Sawing, Varnishing & Subscription News
Subscribers will know that I have been taking a break in the Loire Valley over the past couple of weeks, a period of rehabilitation after two weeks of tasting followed by three weeks of writing up 2022 Bordeaux. Well, if you can call lifting the decking behind my little house to repair and replace some rotting timbers a “break”, that is.
I have of course squeezed in a visit or two (phew!), including an exciting morning tasting with Mathieu Baudry in ladder-climbing sportif mode. It’s a bit different to barrel tasting in Bordeaux.
Sawing, hammering, screwing and varnishing keeps the hands busy, but does at least leave room for the mind to think. Yes, I have been “reflecting”.
In May Winedoctor celebrated (with a very small cake) its 23rd birthday. Although initially the site had no theme (other than wine – doh!) before long I decided it would be more useful to specialise in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, the two regions I knew best. I had been visiting vignerons in the Loire since 1993 (this year is thus the 30th ‘anniversary’ of my Loire obsession), while my Bordeaux experience was more UK-based; the very first article I published was a report on a vertical tasting of Château Léoville-Barton, date-stamped May 20th 2000. My primeurs reports date back to the 2003 vintage, when I usually travelled to Bordeaux as part of a group, although in 2013 I started ‘flying solo’.
One other significant change that also came in 2013 was the creation of the Winedoctor paywall (I remember the comments of my critics with fondness – “It will never work” was the general gist!). The initial number of sign-ups were six times that anticipated in the business plan (Jonathan Maltus would subsequently tease me – “you must have had a rubbish business plan” – he may have been right), and for many years after that subscriber numbers continued to creep up in a gently reassuring fashion, but a few years ago new sign-ups were tailing off.
Then something happened. In 2019 I redesigned the site and moved it to a WordPress platform (up until that point I had still been coding it in raw html). This brought new functionality, including the ability to finesse the paywall (something which this is still gradually rolling out – my admin assistant has now become a part-time coder as we broaden out this ‘softening’ to all 6000+ pages). This brought Winedoctor back into many search engines (although no longer at the top of the search engine results pages – Google definitely prefers free-to-read sites, regardless of the quality of the information). And contemporaneously there was also Covid-19, which I thought would result in cancelled subscriptions, as everybody tightened their belts. On reflection I think the pandemic gave more people time to read, and many seemed to turn to Winedoctor.
The result was Winedoctor subscriptions exploded, and have continued to ‘explode’ ever since, with a 40% rise in subscriber numbers over the past three years (and no, that doesn’t mean from 100 to 140, nor even 1000 to 1400). And I see Winedoctor notes and scores quoted more widely than ever; sometimes I spot them, sometimes loyal subscribers do (thank you David, Robert, Ian, John, and others – you know who you are!), and sometimes they filter through on social media channels.
And the way Winedoctor is being used today brings me to the conclusion of my reflections.
In ten years I have never changed the subscription price for Winedoctor. It was £45 per annum in 2013, and it remains £45 per annum today. I have always preferred to hold the price down and bank on increasing subscriber numbers (which certainly seems to be working) so there is no reason to change that. Thus, for the tenth year running, there will be no increase in the standard subscription price this year.
I will, however, be introducing a professional subscription, which I will add to the subscription pages in the coming few days. The professional subscription fee will be £90 per annum, and it will include permission to use Winedoctor notes and scores, and any other information presented on the pages (within ‘fair use’ limits) without having to seek permission. So châteaux, merchants, cavistes, wine tour companies, wine investment platforms and note/score aggregation services who wish to use Winedoctor data in this fashion will need a professional subscription. This will be added to the Winedoctor terms and conditions at the time the professional subscription option is instigated.
To be clear, those in these ‘professional use’ categories are not required to change to a professional subscription immediately, but only when their current subscription expires (my admin assistant and I have enough to do recoding the paywall pages without worrying about pro rata subscription changes). In addition, please note there will be no monthly payment option for the professional subscription.
I will be glad to answer any queries about the new subscription option at the usual email address. In the meantime, it’s back to sawing, painting and no doubt simply praying that my decking rescue works, before my return to Bonnie Scotland this weekend.