The word ‘niche’ tends to suggest an area of nerdy special interest, undeserving of great attention. In fact, niche audiences are gold-dust for content creators. Niches are populated by people who are very passionate about their subject area.
In 2012 we published a book called Football Manager Stole My Life, by Neil BackPage and fellow FM addicts Kenny Millar and Iain Macintosh, The title tells you everything. Fans of the game tend to be obsessive.
Neil, an almost-recovered FM addict (he still plays the handheld version), had the idea to do a book on FM. The format was inspired by another of his obsessions – the film The Big Lebowski. In 2007, Canongate published a magazine-style book called I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski which explored the fan culture surrounding the Jeff Bridges classic. Given that the same fan culture has spawned very popular Lebowski-fests around the world, it was not hard to detect the presence of a sizeable niche.
Ditto Football Manager, a game which sells approximately one million copies on release every year. We had a great time exploring the fan culture around Football Manager. We asked for contributions and were inundated with tales of obsession. A squaddie emailed to tell us about the time his platoon were under mortar attack but he was struggling to tear himself away from FM – his team were in a cup final, after all. The book sold great and it got us thinking more about gaming.
In 2013, we read an award-winning article by a gaming journalist called Keza Macdonald on a game called Eve. It blew our minds. We contacted Keza and later developed a book based on the cult computer game Dark Souls – a notoriously difficult game. Keza’s relationship with Dark Souls went back to before its launch: she was part of an email group of gaming journalists called the Chain of Pain, who, given pre-release copies, swapped tales of heartbreak as they tried to fathom how to survive in this pitiless new world. The Chain of Pain community expanded to over one million members, or “fellow sufferers”.
The project started as digital-only, but we ended up doing a paperback. However, we wanted to try something different. We knew we had a niche audience of a quantifiable size, and two authors – Keza and fellow gaming writer Jason Killingsworth – who were influential voices in the Dark Souls community.
In a previous post, I mentioned the value of direct sales to publishers and authors. If you’re a Dark Souls fan, you are more likely to be following Keza or Jason on Twitter and reading their journalism, than browsing in Waterstones or WH Smith for something to read on gaming. Direct sales would generate a much better margin for us and, significantly, an improved royalty for the writers. So, we made the paperback available exclusively through us. It’s a brilliant book and has sold well. And for every book we sell directly, it’s the equivalent of selling two or three copies through retailers.
There is a clear disconnect between the mainstream sport books we publish and ‘You Died: The Dark Souls Companion’, so we set up a separate site with a blog that the authors update regularly and which has the all-important direct buy button.