Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What does the future of The Brew Lounge look like? Your thoughts are requested.

The Brew Lounge will return in a few weeks; maybe later in July, maybe August. Let's just say around the time of Ommegang's annual awesomeness of Belgium Comes to Cooperstown (BCTC), give or take. Why the hiatus?

This note has been stewing for quite a few weeks and I finally decided to pull the trigger and put it out there for your consideration.

I've had the shop open here for almost 7 years and, to be honest, there's never been much of a game plan other than continually sharing the (mostly) good of the craft beer scene beginning with the Philadelphia region with frequent stops in the Northern California and New York City and wherever else in the world of good beer I may find myself. Often somewhat haphazard, sometimes seemingly random.

Now, more than ever though, I feel that I need a game plan for how to continue this thing in the face of changing times. In some ways, I have the same lament as my old buddy (and by old, I obviously mean old), Jack Curtin. Not quite as drastic/dire as he makes it sound, but there certainly is a risk in becoming too dependent upon these social media devices. Social, yes. Media, not so much. Read on to see what I mean.

Sure, my "schedule" has called for giving you frequent calendar updates (prior to each month as well as weekly on Thursdays). This has consistently been some of the most sought-after content going at TBL. And, it makes sense. Beer is great. But, much better is beer when paired with friends in social settings. Finding the right beer event on a crowded beer calendar makes sense as one of my readers' top priorities. No one else compiles a beer event calendar in the Philadelphia region as comprehensive as here in the TBL pages. Many of you have thanked me in public for this service and that has been tremendously satisfying and appreciated feedback.

In the past year, I've added "weekly updates" because there's been an explosion of activity over the past couple of years in the industry that I would love to write about and share with you, but there's not enough time in the day to do so. These updates have also generated significant traffic as well as goodwill within the beer and bar community.

But let's stop and think about how much has changed in seven years. How many of you were on Facebook seven years ago? Oh, you were? How about Twitter? BeerAdvcoate (okay, maybe a lot of you were on there back then)? Instagram? StumbleUpon? Tumblr? Pinterest? Google+? LinkedIn? Untappd? FourSquare?

I'll stop. I think you get the message. There are countless new outlets for what passes as writing (or shall we call it, communicating) in the 2010s. Take a look, for example, how Untappd in all of its frustrating brilliance gets people to, with the tap of their phone, say "I'm drinking XX beer". Or Instagram can take a picture along with a small caption. The message automatically trickles over in to Twitter. And, guess what many breweries do? They re-tweet the message that says "Hey, someone is drinking my beer". Whoa, really? How wonderful. {oozing sarcasm, of course} In turn, it has the potential to reach many more eyeballs than me writing an aritcle about said brewery. And that passes for writing/communication/marketing? Frustrating, y'think?

I need to make some sense of what it all means and how I should/might change my approach to best benefit the real reason I do what I do: all of you.

I want to write. I love maintaining the popular calendar for you. But, I want to write. And I want it to matter. I realize that's kind of pie-in-the-sky thinking. But I want it to matter.

Plus, as many of you know, this is no where near close to being eligible for a full-time day job for me. God bless those souls who attempt to make a job out of beer writing, or any food and beverage writing — heck, any writing nowadays for that matter.

Just take this piece of writing as an illustration of the state of food writing as a case in point.

I suppose at the end of the day what it boils down to is figuring out how best to supply the world with great information and get a few more coins in my pocket for it along the way. My nook over in the Communities section of The Washington Times wants to pay me for writing about beer, food, travel, etc. That's a great place to start. I've been doing that for almost two years and I know that I should and could be doing that better — much better. Money won't drive me to write more often or differently, but with the industry bursting at the seams, it seems only responsible to myself that I make sure I get a little for what is mine in return for what I do.

But, what about this here bliggedy-blog thing? Sheesh, I hate that word as much as I did seven years ago. Honestly, I hear myself or anyone else introduced as a blogger — even a "respected blogger"; seriously, I've even been called "one of the best out there", more than once by unrelated parties! — and I cringe — want to flee the scene immediately.

