Newspaper and magazine wine clubs
The first time you saw one, it struck you as a bit odd. Then you saw another one. And another.
This is no ordinary brand extension. It’s not like selling crossword puzzle books or sponsoring a lecture series. It doesn’t flow naturally from the core business; in fact it can pair as jarringly as a big Cabernet with your sole meuniere.
The Wall Street Journal was the first major newspaper to offer a wine club membership, launching its Discovery Wine Club in 2008. Today there are dozens of publishers in the wine business, from the Dallas Morning News to Rolling Stone. Most of the clubs are open to readers and non-readers but offer special deals and promotions to their subscribers. The more successful clubs, like the Wall Street Journal’s, come from publications appealing to an affluent demographic with an affinity for fine wine; some, like USA Today’s, have been a total bust.
Some are natural pairings.
A wine club was a natural extension for Touring & Tasting, a lifestyle publication based in California’s wine country that can claim cozy, insider access to some of the area’s producers. Sunset Magazine has been writing about food and wine in California since the 19th century and sells the ‘kitchen-tested’ expertise of its wine club’s curation. And of course the club from the magazine Food & Wine comes from Food & Wine.
Rolling Stone and Playboy are two publications that are looking to build their lifestyle branding with wine clubs.
Rolling Stone calls its club Wines That Rock, with bottlings like ‘Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon,’ ‘The Police Synchronicity Red Blend,’ and ‘Woodstock Chardonnay,’ explaining that “Each wine we deliver is a reflection and interpretation of the music itself, inspired by legendary artists and the rock ‘n roll mythology behind these classic albums.”
Playboy has dipped its toe into the wine business before. There was a successful 2006 collaboration with Napa Valley’s Marilyn Wines that produced a Merlot with a peek-a-boo peel-off label based on Marilyn Monroe’s 1953-centerfold photo from the inaugural issue of the magazine. In 2008 Playboy sold a different high-end bottle each month with photo labels featuring vintage magazine covers from the 1960’s and ’70’s. A press release from Playboy Enterprises stresses the lifestyle connection of the new wine club:”We carefully select a handful of wines that represent the essence of the Playboy brand – delightfully jovial, indulgent and carefully crafted — while catering to the consumer’s desires to celebrate life and live it with a little style.” The wines are offered in themed ‘encounters’ like Blind Date (surprise selections), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (white varietals), and the Mansion Collection (a vertical tasting of Bordeaux).
For all their talk of ‘lifestyle,’ newspaper and magazine wine clubs are really about money, plain and simple. Paid circulation is down, advertising is going the way of the web, and newspapers and magazines haven’t quite cracked the monetization model for online content. Most of the publishers are just looking for a cork to plug the flow of red ink. With challenges to the traditional publishing business model coming from every direction, the hope is that this new revenue stream from wine clubs can help the old-line publications age as gracefully as the wines they are pushing.