February 19, 2016 Last Updated 7:18 am

Wine Spectator’s new iOS app, Xvalues, aimed at wine novices

New free app is targeted at value conscious wine drinkers, especially millennials who may not be as familiar with the Wine Spectator brand as older magazine readers & wine lovers

The magazine Wine Spectator late last week released a new mobile and tablet app, aimed at wine novice, especially those on a budget. The app, called Xvalues, is currently only available for iOS devices (each of the four apps inside the App Store work on both the iPhone and iPad).

Wine Spectator is published by M. Shanken Communications. Something I didn’t know about the oversized magazine is that it was founded in 1976 as a tabloid newspaper by Bob Morrisey in San Diego. Three years later it was purchased by Marvin Shanken who was publishing the beverage-industry newsletter Impact. Shortly thereafter the magazine began its famous blind tastings panels which gave the magazine its credibility, as well as an enormous database of wine reviews.

Xvalues wine spectator iPhone app magazinesWhen I live in the Bay Area I was a member of the Vintner’s Club and kept all the tastings notes, so I understand the value of those reviews – so does the publisher of Wine Spectator as this is not the first ratings app the publisher has produced. The one that is on my iPhone is WineSpectator WineRatings+ which offers a free 30-day trial of access to the ratings, but also offers some free content including a vintage chart, which is what I find so useful (and it that wasn’t free I might be tempted to delete the app).

This excellent new app does several things I think other publishers should think about when thinking about launching new apps.

First, it tries to reach a new audience, and so while the Wine Spectator name is on the app, it doesn’t use that name as a crutch.

“Our goal is to make Xvalues the go-to app for wine consumers of varying ages and levels of wine expertise—from Millennials to Boomers and beyond,” said Jessica Shanken, vice president of business development at M. Shanken Communications. “Through Xvalues, we’re excited to educate and enlighten new generations of wine lovers, and, just as important, help them impress their dates, friends and family. The app is easy to use for anyone and everyone.”

The name “Wine Spectator” means a lot of wine drinkers of a certain age (guess that would be me), but does it mean the same to millennials? With newsstands closing left and right, it is getting harder to find magazines, especially those that are not of a certain circulation level, or sold mostly through supermarkets. My own local Borders closed down years ago and has never been replaced with a decent sized newsstand.

So, creating a new brand for this app, then allowing users to get exposed to the Wine Spectator name inside the app makes a lot of sense.

Xvalues ad iPhone magazinesSecond thing about the app is that it is free. Younger device owners are definitely into free: free apps, free content. No matter how much publishers want to believe their content had value, app and mobile web readers gravitate towards free content.

The app is made up of several sections: Top Values, wines $12 and under; Reds, $20 and under; Whites, $20 and under, Sparklers, $40 and under, and a fifth section which will change depending on the time of the year (right now it features Valentine’s Day Picks).

Unfortunately, the app does rather aggressively push paid content, not with obnoxious pop-ups, fortunately, but with sections of the app that push subscriptions or downloading the paid content app. The app, for instance, would not be of much value when shopping for wine as it has no search mechanism. The app for that would obviously be WineSpectator WineRatings+, which the app points the user to.

I suppose this can’t be helped, but I am sure that a native digital publisher or app developer would have shied away from that, preferring to find other ways to try to make the app pay. For instance, a popular app creates good real estate for new mobile advertising. And, in fact, this app contains advertising as you can see at left. This is the way to do it.

To push this concept I would have liked to have seen some editorial content included, this not only creates more real estate for digital advertising, but would push the idea that magazine itself is a great place to learn more about wine.

I am reminded of the conversation I had with former Bonnier publisher and Mag+ CEO Gregg Hano. Hano said that one thing publishers really need to do more of is have a conversation with their readers through their apps.

“I read recently that the average individuals a smart phone picks it up 150 times a day,” Hano told TNM in 2014. “If you are picking up that device that often a bit of content coming into me every 30 days doesn’t feel right for the device that I am consuming it on.”

Hano’s idea was that the app should actively work to find out the interests of the reader and push more content their way, informing them through push notifications that a new article that they would find interesting is available.

“Yes, I love home technology, I’m interested in aviation, and I’m interested in automotive technology,” Hano said. “Great, now the publisher, the content owner, has some great data.  And they can begin to ask them “would you like to see information from our brand on automotive technology?”

“There is so much information that they can begin to drill down and begin to share with their consumers on a weekly basis, or on a more regular basis, that is pushed to their devices, so that when they pick it up one of those 150 times a day they see that little bit of content come through, and they begin to engage with the brand more regularly.”

I think this approach would work well for Wine Spectator. As I mentioned, the magazine is oversized, so does not work well as a PDF replica edition (though that is the only way it is available as a digital edition).

It is difficult, I know, for traditional print publishers to shift their thinking away from a paid subscription model to a digital content model, but for many titles this will be necessary, especially as print circulation levels fall. For Wine Spectator, their circulation level is pretty much where it was a decade ago, though the magazine now is carrying nearly 13 percent of its readership as Verified, rather than paid. Going forward they will have to think about new ways to reach readers, especially younger ones, ones whose knowledge of wine does not include knowing where Grenache is king, and which Port vintages have been widely declared.

This app is a good way to reach those future readers, and with some improvements, it could be a real hit with younger wine drinkers.

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