Digital Publishing Platforms
4 mins read

Rise of the niche social network

The future of publishing is in the niche, according to Alex Attinger, CEO of Social Dot Limited.

His last start up, Digitalbox, was a huge success and featured in the Sunday Times ‘Tech Track 100’ for two years running before selling off one of its divisions in a £multi-million deal in 2015.

Attinger has witnessed at first hand the vast disruption wreaked on the publishing industry. As the New Statesman pointed out last month, if journalism is to survive it needs either to cut costs (sack journalists) or build revenues. Alex is firmly in the latter camp, but his focus squarely rests on what he dubs ‘the rise in niche social networks’.

This renewed focus in special interest publishing is not just confined to Attinger. Hans Hamer, the Managing Director of Axel Springer, Germany’s biggest publishing group was quoted recently as saying, “The world these days is so complex. People look for someone to guide them, a trusted brand who takes them by the hand and helps orient them.”

Hamer continued, “The more specialised you are, with a clear focus on your target group, it’s hard to imitate. The same if you produce your own content and original stories, it’s hard to replicate.”

Whilst Hamer was commenting on specialist interest magazines rather than social media networks, the basic premise is the same – publishing within niche environments. As Hamer stated, “We are not only working in the media business, we are working in an entertainment business, we have to entertain only our readers but also our advertising clients who want to publish ads in a special environment.”

This focus on publishing within special environments is what unites Attinger, Hamer and others. Crucially it also includes advertising networks and brand giants who are looking to escape the clutter and poor visibility of mass market publishers (on and offline) by focusing on publishers who really know their audiences, and whose audiences really know them.

A case in point is Sweden’s Fishbrain, an online mobile logging, photo-sharing and social networking service that enables fishing enthusiasts to record and take pictures of catches, and share them either publicly or privately. With over two million users operating a freemium model, Fishbrain’s premium subscription fee of $60 per year ensures a strong business model. And, as you’d expect, Fishbrain boasts its own ecommerce store.

It’s this focus on special interest where Attinger et al see the future of publishing, be it in the form of magazines, digital publishing, ecommerce, social media or any combination of the four.

Attinger himself is throwing his weight behind JPExtreme, the brand he founded late last year. Aimed squarely at Jeep enthusiasts, the social network already has 1,000,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with an upcoming launch of a YouTube channel – and that’s even before his website went live earlier this month.

As Attinger says, “Jeep has been voted the most American brand in the world, and that’s by Americans themselves. It’s got a huge worldwide following and we’re tapping into that with JPExtreme because, put simply, that’s our sole editorial focus.”

Just like Fishbrain, by focusing on a single niche JPExtreme is able to harness the passion of its fan base with no distractions either editorially or commercially. This singular, undiluted focus sees its social channels receive over 200 image and video submissions from followers on a daily basis.

Advisor to the company, Solly Solomou the CEO and Founder of TheLADbible Group comments that “The growth of JP has been impressive, by focusing on a specific niche Alex and his team have been able to gain traction quickly.

To give JPExtreme the editorial authority it needs, Attinger has employed a renowned automotive journalist. Attinger explains, “Any niche publication, be it a magazine or social media network, must have at its core a real sense of credibility and authenticity – specialist audiences quickly spot imposters. There are no short cuts.”

It echoes what leading futurist Kevin Kelly wrote in 2008 when looking at Internet disruption. As Kelly warned at the time, the future challenge for publishers will be to work out what can’t be copied. And editorial trust can’t be copied.

Yet why such a focus on social media?  Attinger responds, “What social media offers is instant, real time communication. Special interest publishing has been around for decades but whereas a ‘letter to the editor’ took a month to appear, now it’s seconds. In an age of instant communication, only social media publishing allows this.”

Attinger cites a recent study by Flurry which shows that time spent in messaging and social apps grew by 44% worldwide last year, helping mobile achieve time-spent growth of 69% year on year.

Unique social niches are also carrying favour with brands – Eurostar’s latest ‘Travel State of Mind’ ad campaign encourages customers to create their own ‘Travel State of Mind’ on a unique Facebook canvas, where users can explore the brand’s photos, videos and travel tips for multiple Eurostar destinations in a niche environment.

By focusing on a single social niche, publishers can ring fence their audience and viably monetise their offering by subscriptions, advertising or ecommerce. In an age when Google and Facebook are hoovering up the majority of the world’s publishing and advertising dollars, it just might be one of the few ways for publishers to survive. And more importantly thrive.

J Clarke, Senior Reporter, WNIP