In this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast (which you can find a full transcript of below), I talk about niche website empires, cheap Kindles, and much more.
You can also listen to the episode online by clicking the play button on the player below this. (If you don’t see the player, click here.) It’s about 24 minutes long.
Niche Website Empires, Cheap Kindles, and More
This is episode 52 of the Digital Publishing Podcast, a podcast about ebooks, blogs, podcasts, social media, and other forms of digital publishing. My name is Tristan Higbee, recording today in Kathmandu, Nepal. (And this is a noisy city, so I apologize if you hear dogs or car horns or people shouting in the background.) This podcast is brought to you by my site Osmosio.com, where you can learn all about the difficult aspects of ebook formatting and a whole lot more.
Ok, I’ve got 5 topics to talk about today, so let’s get started. Topic number one is…
1. Ask Quora
If you’ve ever looked at any of those lists of blog post ideas, you’ll see that one of them is usually to ask your audience what to write about. That’s all well and good if you have an audience, but it’s not super helpful if you’re just starting out or if no one reads your blog. The other day, though, I saw a variation on this theme that would work great regardless of the size of your audience.
I was looking at the travel section of BBC.com and saw an article called What Should I Drink in Your Country? It was part of a regular feature on the site called The Quora Column. If you don’t know what Quora is, it’s a question-and-answer site that’s like a more modern version of Yahoo Answers. You sign up for an account, post a question in the relevant category, and people who are watching that category can answer that question. The answers are voted up or down by other users, meaning that the best answers usually rise to the top. So for The Quora Column on BBC, the writer goes to Quora, asks a travel-related question, and then writes an article based on the responses. In the case of the particular article I saw, the one about what drink shouldn’t be missed in different countries, responses included the root beer float in the US, something called punsch in Sweden, mate in Argentina, and jigarthanda in India.
And again, this was done without any kind of established audience. Other questions asked on Quora by the BBC Travel folks include the following:
- What are the world’s most geographically and topographically interesting cities and towns?
- What are the must-visit islands of the world?
- What are the things we don’t know about hotel rooms?
- What are the world’s most interesting roads?
- What should I know if I want to quit my job, leave everything behind and travel for a year?
A variation on this theme would be to see what questions other people have asked and then write blog posts based on those. You don’t necessarily need to do the asking yourself.
And finally, this kind of thing isn’t limited to Quora. Reddit, for example, would be a great platform for asking questions and getting ideas or information.
2. A niche website empire
I’ve talked a lot about how you can take a niche and write a bunch of different books about it. This both establishes you as an expert and makes it so that you have multiple things that anyone who buys one book could potentially be interested in buying later on. This means that you can potentially make more money per reader. If you’re into mountain biking, you could write one book about mountain biking for beginners, another about tips for experts, another about bikepacking or mountain bike touring, another about how to repair or maintain things on your mountain bike, and yet another about how, when, and why to upgrade the components on your mountain bike. Those are just examples from off the top of my head, and I don’t really know a whole lot about mountain biking.
Now I want to talk about this same general idea applied to websites, not ebooks. I have a passing interest in the tiny house movement. I think I’ve talked about it in previous podcast episodes. Tiny houses are generally really small houses that are built on flat trailers. Minimalism and environmental sustainability are common themes in the tiny house world, and those are two things that I’m interested in that led me to want to learn more about the tiny house thing.
If you start to dig into the world of tiny houses, the same handful of websites keeps coming up over and over again, and I eventually realized that several of these websites are run by one person. The sites include the following:
- Tiny House Swoon – A photo-heavy blog that highlights individual tiny houses.
- Small House Swoon – Pretty much the same thing as Tiny House Swoon except that the houses featured are slightly bigger; they’re “small” instead of “tiny.”
- Tiny House Listings – A site where people can list their tiny homes for sale. And as of writing this, The Tiny House Listings Facebook page also has about 272,000 likes.
- Tiny House Gear – A Pinterest-like site dedicated to things that are particularly useful, helpful, or applicable in a tiny house.
- Tiny House Parking – A site for finding a place to park your tiny house.
- Tiny House Vacations – A site for finding a tiny house to rent or otherwise stay in on a temporary basis.
And those are just the sites I know about. There may be more. Off the top of my head, I can think of several other sites that the owner could add:
- Tiny House Videos
- Tiny House Interviews
- Tiny House GIFs
- Tiny House Books
- Tiny House Plans
- Tiny House Blogs
So as with the ebooks, the idea is that someone coming to any one of these sites will be interested in the other sites you have. Of course, this is really only valuable if you have some way to make money in place. My guess is that only a couple of these tiny house sites actually make any money, and the rest are just feeders that direct people to those money-making sites. I’d get one or two sites going that made money and then use the rest to direct traffic to those sites.
