BoSacks Speaks Out: On Niche Media Publishing Conference
Last week I went to Denver to attend the Niche Media Conference. As I sat there at the opening ceremony I started to wonder about the term "niche". We all use it, but do any of us know the actual meaning of the word. I didn't. The term comes from Vulgar Latin, vulgar in this case meaning "common or vernacular Latin" rather than Classical Latin. The Vulgar Latin word was nīdiculāre which means to stay in one's nest. From Latin the French used the word nicher or "to make a nest."
I tell you all this because Carl Landau has succeed in making a publishing nest at his Niche Media Conference. I must have asked 45 of the 250 attendees if they liked the event and why. Most of the people I met were returnees, and that says something right there. A few have been coming since the beginning, which I think I heard Carl say was 9 years ago.
A common response to my questions about the show was "I learn things I didn't know." And the best and most common answer was, "The show makes me feel less alone."
It should be understood the majority of the attendees have very small circulation magazines and come from relatively small companies. Their experience for the most part seems new and often somewhat limited. I would guess that with rare exceptions, and there were a few exceptions that I was aware of, none of these magazine publishers go to the MPA, the IMAG, the PBAA, IRMA, FMA or the Folio Media Next conventions. I am happy to say that in my random sampling, about 35% to 40% of the people I talked to read the BoSacks eNewsletter and that was very gratifying.
My first reaction to the niche conference was how unusual the opening remarks of the founder of the conference Carl Landau were, and they helped me understand the "feelings of comfort" of the repeat visitors. Carl is and projects an eclectic personality as the leader of the event. Every year there is a show theme. In past years they had bowling themes, pop culture, baseball, and even superhero themes. And this is one of the things that separates this conference from others. It is quirky. After the show started Carl Landau asked me if I thought the event was hokey. I said, in a way it was, but a good way.
This year's theme was labeled Xtreme. Every keynote and the smaller sessions were Xtreme this and Xtreme that. When you have an Xtreme Niche media event you get titles like Parking Lot Magazine, Back Yard Poultry, Model Trains, Bird Watcher Digest, and of course Cadaver Magazine - yes, a magazine for the funeral industry. There were mostly American magazines at the conference and several Canadian magazines. There were also publishers from Guam and South Africa.
Another item definitely worth mentioning about this convention that separates it from most others are the continuous attempts at fostering networking. From the opening cocktail party to the end of the show there were "tricks" to get people engaged with other attendees. This is not done at most other conferences, at least not to this quirky level. The opening party had a contest. As you arrived you were given a name tag sticker and asked to write down your first paid job. Then there was a contest where they gave you a sheet to paper and your job was to fill it with the names and jobs of the people you met. If you fill the whole sheet there is a drawing for a prize. Another networking point was lunch with a stranger. There were also roundtable workshops, which other events have too, with a moderator at each table. Here the idea was to exchange not only problems but shared solutions. I missed that part of the event, having to work on a project with a due date, but was told by a friend that the exchange of ideas was Xtremely profitable with granular details for everyone at the table.
I had a few conversations with seasoned publishing professionals who were less impressed than I was. My take on this is that if you come from a large publishing company and you have been in the business for more than ten years, you already know most if not all that the show has to offer. I am such an individual, but liked the show anyway. Each of the sessions contained fairly basic but important information. But what was basic to me was enlightening to those with less experience. Except for the few seasoned professionals, everyone I talked to loved being there. Many had come several times and others told me they would come again. If that is the general reaction for attendees then the event planners have produced a worthwhile project.
With all that being said here are a few of the highlights that I found interesting.
The opening keynote was delivered by Mark Hintz, CEO of Sovereign/Homestead Magazine Publishing, which is a multi-title publisher with such titles as Otaku USA Magazine, WWII History Magazine, WWII Quarterly Magazine, Civil War Quarterly Magazine, Military Heritage Magazine and SCI FI Magazine. His talk was about the current conditions of the market and how his company is navigating the situation. He asked, "In times of disruptive change, what do you do if you can't afford a big research department?" The answer he said was, "If the boat looks like it is sinking, the boat is actually sinking." He suggested that if there is no hope, it's time to pull the plug. He suggested that publishers should kill the weak products with no future, and concentrate on those titles that are actually working.
"Let the market speak for itself - these aren't your babies. If it's still making money ride it into the ground." The key to success is brand extensions and they are the path to real revenue. What we do is allow the consumer to attach a label to their love.
The luncheon keynote was Michela O'Conner Abrams, President of Dwell magazine. I thought she had some thought-provoking things to say even for seasoned professionals. She opened with the concept, "Each of your titles is your brand not your magazine." She went into great detail about how at Dwell, "We will behave as a research company instead of as a publisher," and because of this, "We focus on the community we serve. We understand our community and we have creative solutions based on studying our readers. These Insights of data come from mining our readership and painting a complete picture of them." Because of all of our research, "They trust us to do custom programs through the Dwell platform." She concluded, "We are all in the business to inspire, engage and transact. Dwell is a multi-platform media company that has a complete emersion with its brand, dedicated to the community and gleaning information from them."
So there you have my brief review of the Niche Media Conference. I was glad I went. I made some new friends and saw many I have known for years. I look forward to going again.