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:
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.