In this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast (which you can find a full transcript of below), I cover 11 different topics from how to make it work in crowded niches to a great website business model that you should definitely steal.

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You can also listen to the episode online by clicking the play button on the player right below this. (If you don’t see the player, click here.) It’s about 25 minutes long.


DPP007: Succeeding in Crowded Niches, a Website Business Model, Blog Ads, and 8 More Ideas 

Welcome to episode 7 of the Digital Publishing Podcast, which you can find online at I’m Tristan Higbee, recording today in lovely—though at this time of year more crowded than usual—Cancun, Mexico.

This show is all about things I see and would like to see in the world of digital publishing, from blogging to ebooks to membership sites and more. Also covered are things related to internet business and online marketing. Stick around till the end of the podcast and I’ll mention my picks for featured podcast and featured digital publishing tool of the week.

I’d like to give huge thanks to the people that have gone into iTunes and left reviews and rated the show, and since the podcast is so new, I’d REALLY appreciate it if you would do the same

I also want to mention a product that I just finished working on. It’s called 365 Blog Post Ideas, and you can find it at It’s a newsletter, and you’ll get a blog post idea emailed to you every single day for an entire year if you sign up. Go check it out at to learn more.

Ok! I’ve got 11 topics to talk about today, so let’s get started.

Topic #1: Ads on your blog

I was listening to a Blogcast FM interview a couple months ago, and it was an interview with Glenn Sakamoto of the online surf magazine Liquid Salt. He had a really good idea. He said to put ads for companies that you like on your blog, even if the companies you’re advertising aren’t really sponsoring you and even if the ads aren’t affiliate links. So if you have a blog about running, you’d put up an ad for an online running store or some other running company, but you make sure you’re tracking the clicks. (You can do this either with a URL shortener or with an advertisement plugin on a WordPress blog.) Then after you’ve done that for a while, you can go approach the company with numbers and say, “Look, people have clicked your ad on my site 100 times in the last month.” So in other words, you have proof that the ad is actually working, and the company is a lot more likely to pay you for the ad and for the sponsorship.

Topic #2: Maddie and rain

Maddie standing on a fire hydrant.

Maddie standing on a fire hydrant. Photo by Theron Humphrey.

So there’s a Tumblr blog called Maddie on Things. Or maybe it’s called Maddie the Coonhound. (Incidentally, this is a pet peeve of mine, when the URL of a website and the name of the website on the blog don’t match.) Anyway, it’s at, and it’s a photo blog of an adorable dog called Maddie standing on things and posing in various positions and with various props. The blog has been a huge hit on Tumblr and it’s got thousands and thousands of followers.

I’m always interested in successful blogs that end up spawning other forms of media. In this case, there are several. The photographer, Theron Humphrey, sells prints of the photos featured on the site. He also has a nice hardcover photo book coming out next year (which is called Maddie on Things, and which you can preorder on Amazon now). Humphrey also has a 48-state book tour planned. And on top of all of that, there is now a Maddie on Things iOS app. You take a picture of anything you want and then can add a little image of Maddie standing or sitting in various positions to that photo, so it’ll look like she’s standing on whatever’s in the photo. I haven’t tried it, but it looks pretty great. It’s called MaddieCam, it costs 99 cents, and currently has 35 five-star reviews in the App Store.

How cool is it that all of that came out of a Tumblr blog that right now is only about a year old? I think it’s really neat.

Now, remember how last week I mentioned Rainy Mood, a site that just plays the sound of a thunderstorm? They’ve got an app for both iOS and Android devices, and it sells for $4.99. That’s expensive for an app (especially one that just plays nature sounds), but people are apparently buying it. And based on how popular the site is and how much traffic it gets, I’d imagine that they sell a fair number of the apps. I don’t know anything about the site and app creator or what he or she does for a living, but selling a fair number of apps at $4.99 will lead to a nice payday no matter who you are.

And again, it started with a simple website (which was started in 2009, according to the WHOIS records) that plays the sound of a thunderstorm. Again, how cool is that?

I think that both of these are great examples of what you can do after focusing on just one medium and turning it into something popular.

Topic #3: Learning from products like yours

As I mentioned in the introduction, I’m currently in Cancun, Mexico. I’ve been here for about two weeks now and will be here for another two weeks before moving a bit further down the coast. And about a week ago I got the idea to create a Kindle ebook about things to see and do in Cancun for free.

