Niche Publishing and the Power of the Few

by | Oct 3, 2011

Before I ever got into publishing I somehow decided to become a publisher of old cookbooks. I have no idea where this thought came from, and even less idea why I thought it would be successful.

Something about the combination of public domain books and the availability of targeted mailing lists made it all seem very exciting. I actually began collecting old cookbooks that looked like they might translate to the modern kitchen.

The first one I bought, as I recall, was titled something like “Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Dainties.” I think it’s entirely likely this book is still in a box in the garage. Somehow, in retrospect it doesn’t seem like such a good idea at all.

Long Live the Niche

But the idea of niche marketing stuck with me. Here’s a photo I took last week outside the Starbucks I write at in the mornings:

self-publishing is a niche business
I’m not sure how the zoning on this type of business works, but originally it was a key shop, with a proper key machine and cards full of blanks.

Then it was vacant for a while, and now it’s the home of a fellow whose business is repairing iPhones, iPods and iPads, including replacing the glass, if necessary.

It’s the ultimate long-tail business. If the glass on your iPhone cracks, who you gonna call? Your Applecare warranty won’t cover it. You need “iPhone Guy,” and there he is, surrounded by lots of convenient parking, no less.

Lots of Successful Publishing is Exactly Like That

Niches have always attracted specialty publishers, and there are publishing companies that have been built on the foundation of a strong position in a niche.

Like Dan Poynter became the “Self-Publishing Guy” and kept mining that niche for decades. Or Nolo Press, which started out with a tightly focused line of practical books on how to handle legal affairs yourself.

Or like countless publishers of niche products like books on chess, or books on raising pigs, or books on how to prune trees, or books on cheap travel tricks, or books on repairing classic Volkswagens.

If the classic niche market is “one-half inch wide and a mile deep,” then that also means there are a tremendous number of niches available.

It’s Not a Trap, It’s a Launching Pad

Sometimes you think a niche is too narrow, but this is rarely the case. It’s more likely you feel you won’t have room to move, to spread your wings in that one-half inch space.

But the narrow niche isn’t a prison cell, it’s a place of concentration. You focus on your niche like a laser, since that’s all that’s in front of you. You concentrate your energies and your time on just this one thing. Soon you are a go-to person in that narrow little niche. That’s where the energy to expand comes from.

The next thing you know, you’re being asked about your niche by people in neighboring niches, or in niches that are larger than yours, or contain yours.

The narrow niche isn’t a prison cell, it’s a place of concentration.

Like if you become the “go-to” writer in the hand-tinting-photos-with-crayons niche, eventually the big dogs in the hand-tinting-photos niche are going to want to get to know you. And so it goes.

Book publishing is an ideal vehicle for niche information marketing, and has been for many years. It was through this kind of publishing that many self-publishers prospered before the “Kindle millionaires” started to make self-publishing seem like it was maybe an okay idea.

And it still works today. It’s the perfect way to use the expertise you have to create a dynamic asset that will continue to grow as long as you do.

So remember “iPhone Guy” and the tiny store in the parking lot. He’s got a pretty powerful secret in there.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

3 Comments

  1. Jeanne Mayeux

    Niche publishing is a wide open market right now with the proliferation of people publishing ebooks. Book sales aren’t exactly up but there is a growing interest is highly specific niches. Corner an untapped market and hit it big like Dan Poynter.

    Reply
  2. Joel Friedlander

    Yes, I am very familiar with the syndrome, Liz. Part of it is that when you become an “expert” in your field, you get a lot more enjoyment from talking to other experts, people who really get all the nuance and detail in what you are doing.

    From that point it’s all too easy to completely forget about your marketing plans and the reality that if you write for experts you may boost your credibility in your field but your message will get through to very few people.

    Unfortunately, it seems all too rare that experts “understand what their market wants and needs” because they have lost touch with the market, or forgotten how confusing and frustrating it is to be a newbie in their field.

    This is closely associated with overwhelming readers with too much information, too much detail and an assumption they already know the basics.

    But, of course, that’s why they need help like the kind you can offer, Liz. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    Reply
  3. Liz Alexander

    Love this line, Joel (so much I’m about to post on LinkedIn and FB): “The narrow niche isn’t a prison cell, it’s a place of concentration.” And I wholeheartedly agree with what you write.

    Here’s the issue I see, over and over. Especially with folks who believe they can write a book by themselves and amass what’s usually a “War and Peace” sized account of their particular subject matter expertise:

    I used to think that many new nonfiction authors didn’t trust the “niche” concept. Now I think that most don’t know enough about their market and what their readers care about to accurately identify their niche.

    For example, I had three separate conversations just the other week with professionals who had either published or completed a manuscript on their topic and clearly had no idea who they were writing for. In their effort, I guess, to be comprehensive (or was it to show how smart they were?) they’d thrown everything in there so their book resembled the smorgasbord you find on North Sea ferries :-) A choice so broad and overwhelming that you didn’t know where to start consuming it.

    Writing for a niche goes hand in hand with truly understanding what your market wants and needs. Like the iPhone guy…smart to focus in on one service that would otherwise be a pain, or impossible, to source. If he had made the mistake of broadening too much he’d bump up against Apple and dilute his value.

    Where many first-time nonfiction authors go wrong (and, because the gatekeepers aren’t guiding them, they often don’t realize this until too late and their book bombs) is thinking about the book they want to write — demonstrating their wide knowledge and genuine desire to share that expertise — and not the problem their target market wants addressed.

    Thoughts?

    Reply

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  1. Book Marketing Blog Carnival – October 26, 2011 - […] Friedlander presents Niche Publishing and the Power of the Few — The Book Designer posted at Joel […]

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