cellar Tracker?

I have enjoyed my association with Cellar Tracker as one of the professional reviewers. From the time of the changeover these notes will be viewable only by Winedoctor subscribers. At first this will be achieved through the exchange of information with the multi-talented Eric LeVine. Eventually the process will be automated, as it is for other professional reviews on Cellar Tracker.

What will be the fee to access the Winedoctor content?

The fee to access the content will be a one-off payment of £45 per annum (this equates to £3.75 per month), payable by credit or debit card. There will not be a per-article or monthly fee option. There will of course be options for muliple purchases for those in the trade, and discounts for WSET students and the like; details on these are to follow. Credit card payments will be collected by a reputable online card payment system (SagePay) to ensure maximum possible security and peace of mind regarding your card details. Setting this up has not been an inconsequential cost, but I consider the security of your information to be paramount, so this is the route I have taken.

What about those of us who gave you a Paypal donation?

Thank you so much – I was really touched by the donations I received, of which a handful were extraordinarliy generous. I would be delighted to offer a free year’s subscription to anybody who made a donation, regardless of the size of that donation. It does not matter if your donation was smaller than the above stated subscription fee; consider this free year of access as a reward for your spontaneous generosity. Once the paywall has been erected please send me an email and once I have verified the receipt of the donation – I have a record of all received – I will set up your access.

If there are any further questions, as noted above, please don’t hesitate to comment below or get in touch.

14 Responses to “Important News for Winedoctor Readers”

  1. Good luck with the move, Chris. Don’t forget Paypal. Lots of people prefer to pay that way. It won’t stop me, but I am surprised by how many people use it on our site.

  2. Thanks Gavin. I’ll keep that in mind.

  3. Happy to pay, bring it on and all the best for the next 20!

  4. Thanks Michael, delighted to have your comments. I hope I can do another 20!!

  5. Doctor,

    Thanks for all your amazing writing to date! I fully support the move to a subscription basis. Might I suggest, if you’re not 100% locked into your model, you look at what uber-blogger Andrew Sullivan is doing? Details are here: http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2013/01/a-declaration-of-independence.html

    Best of luck!

  6. Hi Michael. Thanks for the feedback and the link, a very interesting read. I won’t take pre-payment though; I’m going to get this off the ground, and people can subscribe when they need/want to. Today’s message was purely about transparency and ‘preparation’.

  7. Chris, duly noted.

    I should have been more specific: Certain technologies like TinyPass give you much more control over how your paywall operates. Whether or not you elect to have people pre-subscribe isn’t nearly as germaine as, say, metering how often people can view all/some content before hitting the paywall. That’s a different approach than just taking certain kinds of content and locking ’em up for only the paying to experience.

    This tactic, of course, depends on your overall strategy. My only point (concern?) would be the impact that wholesale walling-off of content would have on potential customers who haven’t yet experience your work, or have infrequently in the past. If, say, you have a particularly insightful piece on Domaine Plouzeau that’s behind this paywall, then you might find you’re encouraging non-die-hard fans to neither return nor eventually become paying customers. This, not to mention that other writers will be dissuaded from linking to (i.e. promote) your work, another blow to potential upside.

    I mean no offense. There’s a lot of history to learn from (see: NYTimes, WSJ) so I do hope this provides some food for thought.


  8. Thanks Michael

    Tinypass looks like a good option for small CMS sites; the metered preview is appealing. I would like to say I will consider it but I am afraid I also see some issues with it, not least that access is controlled using code buried within the page and in the simple version it uses cookies to track a user’s activity (admittedly it looks as though the tracking can be done without cookies). I don’t think what they offer would be ideal for an old-fashioned html site such as mine. I’m very grateful for the chance to take a look at it though, so thanks for the head’s-up.

  9. Dear Chris,

    I have enjoyed looking at your website. I can also understand your decision to makes charges.

    As I am sure you appreciate there are a lot of pay to view wine websites. I currently subscribe to the Purple Pages having started as a monthly subscriber and then taken a yearly subscription when there was a special offer last year. I would make the following comments:

    1 I could see myself remaining a reader if your annual subscription was set at say £25-30. However, since your coverage is not nearly as extensive as say the Purple Pages, I cannot see myself subscribing at £ 45 except possibly in years when there is a release of a good Bordeaux vintage (ie not this year) or possibly the release prices seem very low (as in 2009 with the 2008 vintage)

    2 I could in any event see my self subscribing for part of the year if that was an option, which you are not currently proposing. Particularly if you have a relatively high subscription fee, I think you are making a mistake in not doing this. Not only will you be losing the chance of any income from readers who balk at the £ 45 fee (in part because there are limits to the number of subscription services that are affodible particularly in years when I am unlikely to buy much) but also you make it less likely that new readers will want to explore the web site

    Thanks for the good work to date


  10. Jeremy, thanks for posting those comments. I’ve had almost exclusively positive feedback (to my surprise) on Twitter and by email and I’m very pleased to receive some contrasting constructive criticism. I hope I can answer of the points you raise.

    On setting the price, clearly I took into account what other sites charge; only a fool would not do so. And I am quite certain that Winedoctor will be the cheapest pay-to-view wine site. Perhaps there are some cheaper I am unaware of, but looking at Robert Parker, James Suckling, Jancis Robinson, Peter Liem et al they’re all charging far more than I plan to.