Anyway, I thought this was a really interesting way to own a very niche subject. If it can be done with something like tiny houses, my guess is that it can be done with pretty much anything.
3. The medium and your personality
I’m sure we’ve all seen those articles that list a bunch of the different ways to make money online. Start a blog! Write ebooks! Record a podcast! Make YouTube videos! Create courses! Start a membership site! There’s one thing that every single one of these articles fails to mention, and that’s how your personality and personal preferences fit in with these different forms of media. The result is that people often try some or all of these methods without really thinking them through. Making money is the first concern, and everything else comes second. It’s a shotgun approach, and the hope is that if they’re doing all of these different things, maybe something will stick.
I think there’s a better way. It’s a smarter way that will save time and effort in the short term and will satisfy mental and emotional desires in the long term. What I mean here is to simply choose the medium that fits you best and then focus on that.
Let’s take me as an example. For a while several years ago I tried to make YouTube videos and make money from them. None of them did very well, and it’s easy to see why when I look back. I suck at making videos. I have no interest in making videos. I don’t enjoy making videos. Strangely, these are the things that we don’t think about when we think about how to make money online. We think about how we can grow our audiences and monetize and all of those other catchy buzzwords, but we fail to think about what it is we really want to do.
I am not a video creator. I don’t enjoy it. It’s not a good fit for me, so I shouldn’t have ever wasted my time doing that in the first place. What I enjoy most is writing, so writing ebooks is the perfect fit for me. Podcasting comes somewhere in between. I don’t hate it, but I also don’t love it. I guess you could say that it’s not my calling in life, and that’s one of the main reasons that I went from doing podcasts every week to taking a several-month-long break to now podcasting once or twice a month. I see the value in doing it and I really enjoy certain aspects, but I’ve adjusted my schedule to make sure that it’s not a huge focus or timesuck.
I have a friend who is very much a video person. He likes recording videos and is good in front of the camera. He’s been talking about writing ebooks for years, but I’ve never really understood why. He doesn’t enjoy writing; he just knows that people are making money writing ebooks and wants to get in on the action. I think that’s the wrong move. Coming from a place like that, I can almost guarantee that his ebook won’t be any good. He’ll just be wasting his time. In my opinion, he should do what meshes well with who he is and his existing strengths.
This is one thing that I wish I could go back in time to tell my younger self. Don’t waste your time with niche sites or crappy YouTube videos. That’s not me. That’s not what I enjoy, and it’s not what I’m good at. If you have a long-term mindset—which I definitely think you should if you want to make money online—then this is something that you HAVE to consider and keep at the forefront of your mind. Could you stomach podcasting or making YouTube videos or writing ebooks or publishing blog posts on a consistent basis for the next 5 or 10 years or more? If so, pursue that avenue. If not, don’t waste your time. Not everything will be a good fit for you, and that’s OK.
4. Why cheap Kindles still rock
Amazon just came out with a new flagship Kindle recently, the Kindle Voyage. In its cheapest configuration, it’s $199. I will not be buying one of these (even if I weren’t in Nepal and could reasonably purchase one). I’m sure it’s a great device, but it’s not what I want in an e-reader. Right now I have a several-year-old Kindle 4. It was $80 at the time, and I love it. The Kindle 4 isn’t for sale anymore, but the cheapest Kindles now are the same price: $80.
I read a lot of books—usually several every week—and to be honest, I actually read more on the Kindle app on my smartphone than I do on my black-and-white Kindle. But the Kindle is still so good in certain situations that I just can’t get rid of it.
I just got back from an 8-day trek in the Himalayas in northern Nepal. I had my phone with me, but I needed to use it as a GPS, so it was important that I try to conserve its battery life as much as possible, meaning that I couldn’t use it for recreational reading. I did have my Kindle with me, though, and I was able to use it for as long as I wanted each night and morning and still didn’t even use up half of the battery. And because it was only $80 and I’ve had it for a few years, I wasn’t worried about needing to be too careful with it. I could just throw it in my bag and not have to baby it. I don’t know if I’d say the same about a $200 e-reader or a $400 iPad. And remember, that $200 Kindle Voyage is the absolute cheapest version, with ads and WiFi capability only. If you want to remove the ads and throw in 3G connectivity, it’s $269.
