Friday, 31 July 2009

Beers Of The World finito: the end of beerwriting as we know it?


One of the magazines I write (wrote) for — Beers of the World — has ceased publication. It follows other Brit beer mags that went AWOL — The Taste (or in its latter issues it should have been The Lack Of Taste) immediately springs to mind, but I am sure there were others. It’s obvious, that unless you have a captive readership, ie CAMRA’s Beer, magazines devoted to beer in this country have no future. It’s ironic given that the British Guild of Beerwriters celebrates its 21st birthday next week, which makes me think that maybe this is the end of beer-writing as we have known it since the 1970s. We are all beer bloggers now.

27 comments:

  1. As a librarian I'm often asked if the book has a future.

    I think the book in general is very healthy, but printed reference works and periodicals seem pretty much pointless to me.

    Beer is quite a small niche to be expected to support a selection of professionally-written publications, I reckon. Getting quality beer journalism into the mainstream media: that's the real challenge.

    Where's me vial of phylloxera?

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  2. Into the mainstream, that is (and has always) been the challenge, and we are not just talking the Guardian…

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  3. There is a certain new US-based beer magazine that has been more or less spamming the twittersphere for the past month or so; in my mind a sign it's struggling for subscribers. Apart from that and Draft (too frat-boy apparently), are there any other english-language beer-related magazines (not counting home-brew ones)?

    In fairness, there's probably enough to read in all the blogs.

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  4. Draft is a sort of GQ take on beer (a colour piece on machine guns in one issue), but the peerless All About Beer is still going, and Beer Advocate, and there are plenty of smaller ones. For me, I like the feel of a magazine, especially when I am travelling and also sometimes some bloggers do need editing, and I talk as someone who is currently editing the work of 40 beer writers.

    Everyone can write, but not everyone is worth reading, whether they are online or in a newspaper (it often amazes me how some newspaper columnists, both local and national, are allowed anywhere near a computer).

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  5. Machine guns? Eh... ok...

    Similar to you, I'd like something to stick in the bag when travelling, but it seemed a bit of a lottery choosing one. If you recommend All About Beer, I'll be checking that out.

    Beer Connoisseur is the new kid on the block, but I'm not tempted.

    Off now to proof read my blog posts in more detail :)

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  6. some bloggers do need editing, and I talk as someone who is currently editing the work of 40 beer writers
    i dont no wat ur talkng abuot. blogers roool!!!1!

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  7. American beer writer Stan Hieronymous (author of the excellent Brew Like A Monk and a 1001 beers contributor) has an excellent comment on this post at http://appellationbeer.com/blog/the-end-of-beer-writing-as-we-know-it/

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  8. There are magazines on beer aswell as books? Good god.

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  9. Thought you were going on holiday?

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  10. Well another beer mag bites the dust, at least I had not just re-subscribed which unfortunatley I had done in the case of the Taste. I shall just have to make do with American mags and CAMRA's Beer for now. I suppose the internet blogs etc is the way of the future, however older people like myself do prefer a bit of paper to read. Talking of which Pete Browns new book on IPA is an excellent read.

    Cheers

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  11. Blogs? Pfft, sooo 2004. It'll be all Twitter from next week, mark my words.

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  12. Possibly a problem is that few people are just interested in "beer" as a generic subject, and so most would find no appeal in large chunks of a beer magazine. Also I suppose it would have to walk a tightrope between being too obscure and spending too much time dealing with mass-market beers.

    A lot of the developments in the wider beer world such as, say, in-can technologies, are things that are of little interest to "enthusiasts".

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  13. Nice post, Tierney. Patronage is what beer needs, but at the moment, beer isn't fashionable, so it's ignored. I genuinely believe that will change over the next couple of years.

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  14. This is a real shame. It feels like beer could be on the cusp of tipping but it's perpetually there and never goes any further; the gradual progressions are consistently pushed back by the negatives. And I do agree with what Zak says (although I say this as a beer lover who wants it to become fashionable!).

    As for editing blogs... I read a lot, some are excellently written, others not, but that's the charm of blogging - everyone can have their say in their own way. In my opinion a bad thing about newspapers and magazines is the collective voice each has; I just don't enjoy the uniformity of it.

    Beer writing will take a different course for a while but there are excellent writers writing excellent things, just now they do it for free and for the love. And I don't doubt that anyone will stop writing, even if it is for free and on blogs, because the love for beer is what keeps us all at our keyboards, half-full beer by our side, note book next to it (but then I say this as someone who has never earnt a penny from writing - although the odd bottle of beer comes through...!).

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  15. I'm not *that* surpised it's folded. I remember reading a copy in the Pembury Tavern a couple of years ago and thinking that it was hard to tell the content from the 'advertorials'. The beer reviews seemed weirdly over-generous (nothing scored less than 7 out of 10). And I couldn't work out who was supposed to be reading it. Pub landlords, I guess?