While sifting through free Kindle books a few days ago, I saw a book that talked about free things to do in Chicago. I figured I’d download it and see if I could get any ideas from it for my own guidebook. Plus it was free, so why not? I downloaded it and opened it and right away I got ideas from it. One of the first things in the book, for example, is a link to a Google map of Chicago that has all of the free things to do featured on it. I think that’s a great idea, and I’ll definitely borrow it for my Cancun book.

The point here is that you CAN learn some valuable things by looking at products that are similar to yours, especially if you’re not entirely sure how to structure the product.

Topic #4: Room in crowded niches

I think a lot about how some of the websites that are super popular now seem to have just been in the right place at the right time. They were talking about a niche just as the blogosphere was growing or just as interest in a particular niche was about to blow up.

But I forget sometimes that there is always room for stuff that is better than what is currently out there. And that applies to blogs, ebooks, and everything else we create. That’s not to say that if you produce really good stuff, you’ll automatically have success, because that’s not true either. But if you do everything else right like work hard and partner up with the right people, if you do that on top of putting out really good stuff, you’ve got a much better chance of being successful.

One example I have in mind is a blog that covers startups, called PandoDaily. I have no idea how many startup blogs are out there but there are a ton, including big ones that have been around forever like TechCrunch. PandoDaily was launched back in January 2012 (and I’m recording this in December 2012), so it’s less than a year old. I don’t know how successful it is financially or if they’re even worrying about that now, but it’s a darn good publication and seems to be getting good traffic and traction. The best part is that there’s no stupid linkbait, no top 10 lists or funny photo galleries.

I read a Mashable blog post today that was complete crap. There were about two sentences of introduction, followed by a 5-paragraph block quote from another blog. The title mentioned something that the article did not even talk about. There was no analysis or anything. It was a stupid, crappy article of no value.

You don’t see stuff like that on PandoDaily. Each blog post is like an editorial. There’s real analysis and opinion and they cover topics on the blog there that other sites don’t. They’re not just rewriting press releases. It is high quality content. From all appearances, the blog is succeeding in a very crowded space.

There are other examples, too. Like the health and wellness blog Greatist, or tech blog The Verge. These are relatively new blogs in extremely crowded niches, but they’ve gained traction and a following.

So while it’s true that getting in on the ground floor of something can make life a lot easier, it’s not the only way to stake your claim in the blogosphere. But barring that, remember that it IS at least possible to start something new and have it succeed in a crowded space. And I think that’s a lesson that applies to all digital media, not just blogs.

Topic #5: Fads and current events

Chasing fads can work on a blog. You can write a blog post about a recent news event or the latest viral video and it might draw in some extra interest. The blog post won’t be too relevant in the future, but most blog posts are dead anyway as soon as they leave the front page of your blog, so it’s not that big of a deal.

But I would not recommend chasing fads and current events when creating something like an ebook. As part of running, a site that’s all about free Kindle books, I see thousands of books every week. Leading up to the US presidential election, I saw several books about Obama and Romney and the election. How well do you think those books are selling now? Not too well. I also used to see a ton of books that were parodies of the 50 Shades of Grey series. How many of those do you think are being sold now? Again, I doubt too many.

There’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the content marketing world and that’s “evergreen content”. The idea is that whatever content you create should still be relevant in, say, 5 years. But I think that’s ridiculous. For most topics, for something to be relevant in 5 years, the things you talk about have to be so broad and general that they’re essentially worthless. They’re general knowledge things that people in your niche will likely already know. At the other end of the spectrum are the fads and current events that I talked about earlier. I think that the sweet spot is somewhere in between. You don’t want to create something like an ebook that will be irrelevant next week, and you probably don’t want to create one that is so broad that it will still be relevant in 5 years. Keep that in mind when working on your next project.

Topic #6: The China Narrator update

I mentioned last episode that I have been wanting to create a stand-alone newsletter for a while. That’s a newsletter with no attached blog or anything else. It’s just the newsletter. I announced that I was in the process of creating one about China, and that I’d mention it in future episodes of the Digital Publishing Podcast and talk about the progress it’s making and the successes and failures it goes through. This is the first stand-alone newsletter I’ve ever tried creating and I figure it’s something you guys can learn from right along with me, too.

The newsletter is called The China Narrator, and it’s at Every morning I email out a link to an interesting article about China. The email includes a couple sentences of introduction, the name of the article, where the article was published, the publication date, and the word count.

