One of the problems with giving advice online is that readers often fail to see that one piece of advice is meant to lead to a broader understanding of things and are never there as the end-all be-all final answers to everything. You should be learning from the experience and developing your own next steps.
One of the biggest offenders has been my “find your niche” statements – or anytime I talk about the power of niche marketing/sales. While I still believe in niche marketing, and practice it every single day, it is just meant to be a stepping stone. The first step on a road to growth.
Let me explain.
If you’re just starting out, or if you’re looking for a way to grow a base for your business – be it comic books, novels, affiliate sales, or any other product – identifying a niche market that has a need your product or service can fill is key. What it does is give you an identifiable group of potential buyers. In addition to basic market demographic information, niche markets often come with their own preset distribution and retail outlets, pre-established ways of contacting the end user, and a group of often rabid, hardcore buyers already pre-disposed to spending cash on what you’ve got to sell.
For a business looking to build a foothold or for one who has been unable to find enough sales to the “mainstream,” a properly researched niche market can be a life and business saver.
The problem comes when you as a business (again, comic publisher, new pulp author, or anyone else) have maxed out the niche. At some point, unless you’re a terrible business person or are producing a product no one really wants, you’re going to gain the maximum exposure and maximum number of sales possible from your niche. There may be 50 or 5000 or 5,000,000 potential buyers in the market and, if you’ve done your job, they’ll all have been fully exposed to and (hopefully) have purchased your product. At some point your sales will level off and then begin to drop (unless, of course, you’ve got a disposable style product that needs to be re-purchased periodically – candy bars, dish soap, pasta, whatever…those products have different maintenance needs beyond the scope of what I’m discussing here).
The drop has nothing to do with the quality of your work or even a failure in your marketing. It has to do with the fact that everyone in the buying pool has purchased your work. Depending on the niche, sales may continue as that pool adds new buyers, but most niche markets don’t grow fast enough to keep sales up. They’re niches for a reason.
What most businesses will do in this “maxed out” situation is (and both comic book and new pulp publishers are great examples of this) pump out more product. With the old lines of product being essentially “dead on the shelf” or not maintaining sales levels needed to support a company, this is the only way to keep profits rolling in. On the surface, this isn’t a bad thing. The sort of product I’m discussing here is generally consumed and then the buyer looks for the next piece to consume – book or comic series, again, are perfect examples. You feed the fire with new books to keep the flame of fandom going.
The problems you start to run in to when this happens are two-fold.
First, your backlist (older titles) become dead stock. Sales drop drastically once you’ve topped off the niche audience and you’re left with a bunch of line items in your catalog that most people ignore. Growing out of that, each subsequent title or issue in a series will have fewer sales as fans drop out. This happens to most series (watching comic book sales numbers on a place like Comichron will give you a nice visual example of this). Fans are finicky and are always moving on to the next big thing – it’s why ultra hot TV shows eventually get cancelled.
Second, you run the risk of flooding the market. This happens in comics every few years – either Marvel or DC (usually both) will begin cranking out more and more titles each month to combat dropping sales. Unfortunately, while they might get an initial sales spike, the industry is damaged as a whole and all titles across the board (generally for every publisher in the industry) lose sales. This happens in other industries as well, comic publishers tend to be really good at repeating their past mistakes. At some point you will reach the maximum number of products you can sell in a healthy market place before it turns unhealthy and you begin to lose sales through addition instead of gaining them.
Why I’ve brought all of this up is because it happens so much in two of my favorite industries – comics and new pulp. I also see it happening with a lot of my friends who are authors in other genres. They’ve all found a niche and have become too comfortable with it. It makes sense – they’ve figure out the “rules” of the niche and know how to game it properly. Why on earth should they start focusing elsewhere? Isn’t that just more work?
Well, yes it is. Welcome to the real world of business.
The fact is, the only way you can continue to grow your sales is to expand your market. Add niches, expand your product’s (or your own) brand awareness to where it becomes a niche of its own. Once you can do that, you become infinitely less reliant or tied to the whims of a single niche. Adding markets allows you to breathe new life into your backlist and, in fact, grow your entire line of products.
Remember, if you aren’t growing, you’re shrinking. Comic publishers and creators, new pulp authors, and all my indy publishing friends out there, think about how you can add to your current fanbase because your current one may not be around forever.
-Mat Nastos, Super Genius