Before the Internet and the world wide web provided us with easy access to a plethora of information resources without charge, print newsletters were the dominant medium for publishing specialized subject matter.
If you wanted to identify a niche for a new print newsletter, and differentiate your publication from all others, you could look at existing popular magazines for ideas.
For example, general news and features for automobile enthusiasts are well covered by such popular magazines as Car and Drive, Motor Trend, and Road and Track. But by creating for a small niche within that category, for instance a publication solely devoted to the Corvette Sting Ray, you might have an appropriate topic for a newsletter.
The more specialized the topic—the narrower the niche—the more you could charge for your newsletter, provided you could identify and market your newsletter to the subset of magazine subscribers who own or dream of owning a Corvette Sting Ray.
That’s how a lot of print newsletters were launched, by creating a new publication for a subset of subscribers to an existing publication.
Publishing an online newsletter, or membership website, succeeds best when you chose a niche from a larger category and you can dominate that niche with specialized, detailed, in-depth information that is not readily available to your readers elsewhere. That means identifying a market and creating content that goes beyond what is available on the Internet for free.
One of my favorite websites for exploring newsletter topics is www.About.com. Here you’ll find articles on hundreds of topics from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) to Zoology.
Because most of these articles are written by volunteers, the quality of the information is uneven. Some is very accurate and authoritative. Some is questionable. But About.com is a great site for researching your proposed membership website topic.
That someone is publishing a significant amount of information without charge does not mean there is no market for a paid membership website on the same topic. On the contrary, it may be a very good indication that a market exists for a paid online publication devoted to the same or a smaller niche.
Remember that your online newsletter, unlike a printed publication, does not have to be a one-way communication between the subject matter expert and the subscriber. Your paid subscription website succeeds best when you create an online community where members can share their knowledge and experiences.
Much of the value that you create is in providing a lively discussion forum (or several) and encouraging member contributions. Other features you can offer that provide added value to paid online subscribers include a searchable database of past articles and a file download area.
Still researching a topic? There are numerous ways to test your ideas, and only by testing will you determine if you have a viable niche. About.com is one place to start your investigation.