I called it The China Narrator because was an available domain name. I wanted to give it a newspaper-esque title, but all the names like and were taken. wasn’t. I actually bought first from GoDaddy auctions. It was like $15 or something, and I think it’s a better name. But after I bought it I realized that the @chinacommons twitter account was taken, and I didn’t like that. I have no plans to use a Twitter account in conjunction with the newsletter anytime soon, but I wanted it to be an option. So I kept looking until I came up with

Right now there are 12 confirmed subscribers to the newsletter. There are a few more that signed up but that didn’t click the confirmation link in the confirmation email. I’ll have to figure out what to do about that. I got those subscribers mainly through Facebook. I posted a link to the site on my personal Facebook profile. The people that signed up are people I knew from back when I lived in China as a teenager. I also sent out a tweet about the newsletter but only two people clicked the link, and one person signed up. I’ve gotten some feedback from a few of the subscribers and it’s been really positive. I’m also really enjoying selecting the links to send out each morning. It’s a lot of fun.

I’m really happy with the way the site turned out. Go to and take a look at it. The background of the whole page is a photo I took in Beijing, and in the middle of the screen is a box that has some information about the newsletter, and that’s where the signup form is, too. Also on that page are a link to a contact form in case someone has questions, and a link to what an example email from The China Narrator looks like. For the main page there I’m using the Coming Soon Pro plugin from (which I mentioned in the last episode), and I’m really happy with it. It’s responsive, too, so it looks great on a phone or tablet.

My job now is to grow the newsletter. Probably the first thing I’ll do is invest $5 or $10 in Facebook ads and see if they’re effective. I’ve used Facebook ads in the past for other projects and they’ve worked well. We’ll see.

That’s all for now with regards to The China Narrator. Let me know if you have any questions that you’d like me to cover next time.

Topic #7: The personal blog

I love my personal blog. I love that I can write whatever I want there. Not many people read it, so I have no audience to cater and pander to. I have no set posting schedule. Sometimes I’ll post for a few days in a row, and sometimes I won’t post anything for a month.

The best part about having a personal blog and being free to do whatever with it is that it catches all of the overflow stuff that doesn’t fit on my other blogs. I’m always interested in different things and always have new ideas and I always want to start new blogs around whatever I happen to be interested in at the time. But instead of doing that, I can just write on my personal blog and get it out of my system. It saves me from having to buy a domain name, set up a new blog, and all that stuff. And let’s be honest, I’d probably end up losing interest in and abandoning the blog pretty quickly anyway.

If that sounds like you, I’d recommend starting a personal blog. Don’t worry about promoting it or getting traffic to it or any of that stuff. Post things to get them out of your head so that you can move on to the next thing and focus on the more important stuff. It works really well for me.

Topic #8: The worst humblebrag

A humblebrag is a brag cloaked in modesty, often fake modesty. Here’s an example in a tweet by Justin Stangel that was retweeted by the @humblebrag Twitter account: “i was nominated for an Emmy & lost. My daughters just told me i’m still a winner to them. Best part of the night.” It’s humble because the guy is saying that his daughters are more important than an Emmy. But it’s a brag because the guy is saying that he was nominated for an Emmy. Get it?

Ok, so there’s a humblebrag that permeates the online marketing community, and I think it’s ridiculous. How many times have you heard something like this: “People keep telling me I’m crazy for selling my course for only $297. My business coach said I should be charging five times this amount, but I want as many people as possible to have access to it.”

The humble part is the I’m-such-a-good-person-because-I’m-willing-to-not-financially-destroy-you undertone. The brag part is the look-how-great-I-am-for-doing-this-great-thing undertone.

Does this bother anyone else? Who are all of these crazy “business coaches” that think a few videos and a Skype call are worth two thousand dollars? What kind of person thinks that $297 is a price that everyone can afford?

No, your product is not worth two thousand dollars. Yes, you could charge 4 times as much for it, but no one would buy it and everyone would hate you. That doesn’t make you a good person.

Topic #9: Are ebooks dead?

No. That’s the answer to that question, plain and simple. eBooks are not dead. I heard a prominent podcaster say something to that effect last week, though. Expensive PDF ebooks are dying, sure. And ebooks are going out of fashion in the internet marketing world. They’re not as sexy as apps or membership sites. But the notion that ebooks are dying is just not true.

Amazon has been selling more ebooks than print books since 2011. Someone emailed me last week and asked if ebooks were still worth writing, since e-reader sales have been taking a heavy hit. Doesn’t that mean that people aren’t reading ebooks anymore? No. It means that people are buying iPads instead of Kindles. They’re still reading ebooks.