One great thing that all Kindles share is that you can use it outside in the sun and still see the screen perfectly. While I didn’t do that on this particular trek in the mountains, I’ve done it a bunch on beaches in Mexico and Southeast Asia. And again, I wasn’t worried about getting sand in it or scratching the screen. The Kindle is also great for long flights, buses, or train rides—anything where battery life would be an issue on any other reading device.
With a Kindle, you essentially don’t need to worry about battery life. In this world of plugging in our electronics at least once a day, it’s hard to overstate just how awesome that is. And the simplicity of the Kindles in general is fantastic. Doing anything other than just reading on them is inconvenient at best and impossible at worst, so when you pick up a Kindle, you know you’re going to only be reading.
No, the $80 Kindle isn’t super fancy. It doesn’t have a light. Its screen isn’t high-res. But I still think it’s the best e-reader out there. Mine is an older version that doesn’t have a touchscreen, so it would be much cheaper than $80 if you can find it on Amazon or eBay. I actually prefer not having the touchscreen because it means that I can’t accidentally turn the page with my thumb. That’s something that you see mentioned in a lot in the reviews of the newer Kindles. I actually have owned a touchscreen Kindle but ended up selling it and going back to the “dumber” version. But if you’ve never owned a Kindle, consider picking up one of the cheap ones, and I promise you’ll be glad you did.
5. Copyediting on Fiverr
Fiverr is the marketplace for products and services (mostly services) that cost $5. For my last book, Everest Pilgrim (which is available now on Amazon), I decided to hire a copyeditor on Fiverr and see how he or she did. (A copyeditor is someone who reads and checks for spelling and grammar mistakes.) Before I did that, I went through the book twice and edited it to the best of my ability (which is pretty good; I have a minor in editing). Then I went on Fiverr and looked at the different copyediting services that people offered. I found a couple that offered to edit 10,000 words for $5. The part of my book that I wanted edited was around 30,000 words, so I ordered 3 of one of the gigs for a grand total of $15. I sent the Word document version of my book and waited. A week later, the edited version was returned. The editor picked up on about half a dozen things that needed to be fixed. As far as I’m concerned, that’s fantastic. That’s 6 mistakes that would have gone unnoticed, and that is worth far more to me than $15.
$5 copyediting jobs probably aren’t a substitute for a “real” editor, but if you’re on a budget or just want to have another pair of eyes go over what you’ve written, I think they’re a great option.
Pick of the Week: Quizlet and . . .
And that now brings us to my pick of the week. This is where I pick one useful thing to share, and it can be an app, a website, a podcast, or anything else I find valuable. I have a couple different picks this week. The first is an app called Quizlet. It’s a flashcard app. I’m currently trying to study Spanish every day and wanted to find a good flashcard app to help me study vocabulary. I downloaded several flashcard apps but most of them just tried to do too much and weren’t a good approximation of the paper flashcard experience, which is what I wanted. Then I found Quizlet. It’s an app for iOS, Android, and the web. It’s free, and it’s very simple. I use the web interface to quickly create cards, since it’s easier and faster to type on my laptop keyboard than on my phone. The app incorporates everything good about the paper flashcard experience and then makes it better by adding further useful functionality. And yes, you can add packs of flashcards that other people have made for languages and other subjects that flashcards are commonly used for. Search for Quizlet in any of the big app stores and you’ll find it. I highly recommend it.
And my second pick is a bit more esoteric. It’s just to keep in mind that there are apps and computer programs that can do just about anything you want. Like I said before, I’m in Nepal now. My apartment here in Kathmandu has regular and very sustained power outages. I wondered this morning if there was an app for my laptop that would notify me when the power cord was disconnected, or, in my case, when the power shut off and it seemed to the computer that the cord was disconnected. I wanted this because I wanted to adjust my usage on the laptop if the power were shut off. I’d turn down screen brightness and close the web browser and things like that to maximize the battery life. And after a quick search, I found an app that did exactly what I wanted it to do. So again, this is just a reminder that if you’re ever wondering, “Gee, I really wish my computer/phone/tablet did X,” you can probably find software that will make it do X, and those little things can add up to make a big difference.
And that’s all for episode 52 of the Digital Publishing Podcast. Be sure to check out Osmosio.com if you want to learn more about digital publishing.
Please don’t hesitate to email me any questions you might have regarding digital publishing. I love talking about this stuff, and I’d love to help you out. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.digitalpublishingpodcast.com. That will redirect you to my Twitter account, since my name is a bit tricky to spell. If you do follow me there, be sure to say hi.
And finally, I’d really appreciate it if you went into iTunes and rated and reviewed this podcast. Thanks for listening.