    Of course, some do indeed have a more broad spread of content than I do but gauging how much this is ‘worth’ to the reader is I suspect a very personal choice. Many (perhaps all?) sites focus on new notes and topical articles. My focus is different, providing in-depth guides, detailed histories and context, high-quality illustrations and photographs – as well as thousands of tasting notes of course. I think all that information gives value and pleasure and is very different in style to what other online ‘critics’ offer. Bearing this is mind I don’t think the price should be any lower than it is simply because I don’t churn out as many tasting notes.

    The price as set is equivalent to £3.75 per month, which these days doesn’t buy much of a sandwich, pint of beer (depending on where you drink!) or a magazine. That £3.75 represents 30-40 hours of work a week writing, formatting, checking, etc. (not to mention all the travelling and tasting and expenditure incurred) and I think the price offers value considering the amount and quality of published material that results. I’m sorry that you think the work is only worth £30 (£2.50 per month) but I acknowledge that these decisions are personal.

    On the issue of monthly rather than annual subscriptions, I don’t plan this at present for various reasons. Of course, if there was a monthly fee, it would be more than £3.75 per month anyway, and so wouldn’t offer such good value as the annual subscription. Nevertheless I will be keeping this under review; nothing is written in stone here, and I may introduce new subscription facilities or payment methods in the future.

    Thanks again, and sorry to lose you if that’s the case. I do appreciate the feedback; I’m glad to know you enjoyed the website while it was free and hope you will change your mind about paying for the content in the future!

  11. Hi Chris,
    Count me in – frankly I´ve quite often wondered how you could do it without…I enjoy and use your winedoc-page a lot – and I guess the main thing is that even expert may have quite different views on what a good bordeaux is all about – most of the time your ratings fit with my view on things so its really helpful to use your ratings to find the stuff I like 🙂
    To some of your plans – I would really appreciate more weight in the lower price range – with the size of Bordeaux there must be castles that can make decent wines in the 10 – 25 £ range….which these days exclude a huge bunch of the clasified producers….
    Anyways – thanks for all the free reads/good advice and interesting updates – look forward to “charged” continuation…
    Best wishes,

  12. Thanks Per, I appreciate your support.

    Hopefully I will be able to increase my coverage of more affordable wines while keeping tabs on the cream of the crop as well. I would think people paying for my reports/reviews would want a comprehensive report and that is reflected in, for example, my plans for the Bordeaux primeurs this year. Two years ago I went for 4 days, last year I went for 6 days. This year I’m going for 8 days, so hopefully I should be able to ensure I cover the Capbern-Gasquetons, Sénéjacs and the like as well as the unaffordable (to me, anyway) Ausones and Lafites.

    Thanks again.

  13. Chris

    I have very much enjoyed reading your website over the last few years. What has impressed me the most is the quality of the writing. In my view you are in the same league as Andrew Jefford, Hugh Johnson or Clive Coates – but with your own wonderful dry sense of humour. I have also come to appreciate Loire wines, or at least the Chenin Blanc wines, thanks to you. If only more of them were available in the UK.

    However, fine wines from the classic regions are becoming so expensive that they will soon be, if not already are, the preserve of millionaire collectors and members of the wine trade. Personally, I can no longer justify paying the huge prices now asked for classed growth claret. Premier and grand cru burgundy, the Rhone, even German wines are all going the same way. This is great for the producers, mostly they deserve it. But ordinary consumers, such as me, need to look elsewhere in the wine world. The good news is that quality has increased everywhere.

    I fully understand why you have taken the decision to charge for access to your carefully researched material. I have always wondered how you find the time and resources to do all this, in addition to your work as a consultant paediatrician. However, while I am sure that many would be happy to pay for a premium service that covers a broad range of wine, I think that focussing on Bordeaux will mean that in future your wonderful writing will only be appreciated by the rich collectors and wine merchants.

    Nevertheless, I wish you well in your venture.

    Best regards

  14. Hi Richard

    Thanks for those comments. I’m quite sure I’m not in the same league as Hugh Johnson (he was an inspiration to me 25 years ago, and I enjoy his columns in the World of Fine Wine very much) or Andrew Jefford. Nevertheless, I won’t put up too much of an argument with you! 🙂

    I’m glad you have benefited from the site over the years while it was free. I have benefited too! By exploring these two regions I have discovered many great wines and met many soulful, dedicated people. None of this would have happened if it weren’t for Winedoctor. Having said that, pressures on my time are such that Winedoctor must go this way if it is to survive, as you have alluded in your comment. I can’t keep the coverage and depth at the current level just for my own pleasure.

    I think your logic in not subscribing is partly sound, and partly flawed. I agree prices are rising across the board, in many regions. And I agree that you need broad coverage if you wish to find well-priced alternatives in the Languedoc, or Chile, or Slovenia. Alternatively, if you want well-priced alternatives from within the region – and these wines/estates must exist – then what you want is someone who knows that region as a specialist subject. This is my approach. While I intend keeping my cru classé profiles updated, and my primeur reports will continue to include Le Pin and Ausone and the like, I will also be able to explore new horizons. I have already profiled good value wines from Castillon, St Estèphe, the Haut-Médoc and Sauternes in recent months alongside all the more pricy stuff. Dedicating more time to Bordeaux will allow me to do this.

    As for the Loire, 99% of the wines here – the only obvious exceptions being Dagueneau and Coulée de Serrant – continue to provide exceptional value for money anyway. And I hope to be able to continue to point my subscribers in the direction of some very good new names soon; there is, for example, an reawakening in Vouvray (as a response to changes in Montlouis, perhaps?) right now. I can’t wait to taste some of these wines and report on them for my readers this year.