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A recent article by M. G. Siegler about the new Amazon Books store that opened in NYC referenced an unexpected result in the world of brick and mortar bookstores. Amazon seems to have killed the big box stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, and in doing so they’ve opened up room for a groundswell of independent bookstores to thrive. In an earlier article about the growth of smaller bookstores, Siegler says it like this, “In perhaps the ultimate moment of ironic justice, Amazon has all-but killed off the chains that once all-but killed off the independent stores.” Even more to the point, he cites a New York Times article by Alexandra Alter from 2015 which says, “The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago.”
What does this tell us about our own ability to find success and influence in the world today?
Sure, you might be the one who starts the next big thing, but the odds seem much more likely that your success (and mine) is going to be found in a niche market. Once the large scale chain booksellers either went out of business or shrunk dramatically, there was an opening for well curated bookstores that catered to peoples desire to be around and read physical books.
If you are an aspiring author today, would it be more prudent to try and write a mega hit or find a way to connect yourself with those physical bookstores? Could those bookstores remain independent yet have some sort of algorithm similar to what Netflix and Amazon use to determine what new authors and titles to carry? Could the way to win that market be to do the footwork in your local area first, and then let it build from there by word of mouth amongst bookstore owners the way an email list does for a blog? Is this trend here for the long term or is it just another fad that will fade with time?
In Washington DC, there is a great example of two niche organizations finding a common ground together. Busboys and Poets is a restaurant and coffeeshop that started as a place for activists to oppose the Iraq War in 2005. Over the years they’ve expanded to six locations and offer spaces for book clubs, author talks, art displays, community discussions and activism, and just about anything else you can think of.
With an emphasis on being a source of information and investigation they teamed up with long time independent bookstore Politics and Prose, founded in 1984, to add three new locations inside of Busboys restaurants. The partnership has worked well, bringing prominence to both entities, leading to continual expansion in the local market for each. Recently it was announced that Politics and Prose will be opening their first new location that isn’t in a Busboys and Poets when they become the newest entity in Union Market as part of the ongoing efforts to revitalize that part of the city.
Will everything become a niche market? If so, does that mean you are limited to only one?
I think the answer to this lies in the combined wisdom of people much smarter and more successful than I am. First, Seth Godin has written extensively about finding your tribe. I cannot do it justice, so I’m going to suggest that you simply read his phenomenal short ebook, Tribes, which is a collection of his blog posts on the topic. He gives a simple definition, “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” He continues by saying,”A group only needs two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
Second, I would like to rely on the sheer genius of Kevin Kelly and his idea of 1,000 true fans. Kelly first posted his thoughts on this in 2008 and has updated it over the years to clarify the concept. It works rather simply. He expects you to create enough value that each fan you have will bring you $100 in profit each year. If you build a base of 1,000 fans, this brings you to a total of $100,000 a year. Instead of focusing on new “fans” after that point, he brings this insight, “…it is always easier and better to give your existing customers more, than it is to find new fans.”
How do you build longevity in a splintered and constantly changing world?
Snapchat was supposedly going to steal Instagram’s audience. That’s what I had heard, both through media and through the words of nearly all of my students in the undergrad course I taught in the Spring 2016 semester. Unfortunately for Snapchat that not only didn’t happen, but when Instagram launched their stories option they immediately slowed the growth of Snapchat by 82%.
Twitter was a huge thing for a minute, then it looked like it was going away, and now it has dipped into streaming live sports events and has seen the return of both Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone. Even as the original founders come back to try and continue their resurgence of growth, questions have been asked about their handling of Vine and how shutting it down affects those who had gained some sort of fame or influence through their compilations.
The way you avoid this is to take practical steps to find your “Tribe” and your “1,000 true fans.” These ideas are mainly curated from the blogging brilliance of Jeff Goins, Darren Rowse, and Michelle Schroeder-Gardner. Each has a different area of expertise, but they all focus on a few key elements for sustained success.
Blog consistently. Write consistently. Paint consistently. Sculpt consistently. Build consistently. Sell consistently. Just keep focusing on your craft, your niche. As you do, you’ll be building a body of work that both improves your skill and provides you with something to bring to your tribe and your true fans. Be who you are, do what James Altuchersays by trying to improve by 1% every day, and see where it takes you.
Email is still the king for bloggers
This seems especially true for writing, but every blog I see is doing everything they can to get you to sign up for their email list. Not only that, but so is every corporation you do business with. Just recently I bought something from Target online and picked it up in store. While it was a scummy way to do things, they used that online purchase to put me on their email list for their weekly sales newsletter.
Jeff Goins harps on this idea from day one with his blog and the online courses he offers. There seems to be ample evidencethat email is still the most useful social media outlet. If something is proving to be 100 times more effective than other routes, double down on it.
Own your own presence
Pay for self hosting if you can afford it. I have no consistent income right now and I spent the money on both hosting and an online course to learn how to make the most of a blog. I came up with an idea I’m passionate about. I’m sharing that idea as best I can. I’m implementing the things that are proven to work. I can already see the difference in just a few weeks. I came up with a brand that I think could really work and have ideas for where to take it. Once the money is right, I’ve got ideas on how to improve the look of everything and create a recognizable, professional brand. I own this and I am learning how to own it better every day.
Be willing to accentuate your brand with social media
My posts are now going to Medium one week after they hit my blog. I’ve added a link to the blog in all of my social media profiles. I’m still not sure about creating a separate Facebook account yet, but that may come in the future. My goal with each of these things is to try and bring people back to the blog and convert them to email subscribers. Hopefully that is the first step to finding my tribe and my true fans. If you’re passionate about something, give it an honest effort and see where it takes you.
So what now?
It comes back to possibilities. When the TV market began moving towards more channels and niche programming, thousands of people gained an opportunity to produce something they believed in. Sure, ratings for the biggest programs and channels may not compare with the past, but the overall opportunity is actually bigger.
The music industry has been much the same. Napster, iTunes, and the plethora of options that have grown since then have allowed more artists to find a way to find their fans and make a living doing what they love. One of my favorite musicians is Derek Webb. He went solo after an early career with a successful band and has constantly been working on who he is and how he connects with his fans. His style has changed over the years, his use of social media has been brilliant at times, and he has created things like Noisetrade (a pay what you want website) and his new Middle Class Musician online course.
So, a few questions remain. What is your niche? Who is your Tribe? Who are your “true fans?” Most importantly, what are you going to do about it?