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  • Writer's pictureJohn Wilpers

How to find lucrative sub-niches

Lurking in every audience is at least one, if not more, monetizable sub-niches

By John Wilpers, Katahdin Media Management LLC

Most publishers, editors, and chief revenue officers decided a long time ago who their readers are.

Most have not revisited that decision for a long time (if ever). Nor have they deeply examined reader data to see if their perception of the audience is correct. Nor have they spoken with that audience recently to discover their unmet needs and assess if their products and services are satisfying readers’ needs.

Big mistake.

Regardless of your niche, I guarantee that there are sub-niches in it — readers who don’t feel that your current products sufficiently address their unique needs. I’d extend that guarantee even to super-niche magazines like “Asset”, the magazine of the Miniature Donkey Association, “Pro”, the magazine for portable restroom operators, or “Emu Today” for emu farmers, etc. I believe you could find subsets even of those super-niche audiences.

To find your sub-niches, you have to discover unmet reader needs or pain points. What is keeping them from leading happy lives, succeeding in their careers, enjoying their passions fully, feeling well-informed? You can ask them point-blank: What are your needs and what could we do to solve those needs?

Another way to uncover relevant sub niches is to engage with and survey the advertisers. “They will tell you if there is a separate market for North American emus vs. the South American variety because they have a different diet or wear different shoes,” said Peter Medwid, Katahdin Media Management partner and former Chief Revenue Officer of Hearst’s Cosmopolitan, People, and Seventeen. “Most importantly, they will tell you whether there is enough value in the sub-niche to justify its creation. The process is the same but the insights may be different depending on your revenue model.”

As you conduct your interviews and review your survey results, you will see if the unmet needs coalesce around subcategories of your niche. Then you can determine if the sub-niche is big enough and the revenue potential great enough to launch a new newsletter.

Digital or in-person?


A digital survey is easier, quicker, delivers bigger numbers, and the results are easier to analyze than an in-person survey.

But I believe in also having the staff and management conduct in-person surveys to personalize the process and bring readers’ needs and attitudes powerfully to the staff’s attention. In-person surveys, even over the phone or via Zoom, leave lasting impressions on staff members because they are looking real readers in the eye, and hearing their needs and wishes in unvarnished terms.

So, how do you create a survey that will give you the information you need?

  1. Use a form-based survey: Survey Monkey, Typeform, JotForm, AskNicely, Formstack, and Google Forms are the top choices in 2022, according to TechRadar.

  2. Incentivize your readers to answer: Everyone likes free stuff; everyone likes to be “paid” for their time. It needn’t be much, nor must it be a physical object (minimize fulfillment). Offer a free white paper, a discount to events, a chance to win a single big prize, etc.)

  3. Keep it short: Seven to 10 questions. Tell them how long it will take; have a progress bar. Offer questions with simple “closed” answers — multiple choices, ratings, check boxes. Open-ended questions requiring writing often stop survey-takers. Too much work.

  4. Start with an easy question or two: If knowing their gender, age, or email is important, start with those.

  5. Create a compelling subject line: You need them to open the email. Everyone likes to be asked for their opinion, so a subject line such as “Can you help me (or us) with this?” or “Can I (or we) get your advice on this?”.

  6. Don’t call it a “survey”: Surveys sound like work or at least a dull exercise. Call it a “quiz” or “reader advice form”.

  7. Share the results with your audience. Even those who don’t take the survey will have seen the email and be curious to see what other readers said, demonstrating that their concerns are shared.

Promote the changes that result: Send an email to respondents to thank them and ask for feedback. Prove their time was well spent by sharing changes.

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