Since the Internet exploded nearly two decades ago, content creators have been scrambling to evolve and adapt. There have been winners and losers and Carl Landau, an evangelist for niche marketing, is definitely one of the winners. In this Q&A, he shows us why “niche” publishing is surviving and thriving in The Age of the Internet.
When did you realize the world “was going niche” and that it would become a powerful marketing force?
I was fortunate to get a job in publishing at a young age with a B2B publisher called Miller Freeman Inc. They essentially specialized in niche titles, and there I worked on a magazine called World Mining, which was an international mining magazine. Later, I got a job working at Dr. Dobb’s Journal, a computer magazine for hackers in the early 1980s. Back then, you used to have to build your own computer, and when I was there I was fortunate in the fact that Apple and IBM started producing PCs.
This is when I decided to start my own magazine called Computer Language for professional programmers. That was the whole idea: we would compete against general interest publications (like Byte). We went straight to the advertisers and readers to ask, “Wouldn’t you rather read a magazine that is specific to you and your interests?”
I realized the power of niche; the more you could segment that audience and the more interested they were with having all of the articles and ads geared to a specific taste, the more powerful it would become. Also, from an advertisers standpoint, they’re getting exactly the target audience they want. So there was a power on both sides. I’ve started five niche magazines and sold all of them over time, but I have always really enjoyed that whole idea of niche. Ultimately, that’s in the power of the Internet. You can find whatever specific information you want on anything you can think of. Niche magazines were basically the pioneers of the Internet.
Have you noticed any major shifts in niche marketing over the past 6 months to a year?
I talk to magazine publishers and many will have just one e-newsletter for their group regardless of size, but the more successful approach is to send multiple newsletters to refined groups of people. I always suggest that it be more interesting to the reader if you had one just about travel or health, and it seems people are finally grabbing on to this notion. You observe your market and then break it into even smaller groups.
Does this translate beyond traditional magazines?
It can be done with events too. Someone can hold a successful tradeshow for a target market but then whittle down their market even more. We hold a CEOs’-only version with 50 people that is very popular and garners a lot of sponsorship, especially considering the small group size. It’s all about getting your market smaller and smaller, and more segmented. The more segmented you can make it, the higher the open rate is. Niche is the way of the future.
Do you see a connection between the fall of the department store, general interest magazines, and your own interests in niche?
The bigger consumer magazines are really hurting because people want more niche. Newsstands, in particular, are inefficient; they have low sell rates, plus a high number of distributors and wholesalers who want their cut, so the costs end up being too high. Niche magazines are still doing well because they are curating their content for you as well as putting together advertisers that are interested in that specific target audience.
Do you think there will be a point where you won’t see bigger consumer magazines?
People have been saying that there won’t be printed magazines for a long time but ultimately, people still like magazines. However, the successful ones are making their content accessible across all platforms. There is also a lot of pressure on general interest magazines to provide audiences with everything they want (from print to digital to endless videos) and still make a profit.
It has also gone the same way for events. People always call for them to disappear, saying there is no interest. But the Internet hasn’t replaced events as a meeting place for people, as you can see with the success of things like Comic-Con. People love to meet with each other and share an experience in their fields of interest. They are the live repercussions of our social media world because otherwise you find everything out through Facebook, or a text or on LinkedIn and it’s just not satisfying.
Is there a difference between “local” and “niche”? If so, what would that (or those) difference (s) be?
We consider the city and regional magazine markets to be niche because once again you are pursuing a very specific group. One of the areas print is still especially successful is in local magazines. I get a local magazine and it’s getting fatter and fatter because it works better in terms of providing local neighborhood information. Print still works better than digital in these cases. There are magazines like The Austin Women that target 2 local niches at once, so these are the types of things that work as both local and niche.
Can you be too “niche” to make a profit? Or is there always a way to find a market? What are some future trends you see coming for Niche Marketing?
It depends on what that market is. Either you need to find sponsors that are interested in that, or find the right market. That way, no matter how many people are in the market, you will be able to support it. For instance, if your audience is wealthy or if it’s a business publication.
We just had the “Nichee Awards” and one of the entrants was a magazine for people that design high fashion clothes for dolls. That’s what is interesting about these, is that you would never know about them unless you are interested in that subject. There’s a guy that owns Parking Today specifically about parking lots and have their own trade show. The whole niche world is powerful, especially if you know what you’re doing.
Carl has founded and continues to run the popular, Niche Media Conference, now celebrating its 10 anniversary. This year, the conference runs from April 4th-6th and will be held in beautiful Austin, Texas.