The Future of Internet Whisky Blogging
I was perusing through SKU's list of internet spirits blogs yesterday and I was reminded about an article I wrote nearly four months ago, but later deleted before posting. It had to do with two things: my opinion on the usefulness of a whisky blog itself and my announcement that I was shutting this one down.
What stopped me was a fashion documentary I was watching on television at the time. The fashion industry is going through a much larger and much more transformative version of what the booze business is witnessing. Magazines like Vogue and Elle are fighting to stay relevant. Even the queen herself Anna Wintour is supposedly under the gun to do something about these new, energetic fashionistas armed with iPhone cameras and an IP address. Fashion bloggers are everywhere, snapping photos, Instagraming the latest trends, styles, and looks into cyberspace and making monthly print editions look outdated upon release. A new blog post can be whipped up in seconds and available to everyone with a computer instantly and for free.
What you don't always get with a blog is professional photography. Or professional writing. Or professional opinion. Or professionalism in general. But who really cares about any of that stuff anyway, right? Just get me my news and make it fast! I've only got two seconds before another text vibrates this thing and sends my attention elsewhere. Industry blogs were originally a way to pass the time between magazine issues. A way to keep readers engaged until the next magazine hit the newstand. Now the roles are almost reversed. Blogs keep people glued in twenty four hours a day to the lastest updates and information. If one isn't updated fast enough, another one will be.
Do we really need this much information about whisky, however? Is it filling a need? Why do so many people feel compelled to start a weblog about alcohol and share those opinions with the world? Most of it is pure ego, which is why I was ready to give it up a while back. My ego got me into this game and it was making me write things to boost its self-absorbed nature. Sure, K&L didn't have anyone writing about spirits so it did serve the customer base a purpose, but that wasn't what motivated me to do it. I wanted to create a reputation for myself and that seemed like a good way to do it. Anyone who writes a blog about whisky is in the same boat. Anyone who tells you they're not is lying. I'm not saying that blogs written by egoists aren't useful (because I think this blog can be useful at times), but I am saying that the rise of the ego is beginning to replace actual news and journalism. It's not much different than the twenty-hour news cycle – one hour of actual news, twenty-three hours of people talking about that one hour.
Understanding the fashion industry is important to understanding trends. Things come into style, then they go out again. Knowing what's going to happen next is a big part of success. Booze is no different. Look at all of these people kicking themselves because they didn't have more old Bourbon ready for this ravenous market! Most of these cycles are repackaged versions of older ones with big-brands mimicking the little guys. With music it's like clockwork – every other decade. The 70's were repackaged in the 90's. The 80's were repackaged from 2000 to 2010. Now the 90's are starting to creep back in. I saw a girl wearing maroon Doc Martins in the Mission last week with her steampunk outfit and she was in her early twenties. It all comes back around again.
While I don't think blogging itself is a trend that will soon grow stale, I think whisky blogging is. The prominence of whisky blogging is a reaction to two things: the lack of media concerning smaller releases and independent bottlings, and the desire for bloggers to be seen as an expert in this field. Eventually, however, two things will happen: there will be too many reviews of the same bottles and there will be too many people clammering for your attention. Once this happens people will start to burnout (and it's already starting). When people start to burnout on reading whisky blogs they'll either gravitate to one or two faithful sites or they'll just stop reading completely.
Whisky blogs are also a reaction to the industry in order to help tell it what we want. To help guide it and consumers towards quality. To voice our frustrations and to prevent others from buying bad products. It's working. It's been working. It's working so well that we're actually starting to see co-option. Brands will now send you free stuff if you can get enough of a following. If bloggers get free stuff it might make them say nice things. When a blogger gets co-opted by the system he or she becomes irrelevant as an independent voice. The brands are becoming smarter. They're all starting their own blogs, making their own "craft products," throwing insults at the bigger companies in an attempt to appear more artisan. Blogs are seen as the homebase of serious whisky drinkers. "If we can infiltrate the blogs, we'll win the war!" I'll bet there's a Dr. Strangelove George C. Scott-type executive in a boardroom somewhere shouting that very phrase right now.
Back in 2009, you couldn't be up to date with the whisky scene unless you were reading the whisky blogs. Nowadays, I'm not sure there's much more they can offer besides breaking news. The blogs have always been there to help educate newer consumers about the alcohol they're drinking, but there's so much information out there now that everything just seems like a rehash. We're recycling stories, travelogues, ideas, opinions, and rants like Lady Gaga recycles old Madonna schticks. There's nothing underground or cool about a whisky blog anymore because there's nothing underground about whisky. Whisky is the hottest thing out there. It's being pushed and sold at max capacity. It's so cool we can't get enough of it. You can't stay relevant, however, by following the current trend. You stay relevant by spotting the next one before it arrives.
What does the future of whisky blogging hold? Not rants. Not reviews. Not scores. Not travelogues. Not education, either. Those things have been done. They're still being done. It's time for whisky bloggers to adapt, however. Into what I'm not sure. That's what I see my job as, however. Not to stop blogging, but to figure out what that is.