Should Niche Media Add eCommerce?

Capturing the ephemeral "content and commerce" play

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

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

The Allure of Content AND Commerce

In the past few editions, I’ve been looking at some pivotal model changes for niche media operators in light of Google’s algo changes.

A few weeks back I highlighted all of the different monetization models niche publishers might consider.

Last week I took a closer look at what niches are ideal for email-based audiences.

One of the crossover ideas is to ADD higher quality monetization (also email list friendly) with actual ecom products. In other words, add a store to your content brand.

There’s also the more mercenary reality that Google didn’t seem to penalize ecommerce sites in their most recent update. I’m not suggesting merely adding a shopping cart is the WAY to recover, but it may be a side benefit of building out your monetization into ecom.

But is slapping an ecommerce “shop” on your niche website really a solid play?

When Does it Make Sense to Add eCom?

I’ll get to when it does NOT make sense in the next section, but an ideal vertical for adding eCom is where there’s a well-defined niche with clear pain points or “solutions”.

It’s a bit of a nuanced process, though.

Running a media business and an ecom business are two very different operations. It’s hard enough running just one!

With this word of warning, my bias is towards the easiest AND most similar ecommerce models to stack. I’m not about to go launch an Amazon FBA brand.

So far, I’ve found a few examples of content site profiles that are particularly ripe for an ecom level up:

  • Templates & Designs: The easiest lift (IMO) for adding a storefront to your brand is exploring if there are templates, printables, or designs for sale on various marketplaces. A good example of this would be digital wedding invitation templates in the wedding category, but could be something like printable craft templates, legal templates (for your niche e.g. dog boarding contracts), coloring books, or canva templates. Places I like to check for these are Creative Market, Etsy Templates, and DocHub.

  • Info Products or eBooks: There’s a fairly high bar for valuable information, but in the right vertical, this can make sense. Examples might be instructional PDFs, courses, cookbooks, or research reports, This play is ideal for practical hobby niches (gardening, music, crafts) and B2B sites with a healthy segment of “starters”.

  • Dropshipping: Dropshipping is probably the easiest way for many “review” sites to add a new revenue stream and validate ecommerce as a monetization channel. There are a variety of places to check for dropshipping potential with sites like Doba, Salehoo, Alibaba, and - when it doubt - googling “your product” + “dropshipping”. Create a nice moat by reaching out to ecommerce brands directly with your EXISTING traffic profile and work out a bespoke dropship arrangement.

  • Real Deal Ecommerce: If you are ready to jump in, launching a full-on owned inventory business is certainly an option. Personally, I’d validate first with dropshipping, but if you see traction, this could be a great long term play. A good middle ground is using a 3PL fulfillment partner OR co-distributing on Amazon with their Multichannel Merchant Fulfillment program. The main challenge here is that the cash conversion cycle changes and a lot of your capital gets tied up in holding inventory.

Bonus Pick: Since ecommerce isn’t facing the same Google headwinds currently, it might also be worth picking up a “fixer upper” on Flippa in the ecom category, then launching a content marketing play on the backend.

When eCom Doesn’t Make Sense for Content

Broad generalist content sites, or very basic informational sites, are not a great fit for ecom add-ons.

A “tech review” site may also be problematic as there are limited (or no) avenues for dropshipping or wholesaling Apple iPhones (for example). Similarly, appliances or automotive may be problematic (although automotive accessories is a great exception).

Any basic troubleshooting or “how to” style content probably doesn’t have any staying power for ecommerce, unless you can market a product that makes fixing the problem a lot easier (e.g. a replacement part).

Side note: Content is a great match for existing brands like!

Another problematic fit for ecom is entertainment or human interest (celebrity viral news), although I could see merch working with the right licensing deals.

Some niche content plays might not immediately seem like a great fit for ecom, but with a little imagination, could be. For example, a local destination site may have some sort of custom itinerary template or trip planning product that could work.

Who Does Content & Commerce Well?

I love finding practical examples in the wild, so these are some examples that may be helpful as you navigate this decision point for your brand(s):

  • EpicGardening: The Plant Daddy is the granddaddy of all content > commerce conversions. His cost to acquire a new customer is negative (e.g. his “cost center” is profitable with ads). If you go to the site, it feels like a true omnivore crossover brand.

  • Hubspot’s Blog: Hubspot has been playing the long game with content for years and it’s helped them become a thought leader as their software product suite has grown. They also now own The Hustle, one of the top business trend newsletters.

  • OutdoorLife: This is a great example of adding both digital products and physical products (knives) to a well established content brand. It’s not the main focus of the site either and is fairly tucked away and on subdomains

And here’s an anomaly… a FORMER ecommerce store that is a full on content brand now:

There’s all the trappings of an ecommerce store, but you can’t actually add anything to your cart!

I wouldn’t recommend this as a durable strategy, but goes to show the power of Google’s new classification system.

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...

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