Business Musings: Niche Marketing Part One

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Niche marketing has existed since the beginning of marketing. Back in the day, though, companies didn’t call it “niche” marketing. These places marketed to their category or their type.

The idea that something could be marketed to everyone was a mid-20th century idea, bolstered by television. When programs went out to 120 million viewers or more every week, the way that Norman Lear’s shows  did in 1976, the idea of placing an ad on those programs was less niche marketing than trying to reach a percentage of that huge audience.

It wasn’t quite marketing to everyone, because advertisers were targeting Norman Lear shows like Sanford & Son and All in the Family, shows that were known for their liberal points of view. But still, the advertisers were trying to appeal to a broad swath of consumers rather than a select group of people who might fall in love with the product.

Now, appealing to a broad swath of consumers is almost impossible. We don’t have many venues—anywhere in the world—where we can advertise to hundreds of millions on a weekly basis. Here in the United States, the only programming that consistently brings in what’s now considered to be a large viewership are sporting events, and even that’s niche.

Most people here watch American football’s Superbowl, not because of who is playing, but to see the ads. Now, the ads play on YouTube and other venues before the big event, so people don’t even have to watch it.

This past week, I watched a lot of hockey, because the Las Vegas Golden Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. The ads were different than they had been during the regular season. Less Vegas centric, and more product centric—anything from certain types of beer to…well…certain types of beer. The Vegas centric ads were less about local products and casinos and more about online sports betting.

Advertisers were aware that they were appealing to a wider audience, one that now included people in Florida, because Vegas was competing against the Florida Panthers. As a result, we also saw a lot of Disney vacation ads and even Disney movie ads.

It’s the job of many people at advertising agencies to make the decisions about how to market to a wide group of consumers and how to target consumers.

Social media created a frenzy for a certain kind of marketing, particularly by using influencers to target a very well known kind of consumer.

I had to laugh, though, as I went deep into the definitions of niche marketing for this blog series—and it will be a series, as I promised last week.  

Niche marketing is what traditional publishing is doing, and doing wrong.

Now, for that statement to make sense, you have to look at the history post that I put free for everyone on my Patreon page two weeks ago.

Here’s some information from that post that’s relevant to this one:

Sixty years ago, traditional publishing’s marketing was 100% niche marketing, geared at bookstores and book distributors. Eventually, the markets expanded outward to include department and grocery stores. But that was still niche—or in those days, targeted—marketing to a specific subset of businesses.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, traditional publishing is built on a Business to Business model (B2B). You’ll note that the targets above are all other businesses, not consumers. Up until the 1990s, it was the job of regional distributors to know what each bookstore and each grocery store needed for their racks.

I distinctly remember a regional distributor tell me that a certain Canadian fantasy writer was a bestseller in the America South, but that they couldn’t give his books away in Oregon.

That’s niche marketing on a B2B level.

It matters a lot less now to have B2B marketing in books. There are very few brick-and-mortar bookstores left. The online stores have infinite shelf space.

Writers have been relying on the algorithms of those online bookstores to target readers for their books, but the writers don’t know how to go about it. As Amazon and Google ads lose their effectiveness because the European Union (and other places) have policed them for privacy violations, writers have to figure out their own way to market to consumers.

The problem is writers in particular are stuck in the old traditional ways of doing things. Even the pioneers in modern book marketing are relying on the old traditional model.

When you see the gurus talk about marketing, they’re talking about marketing to a large swath of readers, rather than finding the right readers. Even when they’re discussing things like drilling down in Amazon ads to the also-boughts or a reader who might like a different book similar to yours, these gurus are still thinking like traditional publishers.

Ten years ago, I started up a series of newsletters. That was back in the day when writers were gathering 50,000 names on their newsletters with free promotions and giveaways and other gimmicks that would bring in names.

Those gimmicks died down, particularly when writers realized they had to pay for those names of people who signed up for free. Those people wanted the free book or the chance to win an iPad. They didn’t give a rat’s stinky behind about what book that writer promoted two months later, just like I didn’t care about the various kinds of beer pitched to me during the fifth game of the Stanley Cup finals, as Vegas dominated its way to victory. Those ads were wasted on me.

My series of newsletters still exist. Some of them are small, but they’ve grown organically. I’ll be doing a bit more promotion of the newsletters in the second half of this year. Just an awareness promotion, not an actual “join this list and be entered into a contest for a free iPad” promotion.

My newsletters, which you can find on this website, are segmented in advance. I’m the kind of reader who likes Stephen King’s regular novels but hates his Dark Tower series. When I see an announcement for a Dark Tower book, I ignore it. When I see that he has a new book coming out featuring his mystery characters, I preorder.

