Below is a chapter from The New Media Cocktail e-book I released last week. Over the course of this holiday week, I will be releasing excerpts of that e-book on this blog. Feel free to download the e-book in its entirety, if you prefer.
Wired magazine Editor Chris Anderson wrote an acclaimed article and subsequent book on the topic of the “Long Tail.” He argued succinctly: “Forget squeezing millions from a few megahits at the top of the charts. The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.”
For those familiar with his work on the Long Tail, the example that probably sticks most in your mind is that of Amazon.com and how much of what it sells it sells in small quantities. Essentially, the Internet facilitates the presence of an audience for even the least-demanding niches.
But what of the area that lies somewhere between the “hits” and the lonely end of the tail? A sweet spot exists between those two ends of the tail where the interested audience is underserved by existing media but large enough to come together as a community of interest. The hits are purely lowest common denominator stuff – the sort of things you will find in USA Today, People Magazine, and CNN.
At the end of the tail, there simply isn’t enough interest to create a community – or a profitable media property – around. But given the ability of the web to drive down production costs and facilitate distribution, a real market exists for those underserved niches that can be drawn to a powerful niche-oriented, converged media property. Some of these niches may exist fairly naturally. In other cases, it may be a matter of combining a few elements from the end of the Long Tail into an intelligent combination that combines a measurable audience with focused content.
When was the last time you used Google to find something – no matter how obscure – and came up with absolutely nothing? Sure, there have probably been times when you haven’t found precisely what you’re looking for, but I’m talking about coming up with a complete goose egg. The fact is, that simply doesn’t happen. There’s likely at least one piece of content for even the oddest of oddball topics.
For better or for worse, this simple fact raises the expectations of consumers that the information they seek will be available. In many niches, there remains great room for improvement in the quality of the offerings. Savvy entrepreneurs will identify these niches and take a combined media approach to serving them. By partnering with these niche audiences and working hard to serve their needs, content producers will find that the future is not about manufacturing stories about the big names, but rather in meeting the needs of the marvelous middle that so often fails to draw enough attention.
The old media world has attempted to address niches through targeted magazines and newsletters. Card collectors, knitters, philatelists, network administrators, and others have found various trade or hobby publications focused on them. But few of these thrive and most struggle to survive. In the future, these niches will be better served by a more sustainable cost structure, as well as the economies involved in converging the medium and the producers.
More significantly, convergence will facilitate that rise of micro-niches, much smaller than those considered by traditional media in the past. It will now be possible to serve subsets of existing niches more profitably because shared content production, simpler and more cost-effective distribution, and combined marketing will make these new media forms viable.
No longer will baseball card collectors need to share column inches with football collectors. Small network admins and large corporate IT pros can each have their own publication. And stamp collectors can follow their own special interests, rather than a mass media approach.
The more focused the micro-niche, the better the value for consumers, producers, and advertisers.