Turned out niche again

Why narrow appeal is good for business

A writer friend announces he’s working on a history of game shows. Someone critiques: “A bit niche isn’t it? Wouldn’t your efforts be better spent writing a telly show?”

The implication is that, when a project is being pitched, the ultimate goal should be broad, populist approval. If the project can’t have mass appeal, then it should be abandoned and efforts reallocated to something that might.

It’s the model by which most arts funding operates and, crucially, the way UK book publishing has been running itself for the last couple of decades.

Why?

The more one pleases generally, the less one pleases profoundly: Stendhal knew this in 1822, though he probably wouldn’t be published today.

Instead of slopping out something tame and risk-averse, which we hope might have an average appeal, why can’t we imagine deliberately and assuredly delivering something of unusual quality and value to the margins, where 100% are motivated to buy?

Well it turns out some of us can imagine that. David Bowie told us back in 1999 that it’s all about tribes. Marketer Seth Godin has been telling us the same thing very eloquently for almost as long. The mass market is over.

In fact, it never existed. Because it turns out we’re not all one person, never were. The idea of a “mass” market was a construct, a function of mass production and made possible thanks to mass media. But they are old, outdated concepts. Media fragmented and is still splintering, even within relatively new disruptions such as subscription streaming. Mass production is losing ground to customisation and to “craft” and “artisanal” production: things that are scarce and are not available to everyone, that aren’t for everyone, aren’t supposed to be for everyone. And that’s what makes them good and desirable.

Today, being “a bit niche” is the only valid way to produce work. Being “a bit niche” is the way to success not failure.

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