Successful Publishers Talk About Finding That New Niche to Scratch

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Lesley Norins, vice president of Medvostat, offered a prize at the end of his session on Finding and Seizing New Topics at June's SIPA Annual 2017 Conference: a fruitful new topic. He even had a name for the newsletter: Police Video Update.

"You see news about crime or terrorist attacks everywhere," he said. "What's the first thing TV stations and detectives ask for? Security cameras. The topic could cover: acquisition of video—I've heard it costs $3000 or more per camera; aerial surveillance; storage—how long do [videos] have to be kept?"

Googling security cameras now, it may still be available. It's telling to see how successful publishers go about finding a new niche to monetize. In a profile in The Washington Post earlier this year, co-founders Sean Griffey, Ryan Willumson and Eli Dickinson of Industry Dive said they were working for a Washington newsletter and saw the opportunities for digital.

"Their digital strategy was to take the print magazine, scan it into a PDF and email it out. It didn't work," Willumson said. Confident of what they could do, the trio targeted five industries that could entice advertisers: construction, education, marketing, utilities and waste. Today, Industry Dive covers 13 industries—including those original five—and expects to gross $15 million in revenue this year.

In a profile on yesterday, Cassandra Farrington, CEO of Marijuana Business Daily, talked about how she and co-founder Anne Holland came upon their topic. (Yes, SIPA Annual's 2017 keynote speaker was profiled in Forbes!)

"We had a set of criteria that we judged everything against," Farrington said. "Is [an industry] growing at a certain pace, at least 7% a year? Does it have a certain number of actual businesses with actual employees, not solo entrepreneurs or consultants or individuals, but people who actually have to make payroll every two weeks or every month? Pay rent on a facility that sort of thing that shows their level of investment."

For Holland, the key question was, "Who is unserved? Who's hungry for what we're really good at doing?... If it was the blimp industry, that would be okay. We just like to help people and happened to luck out."

That word "help" came up in David Foster's answer as well. The CEO of Business Valuation Resources said that moving to valuation from his previous topics held excitement because of the common thread of uniting and helping a segment of people.

"There are common elements that still get me turned on," Foster said. "I always felt like [the readers in these markets] expect a high level of editorial quality—and I have the language background. And I was always intellectually engaged and empathetic with the markets that I serve. Whether it was law firm administrators or accounts payable managers or business appraisers, there has been social value to bringing them together."

Norins said there are clues to new opportunities that you should look for:

  • new laws and regulations that may soon take effect;
  • spreading technology;
  • newly formed groups or associations;
  • new innovations;
  • people who already have a job getting more responsibility (such as a manager of tank car safety).

"Then you want to investigate the topic before your competitors," Norins said. "Is anybody covering this? Don't assume anything; check it out. In our field of 60 newsletters we rarely enter a field where someone's already there. And, of course, act quickly."

Which Norins did for medical coding. "We found coding experts in every specialty... We took five people to the national convention for coding, listened, got to know the experts, and came away with a wonderful relationship with this organization. They were thrilled that we were augmenting what they were trying to do. They gave us their entire list."

Showing some love to your new audience seems to be a common denominator. HCPro found success with its Association of Clinical Documentation Improvement Specialists (ACDIS). It started when they saw a group of people in their niche who "were on an island," said Elizabeth Petersen, chief people and strategy officer of Simplify Compliance. "We wanted them to come in, get to know us and love us," and that has happened.

Sometimes it's that simple.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…