When your brand is too big to have a face, you opt for niche publishing
You’ve probably heard by now that About.com is shut down as of May 2. What you might not know is that they transferred much of their best content to some niche publishing websites that are more personally branded. When you think of About.com you’re thinking wow, it’s the last of the AskJeeves generation, right? But About.com has spent the last couple of decades thriving off of CPM revenue, and paying their writers a portion of that.
So what happened?
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Our Communications Team Leader Amanda MacArthur was once the “Guide” for About.com’s Twitter.About.com portal. In fact, she was the first, and only guide they had for that portal. After three years managing the site, and earning the average per-article rate because CPM revenues never got high enough, she told her director that despite publishing 2 articles per week, she simply didn’t see any potential for growth in that area and didn’t think she should be replaced with a new writer because they’d never be able to earn the CPM revenues promised to those who run more general audience niches like recipes and dieting, or medically-based niches. It seems they took her advice because they never did hire a replacement.
But something we noticed a few months ago, was that Twitter.About.com redirected to a new category on LifeWire.com. At the time we assumed they had ditched the portal and sold the content, but it turns out Lifewire is an About.com property along with four other niche Portals called VeryWell (health), The Spruce (home & garden), ThoughtCo (pop culture) The Balance (personal finance), and TripSavvy (launching this Spring). Neil Vogel, CEO of About.com told Business Insider, “This is either going to work and be a great success or we’re going to crash the plane as we’re flying it and this is going to be a horrible failure.”
While ditching the entire About.com brand and infrastructure, which is so beautifully organized, is something that would certainly give me pause, there’s something to be said about tying branding to a more personal niche.
About.com did a clever job of trying to brand each of their Portals by hiring freelance “Guides” would would be the face of the articles, but ultimately they still had the About.com brand to compete with. And this brand itself, had little personality. As Amanda would tell you, they put a lot of work into personifying each portal and really wanted content to be high quality even more than search-optimized. But it’s widely understood that Guides are paid either per article, or if they have enough traffic, at a percentage of their CPM revenues. So they’re going to keep SEO-stuffing away if they think it will bring their portal more traffic.
And so Vogel cut the cord and decided to break About.com into those aforementioned six niche portals on the topics of tech, health, home & garden, pop culture, personal finance and travel. I imagine they used some data to determine those were the most popular niches on About.com. I’m interested to see if this revives the business, or “crashes the plane” as Vogel put it.
But as you can see, niche publishing continues to make a comeback.
Niche publishing is hip, and it’s hot. And not only in publishing, but in retail. You can find a doughnut shop that only sells doughnuts, and a kitchen store that only sells kitchen goods, instead of trying to be a mini department store. We’re in the age of the specialist, and consumers want specialists.
It’s often been said the technology giants don’t fear each other as much as they fear two guys in a garage. In the new age of digital publishing, it will be said that publishing giants don’t fear each other as much as they fear a couple of niche publishing experts with an Internet connected home office. It’s clear that About.com is taking that to heart.
Ultimately, you should be scaling your content efforts to cultivate enthusiast audiences, in order to attract, retain, and convert visitors while at the same time appealing to advertisers looking for hard-core consumers.
If you are looking to expand your reach as a niche publisher, or are a general audience publisher looking to specialize and niche-ify your brand like About.com, I’d love to chat. Schedule a time to talk with me.