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In defence of niche publishing

October 11, 2010

Just as an unfletched arrow knows not the direction it seeks, so a publishing business casting its net wide struggles to leverage profits. Focus is the key.

In a recent post by Seth Godin, he argues that ubiquitous distribution is the death of value. While I am not in entire agreement, it is certainly true that value in retail stores is best leveraged when the store itself has a pitch to match. Yet for many publishers, exposure within generic chains (as we have argued many times before) relegates their value to the culture of the price band. And price bands, as every publisher will tell you, make for a very hard living unless volume is achieved.

Know your niche, stick to it and work the seam, is the best policy. Nothing new here of course but look at it in depth and it is easy to see why niche publishers continue to remain effective and highly profitable:

  • Price is not determined by the price of the next book on the shelf
  • Brand becomes a statement of delivery rather than an emblem of vacuity
  • Customer relationships are longer term with the potential either of repeat purchase or of renewals (subject to model)
  • Content reflects known customer groups rather than by default being a fishing net
  • In a niche, good news travels fast – optimising social marketing efficiency

Of course, it is the psyche, groupthink and inherent structures which keep publishing companies doing what they’ve always done. But old models of growth – the suck-it-and-see commissioned title are potentially wasteful now. There is an argument that suggests that in social media driven marketing , there is now far greater potential to sell any book you want (especially with the e-book phenomenon of significantly reduced costs) because success will run like wild fire.

But such an approach reinforces the old model – the wasteful pursuit of the unknown to bankroll the uncertainty of the future. Far better to find the niche you’re in and then experiment or to have defined plans for new niches which form a logical “fit”.

Publishers who think they can create a new brand from one new book may well have the germ of a new business – but it is the brand equity behind publishing companies which will help safeguard them in the future.  No brand, no emotion. No emotion, no loyalty. No loyalty, no business.

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