Niche Publishers and Content: Information on a Silver Platter

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On the surface, it might seem that meeting the needs of a niche audience provides very few opportunities for creativity. It stands to reason that the content demands of a niche audience are limited, because audience members only need content and services related to a specific subject matter or industry and nothing more. That assumption couldn't be further from the truth.

There are actually many ways-some more traditional than others-in which content providers and aggregators can serve their very specialized audiences. From robust content that serves up information that can't be found anywhere else to nontraditional, value-added ancillary products, niche content providers and aggregators have found that audiences have a ravenous appetite for information that serves their needs.

Publishers Carving Out a Niche

Niche econtent providers came to serve their audiences in a variety of ways. Some entered the industry in the print realm, while others have been in the econtent business from the beginning. Regardless, niche information providers have shown a strong ability to adapt to emerging technologies and the ever-changing needs and demands of online audiences.

McGraw-Hill Companies., Inc., a mainstay in the publishing world, has covered the construction industry for many years, and its McGraw-Hill Construction unit is dedicated to serving all workers and facets of the industry. In general, the type of information needed by construction professionals doesn't change over time, but that doesn't mean McGraw-Hill Construction can rest on its laurels. The company has been able to evolve along with its users.

"The reason [audiences] need the information is unchanged," says Stephen A. Jones, senior director of McGraw-Hill Construction. "The timing and
methods by which people need it has changed." Audiences want information immediately, and they want it delivered in a variety of formats. McGraw-Hill Construction responded to changing needs with content and features on its site, as well as web properties such as those for its magazines, Architectural Record and Engineering News-Record.

Jones says an important offering is the company's Dodge Reports. Users can research construction projects on which they can bid. McGraw-Hill Construction continues to evolve how it disseminates such information-which has its roots in print. "We're putting Dodge data into CRM systems," says Jones. "The big changes around delivery are how it goes the last mile."

Getting the information out at that brisk pace, and forming a community in which to share the content, was the impetus behind William Hann founding FreePint Ltd. in 1996. Hann was part of the extended library community, and he wanted to serve the content needs of information professionals. "He saw a need for a news service for that community," explains Michelle Manafy, director of content at FreePint.

He felt there was a need for "much higher quality information about the information industry," she adds. Hann began working with Robin Neidorf, the company's director of research, to create publications that would accomplish just that. The result is a company that provides newsletters, magazines, reports, and a community for those who work in the information industry.

The founders of GlobalSpec, an online information source for engineers and other technical professionals, came from a niche themselves, explains GlobalSpec chairman and CEO Jeffrey Killeen. "They were immersed in the industry, and they knew the pain points of the user community," says Killeen. "The number one information need for content is relatively the same: efficiency and product discovery for engineers. The number one business problem they have is finding parts and suppliers" of those parts.

GlobalSpec started serving its niche readers through its SpecSearch search engine, from which users could search for engineering and industrial products. Over the years, the company has expanded those offerings to include 62 digital newsletters with a total circulation of 9 million. The topics cover a range of areas, such as electronics and product design. Serving its audience means providing online content users the breadth of information that they need to accomplish their career goals.

"The key to success in any information company is all about delighting your audience," says Killeen. "We believe the key to creating delight is to understand their workflow tasks. How does the information and content plug into the workflow?" Business-to-business publisher FierceMarkets, Inc. has plugged itself into the workflows of many different industries and strives to serve them all by following a similar formula.

FierceMarkets, which launched 10 years ago, publishes 35 electronic newsletters across seven vertical markets. Combined, the enewsletters, which are published either daily or weekly, reach more than 1.1 million subscribers. They cover areas such as finance, IT, and healthcare. In April, FierceMarkets launched newsletters that cover the utility and energy markets.

"When we go into a market, we look for communities of people," says FierceMarkets president Sean Griffey. The company researches large trade shows that attract both vendors and advertisers, which helps it determine possible new niche markets to enter. Griffey says he gets suggestions about once or twice a week regarding potential new markets. Those suggestions are investigated, but there isn't always enough evidence that such an expansion would be a good business decision. "There are some very cool topics out there, but I'm not sure you could make a business out of them," says Griffey. "As an ad-supported business, we need both sides of it."

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