Snooth Blog

Snooth User: Philip James

Friday night thoughts

Posted by Philip James, May 2, 2008.

Its Friday night and very quiet in the office as the rest of the office has left (they were up most of the night moving the site to our shiny new servers - am hoping you can all see the difference when you use the site). I'm feeling reflective so thought I'd jot down some thoughts about trade groups and efficiency.

Yes, I love efficiency and Snooth's in part founded on that principle: its more efficient for you, the use, to have a single port of call to research your wines, its more efficient for wineries to have one standard of data feed to support and for them to have one site to monitor the public sentiment on their products.

When Jeff Lefevere of Good Grape posted a call for the two most forward thinking wine industry trade groups to merge, I immediately said I thought it was a good idea. Most people disagreed with Jeff, and maybe I was supposed to as well, as I'm on the Advisory Board for the Wine 2.0 trade group and one of the two Admins for the Open Wine Consortium group for Wine Technology Companies (the other being the fantastically quirky Randy Hall of WineBiz radio, who was wearing his "Bobs Bitch" tshirt when I met him).

Having one industry group is simply the 'efficient response'. It may be hard to actually create, or outside of the respective founders interests, but thats not for me to judge.

This brings me to my next cry for efficiency: wine bottle shots.

Every winery takes a beautiful and artistic photo of every wine they produce. They may have the bottle next to a full glass of their wine, or perhaps carefully positioned on a rustic picnic table, with a bunch of grapes on one side and some corks on the other. Its beautiful, romantic, evocative.

Unfortunately, this is not what online retailers want. They want standard bottle shots. White background, high resolution, standard lighting and standard angles so every bottle shot looks the same and gives the store a sense of uniformity. So every online store now has to hire a professional photographer to re-shoot every bottle of every wine they sell.

With around 25,000 wines sold in the USA each year and hundreds of stores in the US alone having to photograph every bottle they display online the inefficiency is galling.

Conservatively, consider this:

200 stores, each needing 2,000 wines photographed per year at a cost of $50 per bottle shot (and these numbers are very conservative). Thats $20 million.

If there was a standard and the wineries took a second bottle shot that adhered to the standard we'd save $19.9 million dollars.

Stores would be able to offer bigger discounts to the consumer, wineries (at a minimal cost) could ensure their brand was visually represented at its best at all times across all stores, and everyone would be happy.


Blog comment by Michael Turro, May 2, 2008.

Not only would this be a big help to retailers but it would really help out wine publishers as well. The bottle shot and easily findable label files... but I may just be dreaming.

Reply by andrew, May 3, 2008.

I spend a lot of time cropping the bottles out of the scenic winery provided photos. Also, as a designer, it drives me a bit nuts when the lighting on the bottles varies -- especially between bottles of the same vineyard. So yes indeed!

Reply by Philip James, May 3, 2008.

Interesting and heartening to hear support for this. I would like to see if there's any opposition, but its clearly the efficient solution. Take iPod's for example, its fairly clear that every online store selling the iPod doesnt need to re-photograph it, they just use apple's stock images

Reply by John Andrews, May 3, 2008.

Guys ... definitely see a difference in performance and I don't 'lose' my recommendations any more! Great job.

Reply by Philip James, May 4, 2008.

I got a few replies to this on an industry trade group site i'm a member of:

Ian Griffith of Beverage Media:

It would certainly make our lives easier if there was a standardized format for bottle shots. Ideally winery websites wouldn't make the only shot of a wine available on a flash page or pdf file. Are you thinking about all wineries or only wineries of a particular size? And if you can crack this one I'd like to have a go with standardizing UPC codes.

Marshall Sontag of WineQ:

Count me out, my friend! We take our own photos and we (WineQ members included) love them! :)

It's probably cheaper to hire a team of people to Photoshop every single wine brand you put on your site, than to try to get every obscure Chilean winery and small farmer with a wine to adopt a photographic standard, not to mention all the myriad Constellation, et al, brands.

I can't argue with your logic, though.

Reply by Philip James, May 4, 2008.

Ian and Marshall - agreed it would be an epic project to get every single, far flung winery to adhere to a standard, but you dont need too many to agree on a standard for it to begin to work. I was speaking to Paul Mabray about this, with IBG and just a few other constituents a standard could be set and even if just 10% or so of wineries followed it it would be a big help, and over time more should follow.

UPC code standardization would be great as well, but I think thats even harder. The average winery simply copies a Gallo UPC or recycles the same one annually. I'm hoping that with bottle shots, being that they are more visible to the consumer we might get traction faster.

and Marshall, you're right, the photos you take are fantastic, the benefit is mainly for stores with 2,000 sku's and up (and sites like snooth of course).