Since I designed marketing ten years ago with my reader self in mind, I created different newsletter lists for my different pen names. I also created newsletter lists for my various series. I did the same with websites, although I let some go fallow. (That will change in the next six months as well.)

The gurus jumped all over me, telling me that I was wasting my time and energy and I should combine all of those lists into one giant list.

Well, I have one giant list. It’s for people who like all of my work. That’s the Kristine Kathryn Rusch list. It’s about three times bigger than my biggest list for a series. But if you take all of the pen names and all of the series and combine them, then I have way more names than I do on the Rusch list.

I don’t do that. I’ve promised readers that if they subscribe to, say, the list for my Diving series, they’ll only get news about my Diving series. I don’t bother them with information about any of the other series.

If I look at the weekly stats for my newsletters, I find it’s not uncommon to see someone unsubscribe from the Rusch newsletter and then turn around and subscribe to one of the series newsletters. Why? Because about every third Rusch newsletter, I remind people that they can get information targeted to the series that they’re interested in.

That, my friends, is niche marketing. To consumers. Who are self-selected.

A lot of those gurus who yelled at me are out of business now. They had 50,000 names on their newsletters, but only about 50 of those names were from people who liked their work.

Growing a readership is painstaking work. You tell good stories, let your readers know where they can get more stories like that from you, and ask them to join your newsletter so you can keep them informed about what you do.

You don’t goose the numbers. You let the readers come to you—after they’ve sampled your work.

The definition of niche marketing is this: You promote your products to a specific, well-defined audience. That audience is usually small, but it can be very loyal.

That loyalty will help you build your brand.

The problem here, though, for book writers is that we have a variety of ways to build an audience. Study after study after study has shown that most readers have no idea who wrote the last book they love. They will, however, remember the name of the series or maybe even the book itself.

All of those things can be niche marketed. All of them can reach a specific audience, one that will become loyal to either the product or the product’s producer or both.

In the next few weeks, I’m going to take a look at the principles of marketing and apply them to various kinds of niche marketing that indie writers can do in 2023. This will be different than some of the work I did in Discoverability, which I wrote almost ten years ago now. The principles are the same, but some techniques will differ from what we did back then.

Also indie publishing has advanced in the past ten years, as has technology. We’ve moved forward in a number of areas. We’ve also learned what does and doesn’t work.

And, we have a real capability of having our own personal stores, which makes niche marketing more profitable for all of us. Dean is exploring some ways that niche marketing will work in some workshops he’s doing after the Licensing Expo. (And if you haven’t seen that amazing class, filled with nearly 100 videos from this year’s expo, I suggest you take a look.)

Before I close this introductory post, let me show you one more example of niche marketing. From now until July 6, I have joined a Storybundle. Along with eight other writers, I’m promoting the bundle which focuses on writers, writing, and a long-term writing career. I decided to put my new writing book, How Writers Fail: Analysis and Solutions, into the bundle exclusively. (Of course, if you back me on Patreon at a certain level, you already have the book.)

The bundle appeals to writers, yes, but we also bring in Storybundle’s audience as well as the fans of the other writers in the bundle. It’s niche marketing at a wonderfully granular level.

The bundle also does several things right, from combining a new way to see the books to giving consumers a limited time to pick up the bundle, to setting a discounted price. It appeals to their humanity by giving them a chance to donate money to our charity, Able Gamers.

We all benefit as well from the other bundles running at the same time. At this moment, those bundles are The Best of British SF, and the 2023 Pride Bundle. Some of those readers will click over to our bundle just to see what’s going on.

I’ll be dealing with niches like that, which I’ve dealt with before. But I’ll also deal with a different way to look at your product—yes, your product—and ways to market that to the audience you want to purchase that product.

My biggest clue here though is that we’re not in traditional publishing anymore. Stop thinking B2B. Stop thinking about the old ways it was done, even as recently as ten years ago.

We’re down in the build-a-small-but-loyal audience level. Like I’ve been doing with newsletters for ten years now.

If we respect our readers, we don’t assume that just because they watch the Stanley Cup Finals, they drink beer. We can assume that they’re interested in sports, though, and maybe that they love one of the two teams playing. They might even be interested in learning to play hockey themselves. Or they just like watching grown men skate like the very devil.

Our readers might be as complex and diverse as I am when I approach Stephen King’s work. I call him one of my favorite writers, but I don’t read everything. I don’t want to read everything of his.

We have to start thinking on that kind of level as business owners. We need to create our own niches.

And that’s where it gets hard. Because it’s impossible for gurus to give you the secret to your own niche markets. Your markets are different from theirs. Heck, your markets will differ product by product. And that’s how we’re going to approach this large topic.

One niche at a time.

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This weekly blog is one of my niche products. People who really like it support it on Patreon. (Thank you!)

