Photo: Robert Parker (The Drinks Business)
Parker is to become incorporated in a sort of Rubbermaid concern alongside vinous Sharpie, Paper Mate and Waterman scribes.
American wine guru Robert M. Parker Jr. himself announced that a part of The Wine Advocate (TWA) enterprise has been sold and is to have a footprint in Asia also. Lisa Perotti-Brown MW, a current reviewer for TWA, will be taking over as day-to-day Editor of the publication while Parker is stepping down as Editor-in-Chief.
The print version of the newsletter remains in circulation for the foreseeable future. But TWA is likely to evolve and diverge from the subscription-based print model to online versions which will include lifestyle adverts as well. Thus the breadth of TWA brand is likely to stretch even further and beyond.
But how deep will it all still run so as to keep on appealing to those numerous wine enthusiasts that have always associated the magazine with the credibility of its founder and figurehead, the point-precise ‘Emperor of Wine’ who has now relegated himself to the lower league of ‘reviewer’ of the wines of Bordeaux and the Rhone only?
The question of growth – or survival – is not how many shares Robert M. Parker, who is said to remain CEO and Chairman, will have left in TWA but how much of the Million Dollar Nose’s equity there shall be left in TWA’s newsletter after the sale.
The Wine Advocate’s integrity – read saleability – today is still very much tantamount to the persona of brash Bob himself and his independence or rejection of advertising, and to a certain extent the professionalism of the team of reviewers he oversees.
TWA going digital is nothing more than the next logical step in a whole succession of technological changes to reposition the brand. But none of them shall do away with the need for character in the individual that is the man himself. With Parker gone as Editor-in-Chief, incorporated and semi-retired, TWA must make sure that the large core of paying followers doesn’t feel short-changed.
Can Parker’s contributing friends of old ink up instead? When they are asked to pronounce on areas that they know little about, the risk is that the trustworthiness of their palate and pen shall be questioned by investors and subscribers alike.
On the other side of the ocean, wine critic Jancis Robinson MW, who is only 3 years Parker’s junior, has been running her influential Purple Pages on the Web from the start. She seems aware of the pitfalls of such palate-tied succession planning. In this respect it is illustrative that she repeatedly points out that her full-time assistant’s Julia Harding MW and other contributors’ palates match hers pretty closely.
Besides maintaining its credibility there is the issue of uniqueness. It is key that the future advert-rich collective work keeps on coming across as different enough from other leading magazines (such as Wine Spectator) to polarise customers to love, chose and pay for TWA.
Asian ownership and the introduction of luxury lifestyle advertising in the digital edition may be just the boost the newsletter needs. However, for tomorrow’s TWA, the chance is real that incorporating the sharp Parker 100 frontman in a conglomerate of pen pals with palates on different and unfamiliar wine pages endangers that secure step towards succession on which to cash in.