Blog comment by Paul Mabray, May 5, 2008.

This is a great topic. At Inertia we STRONGLY believe in helping data hygiene for products and have modeled our new system to accommodate exactly this issue. Every winery will have label shots and possibly bottle shots in a standardized format that will be available for consumption via web services. This will be available Sept 08 when we finish migrating all our current wineries onto the new platform. It is exactly akin to the consumer electronic goods industry that standardize their product descriptions and then promote them via rss, web services, or other methods. I am a HUGE believer in not only the label issue but all data associated with every individual product. Only by standardizing at the source, will we all benefit as an industry.

Reply by Philip James, May 6, 2008.

Excellent Paul. Label shots are of course used by the TTB when the wines are registered. Bottle shots are easier for the consumer to identify at a glance, even at the expense of detail.

All we need now is a wine bottle photographer to define some sort of standard and then we can slowly begin to put the word out there.

Paul, I have a few contacts I can pester, but if Inertia has someone in house, or that you use drop me a line and I'll contact them to come up with the tech specs of the ideal bottle shot.

Reply by Randy Hall, Jun 3, 2008.


The fact that I stumble on Philip's post a month late should tell you exactly how many balls I'm juggling. That, and my "Bob's Bitch" T-shirt is in the laundry.

In essence, I see this as related to every other problem in the online wine industry: lack of uniformity. It abounds, partly because of the scale of the problem (how many 100's of wineries? 1000's of brands? 10000's of labels?) but also the personalities involved. There is still a very deeply held NIH (not invented here) mentality in the wine industry. Everyone thinks they are Moses leading their people to the Promised Land, and few want to play nice with others out of some sense of zero-sum competition. The largest players (Diageo, Constellation, Fosters) all have crews of people that can provide uniformity within their individual realms. But step outside that bubble, and it's a bit like entering the mosh pit at a Pantera concert. (I hope I'm not dating myself too badly).

So, the issue remains. How to transform an entire industry's attitude toward data and media. I expect we'll be at this a while.

Reply by Philip James, Jun 4, 2008.

Very true Randy - however, over time most bands made their profile pages on mySpace and the average musician thinks they are about as non-conformist as it gets

Reply by BobBarclay, Mar 25, 2009.

I keep wanting to respond to this but I could think about it forever.
I'm a (bottle) photographer and the concept of a standardized bottle shot eludes me to some degree. Every photographer will have different results on nearly every bottle. It's like making wine, no one gets the same results. Your light shaping capabilities and your eye are your signature as a photographer. I mean, as a technician I can emulate almost any look I see but as an artist I provide something no one else can. Some images motivate and some do not.
But EGO aside, 8>)
It seems to me that the retail industry needs something completely different than the wineries need. Why then should the wineries pay for it? The wineries need strong beautiful images to inspire product lust and establish brand, and Retail needs passport photos essentially, to be used for identification purposes. It would be relatively easy to establish guidelines that everyone should follow for the passport type photos but not the inspirational kind.
The only catch is, I think it falls on the distribution/retail industry to standardize and execute according to their needs. Most little wineries can barely afford ANY photography. It kills me to have to shoot the signature image for a good bottle in a mundane way that will print well on uncoated stock so the sales force can carry or print on site. this same flat image that prints so well on uncoated stock looks super flat on the web and so we get little bowling pins lined up, belly out, no character whatsoever. Possibly some entity could be found to support all this retail shooting and distributing of ID images, perhaps winery associations, trade boards...Any ideas there?

Wineries, as they discover that they have their own TV station on the web, will be more and more involved in presenting directly on the web because of the breadth of media available and the control involved. Not to mention the margins. 8>)

Please let me know how much I don't know about the functioning industries out there- I welcome the education.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 25, 2009.

Very well presented, BobBarclay. I never would have seen this thread if you hadn't responded to it, since I only joined Snooth's in the past month or so. But your pointing to the differing imagery needs of wineries and wine retailers and photographers is spot on.

Reply by Philip James, Mar 28, 2009.

Bob - thanks for stopping by and commenting.

You're right that the two photos have different purposes. The inspirational photos will always be taken by the wineries (or a photographer of their choosing), so its down to the passport photo (I like that term, by the way).

I think the advantage of having a winery be responsible for the passport photo is that then it only needs to be shot once. Retailers are unlikely to share images, and only if the winery has that image shot, can they guarantee its quality.

Retail generally makes up the bulk of revenues for most brands, and although photography is not cheap, I think that the control the winery has over the representation of its assets is a valuable thing.

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