People who like a single post sometimes feel move to contribute to my PayPal account. (Thank you!)

Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynruschr4e to go to PayPal.

Everyone else benefits from their generosity by getting to read these posts for free.

I, in turn, convert many of these posts into books. Those books become another income source that gets marketed to other niches, such as Storybundle.

And yes, it gets complex. But it’s fun. You’ll see if you come back next week.

“Business Musings: Niche Marketing 1,” copyright © 2023 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / PixelsAway.

5 thoughts on “Business Musings: Niche Marketing Part One

  1. I’m the kind of reader who likes Stephen King’s regular novels but hates his Dark Tower series.

    I read The Stand in mass-market when it first came out. I bought the Complete and Uncut Edition in hardback when it came out in 1990. That version felt “wrong” to me. It bothered me for decades. That was not the Story I remember.

    In 2018, I finally tracked down a version of the original in hardback, a book club edition. I read it and instantly saw that this edition was “right”, this was the Story I first read.

    – The original is a standalone Story, the second is part of his Dark Tower serial.

    I don’t consider the Dark Tower a “series” I consider it a “serial”. A long form story, really long form in this case. He has no limits in what he can write, so he is basically taking ten times as long to tell the story than if he had limits.

    – That’s the problem with the story, he’s taking too long to tell it.

    Not “too long”, as in taking decades to write it, but “too long” in taking too many words to write this one story. He is dragging out this one story.

    – He is demanding too much of my “attention”, and not giving me enough Story in return.

    Look at The Green Mile. It is a six part “serial”. Each part came out a month apart.

    The idea of serialized publication appealed to King on multiple levels; from the writer’s responsibility to finish the story once the first installment is published, to the readers’ inability to skip to the end of the story and ruin the suspense.

    – That last part is the key.

    It actually makes no sense, when you consider that most Readers will read the whole serial many times, knowing exactly how the story ends. So he is imposing his “pet peeve” on the Reader, rather than letting the Reader read their own way.

    – Read The Stand, then the “Complete”, then The Stand again, and you can see what he did.

    – Read The Green Mile as a “serial”, in the classic way that Readers read Dickens, one installment at a time, over a month, with cycling through the installments until the last installment, then you read the book as a whole.

    BTW, That’s how I watched Star Trek: Picard, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, cycling through the episodes as they came out, revisiting key episodes, even cycling within episodes.

    Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Season 2, episode one, burned my brain. Episode two, does not reflect well on Starfleet.

    But I digress.

  2. Awesome as always, KKR!

    For me, niche marketing in an info-based economy is less about the old marketing concepts now, and more about curation. I have some varied interests (outside of reading and writing) and I am frequently joining groups or newsletters only to see that they have done the “one big list” option, and are spraying with a garden hose. The signal-to-noise ratio is REALLY low. So I shop around for those sending out stuff that has a much higher S2N ratio (like your business musings) and drop those that don’t do any curation at all. There are a few where I get a feed with only 5-10 items in it, and at least 1-2 have to be good for me to stay subscribed. About once a year, I clean out the detritus — usually by letting it pile up for 2 weeks, sorting by newsletter, and then going through a bunch of the feeds. If it wasn’t “worth” it, I delete and unsubscribe.

    I personally have two websites, one for personal stuff and one for some niche writing. I had more on the niche site than just the one or two things, and it didn’t have much traction. I narrowed it to just the one field, and suddenly it mushroomed again. Mind you, I haven’t been trying to monetize any of it, so I didn’t REALLY care, it’s more just curation — people can find things more easily.

    Just an alternate way of looking at the same concept I guess, but often find tons of stuff that goes into “marketing” is the old model. I like curation better, just as it makes me think more about “how is what I’m sending useful to the recipient? How am I helping them, not spamming them?”.

    Thanks again!

    Paul
    aka PolyWogg

  3. Oooh, I am super excited for this blog series! My writing group endlessly debates different kinds of marketing techniques for our books, so this will be a huge help.

  4. I like to keep track of the authors of my favorite books, but it is harder these days – and I finally figured out one of the reasons. With a paper book, every time you picked it up, you saw the name of the book and the name of the author. With an e-reader, that doesn’t happen – and I read exclusively on an e-reader. I really, really, really wish that when I opened my e-reader, it would take me first to the cover of the book I’m reading, then with the next swipe to the page where I stopped. Sadly, that won’t happen. But I really like seeing the cover art and the name of the author and book, and I really miss that. And now, I don’t remember who wrote what. Drat!

  5. Kristine, thank you for starting this new series. I’ve been working on separating genres within my store. I have four genres and one overall group for everyone who likes to read our books. It’s more work, but I know not everyone likes all the stories. Although, one can always hope readers become curious enough to take a peek.

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