    I guess that, rather than specialist magazines, I'd just like to see greater coverage of beer in the mainstream press. Why on Earth isn't Pete Brown writing a column in New Statesman, for example? Because we'd rather read wine reviews by Roger Scruton, obviously.

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  16. Bailey: I tried the Spectator when Boris was there, and got a formal no thank you back but then Boris scrawled ‘send something in’ on the side but I never heard a dicky-bird. I am old enough to remember when every Saturday morning featured somethign from Michael Jackson when the Indie was readable. Still got the cuttings. Like Pete (and various others) I still live in hope of persuading an editor that beer should take its place alongside wine. Optimistic me.

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  17. I remember back in 1989 thinking there was a sea change coming; there was Michael Jackson on the telly, in the wake of which Belgian beers started appearing in off-licences and trendy bars. Full page advertisements for Draught Bass, even. Are we further on now? I think the beer scenesters are in general, but the mainstream media has fallen behind.

    The problem I have always had with magazines is that they are too superficial because they're written for an audience that doesn't necessarily know anything about beer. I don't want to read for the thousandth time that the word lager means store.

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  18. Adrian, I've recently moved on from editing an Australian beer magazine and the biggest problem seems to be that the businesses with the money to advertise (and keep the magazines alive) are the big ones with the products that you wouldn't choose to write about as the most interesting thing to say about them is their new bottle shape or which football team they sponsor. Of course, these businesses expect to be written about - and favourably - in return for advertising. The brewers that you would choose to write about often can't afford to advertise. Consequently magazines are full of stories that aren't of interest to people with an interest in beer - who therefore don't subscribe - and people interested in those beers don't really have a wider interest interest in beer so don't buy the magazine either.

    I'm not sure if it would work, but perhaps if enough beer writers concentrated their writing in a single magazine-style blog - modelled on the Huffington Post or similar - it would create a critical mass of readers sufficient to drive reasonable advertising returns...let's face it - most bloggers are writing for the love of it (for want of a more monied outlet) and anything would be a better return.

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  19. I'm not old enough to be this old-fashioned, but I really prefer reading something on paper to reading it online. The latter feels too much like work.

    Re advertising, I'm sure beermatt is on to something there. A handful of US beer mags appear to be surviving thanks in part to ads from craft breweries and homebrew shops, which might have more money to spend on such things in the US.

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  20. Beermatt said: "the biggest problem seems to be that the businesses with the money to advertise (and keep the magazines alive) are the big ones with the products that you wouldn't choose to write about as the most interesting thing to say about them is their new bottle shape or which football team they sponsor."

    Spot on.

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  21. Not all magazines have to suck up to advertisers to survive.

    There's an American food magazine, Cook's Illustrated, that is the basis for a multi-million-dollar publishing empire. And yet Cook's Illustrated accepts no advertising whatsoever. It is extremely successful (and profitable) because it is the most authoritative publication of its type. If you're interested in cooking, it is essential.

    The one publication that has regularly come closest to being essential in terms of what I want to read is Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

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  22. Still, it's not a long list that can Evan and Cook's Illustrates certainly defies the trend...

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  23. "The one publication that has regularly come closest to being essential in terms of what I want to read is Shut Up About Barclay Perkins."

    I agree that is a fascinating blog, but surely a magazine covering that area would be called "Beer History" rather than just "Beer", and might not appeal to many potential buyers.

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  24. "We're all beer bloggers now?"

    You've all copied me, you twats. And I consider this a hobby, not a real job! ;-)

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  25. Bailey:

    "Why on Earth isn't Pete Brown writing a column in New Statesman, for example? Because we'd rather read wine reviews by Roger Scruton, obviously."

    I think people probably would. Although the British don't drink too much wine, they buy it when they're trying to impress people, so want to gen up. If you try and impress people with fancy beer, they'll think you're weird.

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  26. Thanks for singling me out Bailey - I'm touched. As well as trying to secure national press like Adrian, I try hard on a constant basis to get TV ideas on beer commissioned. There's a big difference between liking drinking beer and being 'interested' in beer. If you look 'interested' in wine it says you're cultured - no one really reads wine columns but they like to buy a magazine that has them in. If you're 'interested' in beer this currently suggests you're a little earnest and geeky, and so publishers and commissioning editors don't want to go near. I've got market data that says people interested in good beer are affluent, interested in food and drink generally, and are far more likely to read the publications we're talking about. But perceptions are stronger than data. The comment that sums it up for me is one I often hear at tastings, usually form women: "Oh my God, I LIKE beer. You won't tell anyone, will you?"

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