Thursday, March 1, 2007

Are they worth it? Part 1

When somebody asks you to pay $140CDN a year for access to her private blog, the first claim you'd want its author to make is of some professionalism; Robinson professes something closer to flirty neurosis: "Welcome to this very personal, obsessively updated, completely INDEPENDENT source of news, views and opinion on fine wine and food by me, Jancis Robinson." Close your eyes and pretend that was written by a guy---would you ever want to meet him without witnesses?

What's perhaps most fascinating is the almost teen-magazine vocabulary she uses to promote her wares, promising "gossip and my deeply personal opinions" or "my special collection of advice and facts" to the subscriber. (You mean, there's an ordinary collection of advice somewhere in the free section, alongside a selection of more superficially impersonal opinions?) The come-on is that you're not only getting inside information, but that you're getting an ethereal sort of equivalent to personal access; she's not only going to be whispering in your ear but nibbling on it as well.

And the privileged content? Well, for every two articles available only to paid members, there are three that any plebe can read, so you've already got more than half of her output without dropping even a sou. As for the rest, a lot is local and inapplicable to you (like February 1st's "If you're going to the Australia tasting today..."); or ratings of wines you're never going to see (the same day's "Domaine de la Romanée Conti 2004's"). By and large, the unique stuff that you might find nowhere else really does amount to highly esoteric gossip---her marketing actually matches her goods.

Are the goods worth it? Well, here's one way to think of it: For the cost of a year's admission to, you could buy a couple of fabulous bottles of wine and a copy of Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine---a book that, the last time I looked, made no claims to being obsessive or deeply personal, but merely to being a fabulously professional piece of work. The choice isn't just yours, it's a pretty easy choice as well.

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