To say that people have stopped reading ebooks is like saying that people have stopped reading books. Ebooks ARE books. I’d bet that there will never be another time in history when paper book sales increase. To say that people will not read ebooks is to say that people will not read books, and that’s just not true. Ebook sales might ease up from the steep climb they’ve been in for the past few years, but there’s no way people will stop reading ebooks.

So yes, ebooks are still worth writing and no, they’re not dead.

Topic #10: A great website idea and business model

A couple days ago I ran across a website called The Wirecutter ( It’s a site that reviews gadgets and technology and stuff. The catch, though, is that they list only the single best item in a category. They tell you what the #1 best waterproof camera is, what the single best SD card is, what the single best TV is, and so on. I think it’s a genius concept. No one wants to wade through reviews of 20 different point-and-shoot cameras. Most people just want to buy the best one, and that’s the information that The Wirecutter delivers.

There’s a really great recent New York Times article about the site’s founder (he used to be the editor at Gizmodo). That article mentions that monthly revenue for the site is $50,000 a month, and it’s generated through Amazon affiliate links. How great is that? I make a healthy chunk of my income through Amazon affiliate links, and I think it’s a fantastic model.

And this is an idea and business model that can—and should—be applied to any and every niche out there. If you’re into rock climbing, create one for for rock climbing. Talk about the single best rope, the single pest pair of climbing shoes, and the single best harness. Then use affiliate links to link to Amazon or some other online retailer.

There’s a caveat here, though. The product reviews at The Wirecutter are good reviews. They’re long and in-depth. They’re not just 250 words-long and say exactly what the product’s Amazon page says. The people doing the reviews know what they’re talking about. That’s an important thing to keep in mind if you want to create this kind of site.

Topic #11: Twitter lists as valuable resources for others

If you have a Twitter account, you can place other people on Twitter into lists. For example, you could have a “High School Friends” list, a “Coworker” list, a “Famous people I follow” list, and a “Family” list. Lists make it easier to compartmentalize your Twitter life and see only the tweets from certain people at any one time.

I was listening to Leo Laporte’s Tech Guy podcast this morning when I heard something pretty interesting. He had Johnny Jet (who has a popular travel blog at on to talk about some travel tips. One tip that Johnny Jet gave out for getting great deals on airfares is to follow airlines on Twitter, because they often tweet great deals. And then he said to just go to his Twitter profile because he’s got all of the airlines that are on Twitter in a list, and you can just subscribe to his list. He’s also got lists for airports, his favorite hotels, cruise lines, and a bunch of other travel-related things.

I thought this was a great idea. When you do this, your Twitter lists become valuable not only to you, but also to anyone else interested in what you’re interested in. The lists become an asset and a resource.

The problem, of course, is that no one ever looks at other people’s lists on Twitter. At least I don’t think they do. I know I never do and wouldn’t have if he hadn’t have mentioned it on the podcast. But if you do tell people about them, I think that’s great, and maybe something all of us should start doing.


And now it’s time for this episode’s featured podcast and featured digital publishing tool. My pick for this episode’s featured podcast is The Amateur Traveler. It’s a weekly travel podcast, and every week the host interviews someone about a place they have a lot of experience with and knowledge about. The show has been around for a long time and there are more than 300 back episodes. As of now when I’m recording this, the five most recent episodes were about London, the Galapagos Islands, Tuscany, Peru, and Uganda, respectively, so a lot of different ground is covered. It’s a fantastic podcast for those of us who just can’t to travel enough.

My pick for this episode’s featured digital publishing tool is a Chrome extension called timeStats. It tells you how long you spend on the various websites you visit. It will tell you the time you’ve spent on the sites today, yesterday, over the last month, and for all time. It breaks it all down for you with nice pie charts, and there are some other great features, too.

As for me, the domains I visit most (starting with the one I spend the most time on) are Google, Evernote, Reddit, (which is my free Kindle book website), Amazon, Facebook, and Dropbox. Today I’ve spent 49 minutes on Evernote (I do all my notetaking in Evernote and I write all of my blog posts and ebooks in Evernote) and 24 minutes on Facebook. [Note: I’ve written a book about the best Chrome extensions if you’re interested in finding more.]

It’s a great extension. Go to the Chrome web store and search for timeStats (one word). It’s free, and it’s really interesting to see how you’re spending (or wasting) your time.


Well, that’s all for this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast. Be sure to check out for show notes and links and additional blog posts there at that go beyond what I talk about on the podcast. Since this podcast is so new, I’d really appreciate it if you went into iTunes and rated and reviewed it. Oh, and don’t forget to check out Thanks for listening.

As always, I’m on Twitter.