To thrive in niche journalism, innovate and think out of the box
Publishers, from online to print, are turning to niche journalism because it promises to develop a small but growing and intensely loyal readership who, in turn, will lure in advertisers to plunk in the necessary funds that will keep the publication going. Turning to a niche is like creating a unique brand that specializes in a certain subject that attracts a target audience; it can be likened to the small shop that conceptualizes, produces and sells ready-to-wear but smart-looking casual clothes for the more fashion-savvy millennials. In comparison, mainstream media is like the larger clothing store that caters to the whole family, its shelves stocked with Dad’s jeans, Mom’s aprons, the teenage son’s jacket, and the pre-schooler daughter’s floral dress.
The logic that undergirds the economy of niche journalism says that the entire family may not feel the need to buy a new item of clothing every single day. The store owners might also be tempted to just stock their inventory with all kinds of brands to give their customers all kinds of choices, a strategy that again may not necessarily compel the hardworking father to open his wallet. In contrast, the little shop that sells trendy clothes for millennials would have an easier way to discovering what its customers want, greater maneuvering ground to engage them, and thus create the more effective marketing campaigns to keep them buying.
Translate that to the publishing field. Feliticas Sanchez of News Literacy 2016 gives a few examples of niche publications which, lacking the necessary resources to scale, have chosen to focus on specialized topics that appeal to a core readership: Inside Climate News deals with environmental issues like climate change and renewable energy; Syria Deeply covers the war in the region to an extent that no other publication does, and examines its impact on foreign policy; and Skift, which removes travel journalism from the safe confines of regional or country-wide coverage, and instead makes it global.
At the same time, Sanchez says that turning niche does not automatically bring in the hoped-for advertising money. While the overhead costs of the smaller publications that shift to it are less costly, other challenges like expensive IT infrastructure and the absence of a bona fide marketing and business development group do make sourcing of revenues an uphill climb.
To survive, niche publishers must be able to think out-of-the-box and innovate in order to promote themselves. Content may be king, but it cannot rule without his usual court composed of his queen, jack, and ace, among other soldiers. Innovation can begin by addressing the mobile market and making them the priority, instead of an add-on.
“Let mobile behaviors guide your content creation and organization; make it customizable; understand innovation; branch out into apps; join the video bandwagon; and, segment your emails,” advised Magda Abu-Fadil, the Director of Media Unlimited in Lebanon, as published in Huffington Post.
Both legacy and online journalists who are more comfortable writing in long form and use videos and images as mere support for their text-based writing would have to rethink their approach, or even take a few classes to brush up their video-writing skills.
M6 Limited’s Dom Einhorn was ahead of the pack when he founded news app Born2Invest.Knowing that his growing international community of investors, entrepreneurs, businessmen, and decision-makers wanted their daily dose of news fast but in-depth, he advised his team of journalists and content curators to write their news items in bite-sized, digestible pieces where every word counted and yet packed a punch. The app became popular and the number of downloads accelerated because it responded to the needs of a niche audience: relevant, updated information that they could use in business. Not only that, they should be able to access it regardless where they are and what they are doing, and in a format that was easy to read and yet contained enough substantial information that they could remember.
Meanwhile, True Ink is redefining niche publishing by literally transporting its readers away from the simple act of reading a page or watching a video to actually experiencing an activity. As reported by Digiday, instead of just revealing the health benefits of eating an exotic dish like a pig’s heart, the publication actually holds events where the readers can sample the rare cuisine. True Ink cornered the market because the events it stages in relation to its content has to be something truly extraordinary, and not merely another sampling of an expensive dessert or a trip to the Grand Canyon. Some of the activities already greenlighted include a sailing trip to Cuba and a front seat at watching a racehorse being trained, groomed, and prepared for his first match.
The rarity of the experience and its connection to the story they are reading are the factors that compel a reader to pay for the content. As True Ink founder Geoffrey Gray explains the strategy’s appeal, “Instead of reading about a race horse and trainer, you’re part of it, so you have a connection to the story.”
The fourth wall has been breached, and virtual journalism is connecting to the external reality beyond it. But these are the kinds of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking that will sustain and make niche journalism alive and thriving.