Respected writer, Andy Crouch, has posed the question recently as well. In fact, he poses the question at least once a year or so it seems. And, that's fine. The question "Is the beer blog dead?" has always been a provoking one to ask and I welcome the conversation.

What did all this mean? My writing tends to be more on the, shall we way, comprehensive or full story side. I like to explain thoughts without leaving much to the imagination. So I never really know how many of you make it to the end of these pages. And the feedback is rarely, how shall we say, overflowing. I realize that my writing style doesn't often provoke comments. But I truly would like to hear your comments and opinions here about what you would like to see most here in the pages of The Brew Lounge.

That's enough. As is oft the case, I've rambled on. But, it speaks to where my head's been at this summer as I attempt to become more disciplined in my approach to beer writing/communicating.

Leave a comment below or drop a private email to me if you'd rather.

I do want feedback from as many of you as possible about how to make the future of The Brew Lounge (wherever it may be "located" online) something that means as much of something, whatever that is, that it can be. You all mean a lot to me and I aim to please.

I think I'll also put one of those poll/feedback/survey thing-ies together. That seems to be a good and popular step to take as well.

6 comments:

Rich Isaacs said...

To me it sounds like you want to write less often, but more informative posts. I've always thought that works really well as long as the posts are actually informative and there isn't too long a gap between them. I'll keep reading if that happens.

Either way I'll probably run into you at Tired Hands or Nodding Head or anywhere else in the city, so I'll see you around regardless of how much you write.

Anonymous said...

I watched you and your friend crack a few a few years ago in your backyard live via the net. I'm near Malvern and grow hops and brew my own so don't get out as much to all the events and enjoy reading your reviews. Hope they continue.

Lew Bryson said...

To quote many famous InterWebbers:

Me too.

But you know...I did read this whole piece, but only because I saw the link on Facebook. As always, it's going to be a synthesis. And we'll all have our own mix of reasons for blogging, tweeting, posting, etc.

Ryan said...

I've been in the same boat. I'd like to have an endgame, but any kind of payment for food/drink writing market seems saturated and doesn't pay that well, so I try to stay happy with my press passes. It helps that I enjoy writing, but I too have had the problem of wanting to do longer write-ups rather than little blurbs or quick tweets and sometimes it feels like the web is losing patience with things like that.

I use Facebook, Twitter and Google+ as places to get my links out and generate traffic for the website. I just wish more people would comment on the actual site than via Twitter or FB.

My long-term hope is that, wherever my wife and I move in Canada, the beer scene isn't as strong and well-established as it is here in Philly and I can dive in and take over. Until then, I consider this all portfolio work.

Greg Heller-LaBelle said...

I'll join the chorus of "mmmhmm"s.

To some extent, we blog because we want to. Maybe we're building a portfolio and maybe we hope it will get us to the Brysonian status of author/editor at something, someday, but those are such ethereal goals that I think it has to be a labor of love.

I just did a post where I apologized for the absence, and then came out with a schedule splitting my time between outlets in a way that I hope will be sustainable. That way I can at least feel like I'm focusing a bit on places that pay me. But this is a challenge when one focuses more on long-form writing.

I still think at some point the mass democratization of social media will give way to a period of consolidation, like it always seems to. Since I started blogging, I've always pondered how much a group of bloggers could gain/lose if they banded together to create an online magazine, or at least a central outlet of curated content. It seems obvious, but all of the efforts to do it have not gone that well.

More specifically to your question: This remains a great beer blog (and to Ryan's point, does so in a saturated market), and I would not want it to go anywhere. I would say, though, that I tune in for your writing, and the calendars etc are the things that I would miss least.

Doug said...

In the same boat - kinda slowed / stopped the blogging as more important things in life took over ... But when you write good, informative posts, the frequency does not matter. I see your posts by your Twitter feed (which pushes to my phone) and almost always read them to stay informed.