And just like that, The Wine Advocate is no longer under the command and control of Robert Parker, one of the most (if not the most) influential figures in the world of wine over the past four decades.
According to Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal, the ground-breaking and market moving Wine Advocate newsletter has been sold to a group of Singapore-based investors. Also, Robert Parker will reportedly step down as its editor-in-chief.
Somewhat surprising given its wide readership, the TWA print edition will be phased out – per WSJ, about 50,000 subscribers pay $75 a year for six issues, equating to about $3.8 million per year in revenue. Though, given the rise of the tablet, and the ability to scale production at minimal (to no) marginal cost, it does make sense that TWA prepare itself for the next generation of Kindle-, iPad- and Nexus-armed wine drinker.
And, for the first time ever (and a sign of the times, folks), management will accept advertising, so long as it’s non-wine related.
As far as I can tell, no public mention of the deal size has been made, nor has any detail been provided about Parker’s ownership interest. In Silicon Valley, these types of liquidity events are matter of fact, and often equally murky. (UPDATE 12.12.12: The Drinks Business reports the deal is worth $15 million).
Parker has been tweeting clarifications and updates on the deal, including this one about advertising:
… The Wine Advocate print edition will never take on ads. looking into non wine ads like investment co, leisure on BB & selectively on web
— Robert M Parker, Jr (@RobertMParkerJr) December 10, 2012
Strategically, it appears that the decision to strike a deal with the Singapore group is based on the rising influence of Asian wine buyers. “The newsletter also will put more emphasis on Asia’s nascent wine industry. Ms. Perrotti-Brown plans to hire a new correspondent likely to be based in China,” writes Teague.
Some of the most well-heeled whales come from Hong Kong, Singapore. We’ve seen buyers from Asia move markets, and substantially impact sales and prices at wine auctions such as Premiere Napa Valley in Napa. It appears investors see substantial opportunity in this growing and lucrative market.
The Wine Advocate (TWA or WA)
Costs $75/year for 6 issues
Reviews over 7,500 wines per year
The Wine Advocate was the first to widely adopt the 50-100 scale and use it as parallel to the American educational grading system
“The brand equity possessed by the Wine Advocate is among the most significant in wine publishing.”
Earlier this month, wine public relations expert Tom Wark prognosticated the inevitable sale, and wrote “Congratulations Mr. Parker….Not just for your success but for laying the groundwork for what could become one of the most important world-wide wine publishing ventures in history.”
Many see the traditional 100-point wine scoring system popularized by Parker as antiquated, and due for a makeover. “The idea that a 95-point wine is always better than an 85-point wine is an idea which deserves to die,” says Felix Salmon in a news brief (The Robert Parker Bombshell). “And this deal, with luck, might just hasten its demise.”
Parker noted on Twitter that he’s surprised by the attention he’s receiving, and says, “I’ve had investors since 2001 to help me with the business and technology…”
Anything that RP does is big news, and scrutinized endlessly; polarizing, yes sir. But this time the news is as big as it gets, and possibly the biggest headline in years – at least related to wine media that is. Let the armchair quarterbacking begin. Will the vaunted TWA wine scores (on a 100-point scale) lose their luster, and ability to move wine prices? Will Robert Parker continue to review wines or, as appears to be the case, will he gracefully retire on top, having won the wine equivalent of 7 Super Bowls?
Regardless, the real question remains: which wine blogger will take his place?