This month we talked to Jane Anson of janeanson.com, ‘the world’s most informed and accomplished expert on the wines of Bordeaux’ according to John Stimpfig (we can only agree). After two decades at Decanter, Jane is now taking her own path as the founder of her already wildly successful eponymous site. We talked about why a content subscription model was right for her – and why using different content mediums is essential to her business.
Consumer wine subscriptions are commonplace now, but content subscription models are also gaining traction in wine. There’s the original pioneers such as JancisRobinson.com, and new sites like thewineindependent.com, but your specificity is unusual. What made you decide a content subscription model was right for your business?
I thought – [what content] do I pay for? So, paying for the New York Times, I’m paying for Eric Asimov; paying for Christopher Clarey because I love tennis, he’s been writing about it for 20 years, he knows everything there is to know and I really appreciate his expertise.
So many people write about Bourdeaux. It’s such a big area, it can feel intimidating. So, I needed to offer something different. Expertise. I’ve written seven books about Bordeaux; I’ve been writing about it for 20 years. I have a deep knowledge of this region and I think I approach it in a slightly different way in that I try to give context, I try to give the history, to compare what chateaux are doing today with what they did in the past.
If you look at how the content model is developing today, I think I fit well into it. Think about who people pay for on Substack. They pay for people who have true depth of knowledge of their field. I hoped that was how my site would find a place in the market. And I’ve been so thrilled – it’s only been going for 4 months but it feels like I’ve been doing it forever in many ways and it’s had great traction. I got to the number I had in my head of where I wanted to get to by the end of the year – but I got here within 9 weeks.
So actually, the narrow focus, the specificity – it’s the strength of your subscription model?
Bordeaux is sold all over the world and there are a lot of people who are interested in this region. Maybe they only need to look at stuff at key moments of the year, but I hope they’d think ‘oh, I’ll go to Jane’s site because she’s the expert’ rather than a more general interest site where they have to dig through to find the information they need.
Your multi-media approach gives you a fascinating overview of a variety of content channels. Why?
I’m different from a lot of comparable sites with content subscription models because I don’t have outside partners. I could have done – I had people asking me if I was looking for investment. But I decided because I wanted to be able to prove it could work, and I wanted to do it on my terms. I didn’t want to owe somebody money until I knew it was a business which could work. But I [also couldn’t] do everything myself. So, it was very important to find the right partners.
67 Pall Mall can produce video content that is so much better than anything I could produce on my own so it seemed sensible. And it helps me to reach more people. They already have a lot of engaged members globally and I’d already worked with them for a number of years, so it made sense.
I’d also been involved with The Wine Conversation since the beginning. It’s so helpful for me to have someone who’s a true expert, who knows how to edit and put it all together. It means I and my subscribers have the benefit of that without having to learn all of those skills at the same time as I’m learning to launch a business and do all the marketing and so on.
Which form of content do you find the most valuable? And how do you make your content stand out in a saturated market?
I strongly felt that one of the reasons I wanted to strike out on my own and [launch this site with multiple content streams] is that nowadays we all want different ways to consume our content. Sometimes we’re listening to it while we’re travelling; sometimes you just want to sit down and read something in a more old-school way. So, it was really important to me from the beginning that I could sometimes cover the same topic but in different mediums.
I’ve found that people love podcasts – it’s such a powerful way of reaching people. Being a writer you research, do the interview, write it up – it’s such a long process. But there’s something quite liberating about doing the research, doing the interview and that’s it. For me, it’s liberating. So, when I’ve had a history subject where I’ve had both the written version and the podcast, they both get traction but I do find that it’s the podcast which really takes off.
What I try to do is not make them wine wine wine specific, but to find the stories around it. So, for example I’ve interviewed the guy who started the UC Davies wine library, and a historian who specialises in Irish merchants in 18th century Bordeaux. I try to not just make it interviews with winemakers about how they make wine – there are already so many that do that. I’ve been thrilled by how well the history context stuff has done. I’ve put a lot of it as free to read because it’s such a good way to get people into the site and again, it’s a point of difference for my site. Now I get chateaux saying to me ‘we have this cool piece of history; would you like to write about it?’ which is great.
Partnering with Sarah for the Old Vine Conference is another way to give my site a point of difference. I want to be a resource for people who need to research Bordeaux – and that’s amotivation for me, to think ‘oh I want some content about old vines because of the OVC’. So, I’m looking at where are there old vines in Bordeaux and going out to talk to the producers. I’ve only done one so far but have more lined up for the next six months – all content inspired by that partnership.
We really like that you are determined to give ‘real world benefits’ to members. Why did you feel this was an important element of the subscription?
This again is an aim I’ve been clear on from the beginning, designed to be another point of difference for me. Working for Decanter was wonderful, but you’re always one step away from the person you’re creating content for – I didn’t know who the subscribers were. So, I was really clear that with my site I wanted to know who they were and have a relationship with them.
If someone is choosing to become a part of my site, that’s a big deal to me. They’re choosing to spend €110 that they could spend anywhere – so, I wanted to give them a genuine reason. If you’re my subscriber you have the option of coming to Bordeaux for a week and having the most unbelievably awesome week, you’ll get to have sinner with Lafite-Rothschild – you name it. This is a true point of difference I can offer because of my personal links in the region.
And then I’ve had the idea of doing this mentor week – a completely free week for young people who want to get involved in wine. It’s my recognition that people dismiss Bordeaux [as impenetrable], but Bordeaux has given me a great career. I want young people to know that you shouldn’t be afraid of thinking that you can have a career in wine which gives you a great sense of personal development. I think Bordeaux offers a lot for that. So, I’ll bring people to Bordeaux, give my time for free for a week, and have my chateaux partners lined up so they’ll do things like a day’s harvest, stay at chateaux, explore biodynamics [and so on]. I want my subscribers to nominate people – people who think Bordeaux is too closed off, so I can open the doors for them. There will be a day during the week then I ask them specifically which area they’re interested in and I will match them up with the right people to help them. It’s a way to pay it forward.
It’s good to have a link with my subscribers which is real – a recognition that I didn’t want to just be another website wich publishes my notes. I wanted to do something which was a bit more real.