What Makes a Great Email List Centric Business?

I dive deep into how I'm thinking about list centered niche media

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Welcome to this week's issue of the Niche Media Publishing Newsletter.

Before getting started, a quick note from our sponsor.

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Ok, let’s get started with this week’s topic.

Why Email Lists? A Refresher

For longtime readers, you’ll know that I’m bullish on email lists as a more sustainable path forward for niche media in the next decade.

It’s all relative, of course, but an email list is more sticky and less directly dependent on major tech platforms. There’s still risk (e.g. Alphabet owns Gmail, Apple controls the iPhone market), but a list is a portable in a way many other traffic channel dependent businesses are not.

Side note: make sure you read my issue a few weeks ago on Google traffic alternatives for additional context.

A list is also a flexible option play. You can launch almost any business model type. You can even explore different angles to find what works. A durable, engaged list can be jet fuel for any model.

Many of us niche media operators are scrambling to adapt our Google-centric & programmatic ad models to an email-based model. But as I discussed last week, sometimes it’s just not a good fit.

Because our company is historically an incubator of brands (vs just acquiring them - we do some of that too), this led me down the ideation rabbit hole. If I could start from scratch, what are the IDEAL email list (or newsletter) niches?

What Makes a Good Email-First Media Concept?

As I’ve been re-evaluating “niche email fit”, these are some of the criteria I’ve started to coalesce around:

A Reader for life

I love the wedding space for a variety of business models, but most people get married once or twice in their life.

It’s really hard to build an engaged list, with minimal churn, based around an important, but infrequent life event.

Brands like The Knot and Zola do their best to expand to “life events”, but for B2C it’s a tougher path.

That said - on the flipside - building a niche list around wedding photographers (B2B) is a great niche pocket. A wedding photographer is someone serious enough about photography to make a living doing it AND it agitates a pain point (making more money) that is timeliness.

Connected to my discussion last week on diversified content business models, B2B wedding brands are also a great fit for a directory, downloadable templates, and courses monetization play.

There are hundreds of good examples like this in different niches (personal finance, hobbies, etc..), but a long time horizon is a huge advantage to build momentum.

While people certainly DO move, a local media business also shares this longer time horizon, particularly in a faster growing area with net migration.

Which gets me to, demographic trends…

Since building a list typically is a long game, I’d rather be building with the wind at my back.

There’s certainly plenty of stagnant or declining, old niches that still work & sometimes tired legacy markets are overlooked.

All things being equal, I’d much rather pick a steadily growing trend.

One trojan horse to watch for is a true sustainable trend vs fad. Fashion is notorious for being faddish, and it takes some nuance to parse the data. For example, “cottagecore” might be a short term trend (or fad), but “cruelty-free” makeup is closer to a trend.

Another “faddish” example is crypto / blockchain. Over the long arc, it may be an enduring trend, but over the last 10 years it’s exhibited fad behavior.

High Visitor Value (and value I can deliver!)

Is the juice worth the squeeze?

I could write a whole edition just on how to validate visitor value (maybe a course?).

I see so many newsletters for sale with ridiculously high subscriber counts, making close to zero dollars. This is a sign that maybe there’s strong interest, but not from people with money to spend OR in the frame of mind to consider spending.

There are also plenty of lucrative verticals on a macro level that don’t currently have the infrastructure to leverage your niche list.

The key qualification here is “value I can deliver”….. I’d much rather have an email based business where I can deliver a high value course, membership, or product, than a list that theoretically has high value, but maybe only has a few big whales spending money on advertising.

I’ll also note…. with a high ENOUGH visitor value, I’m willing to ignore my first rule on evergreen readership.

A well-built email funnel around planning a wedding could be incredibly lucrative and passive because the opportunity to sell or market high-ticket purchases is so high.

An example is worth a thousand words, so these are some of my favorite niches right now…

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Some of My Favorite Email Niches

  • Local News & Information: One of my current favorite opportunities and where I’m building a few brands as we speak… Local is a uniquely suitable niche for list-based distribution due to it’s historical analogy to newspapers (which incidentally have been dying for quite some time due to digital disruption…). Some examples of how new, hyper local brands are doing it are Naptown Scoop and Capital Daily).

  • Niche Trade Newsletter: This is another durable vertical I LOVE because it typically offers incredibly monetization opportunities (high reader values). This could be trade industry news, niche stories, or some data layer (or a combination). Examples here are Milk Road, They Got Acquired, A Media Operator. The newsletter you are reading currently also qualifies!

  • Niche Deals List: I love the simplicity of this play. It’s no secret that daily deals websites have made a killing since the beginning of the internet and referral tracking tech… but I actually think newsletters are a better (more durable) vector for incredibly niche, intent based demographics. Rather than a generalist “coupon site”, curate a niched down version for a specific audience. Examples here include Scott’s Cheap Flights (now Going.com) and Daily Golf Steals.

  • Personal Finance: Anything to do with making and saving money is obviously incredibly lucrative and typical offers a great, evergreen “recurring reader” profile. Once you are into investing, you don’t stop caring about your investments (usually)! Examples here are MarketBeat and MoneyUnder30.

  • Hobbyist List: This is one that can be both a true “news” letter and evergreen funnels to learn a hobby. Bonus points for truly evergreen hobbies that never change and have low “content maintenance” costs. Gardening is a classic example here, but could include retro gaming, merch collecting, beekeeping, and more. An example here is Flying Magazine.

  • Inspiration / Curiosity / Novelty: This is a hard one to pinpoint, but you know it when you see it. Examples could be a newsletter about drive-in movie theaters (check out DriveInMovie.com as an example of an “ugly” old brand that triggers nostalgia and curiosity). Another gem is OldHouseDreams.com, a curator of historic homes across North America.

This is a service company we run, reach out if you need content wizards!

Other Newsletters Worth Following

Here are some other publications I subscribe to, author, or co-sign.

Fresh Salmon is a great marketing read at the intersection of content & commerce:

If you are operating a newsletter (or even just interested), this next one is one of my “must opens” every week:

If you leverage affiliate relationships in your media business, Affiliate Insider is where I share my in-the-field experience.

Our COO (Amy), publishes an incredibly detailed and thoughtful newsletter for content marketers here:

Content Forward: Thoughts from the Front LinesWeekly deep dives & insights from a real operator, for creators seeking an edge. New insights every Friday evening!

We also cover the latest MarTech trends and deep dives with a monthly (soon to be weekly) newsletter for B2B operators:

MarTech ToolkitDiscover & Implement marketing tech in your business.

OK, that's it for this week...

Please do reply to this email with any feedback or suggestions.