Posted on June 16, 2014 @ 10:25:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Lately I've noticed that many of the books I'm interested in reading are being published by Chelsea Green Publishing so I decided to investigate their site to learn more about the company. The company's motto is "The Politics and Practice of Sustainable Living" and it expresses very well the niche they serve. They appear to have found a profitable niche both because the topic area has been gaining in popularity for a long time now and because the titles they publish have a good lifespan. They have many 20 year old books that still sell well because the politics and practices of sustainable living apparently don't change as rapidly as they do in other topic areas.
When you are a book publisher you can potentially publish books that serve a wide variety of interests. Indeed, in the early days
before Chelsea Green Publishing had found its niche, it published books in other topic areas such as Art. Eventually, they found their
audience and here is how co-founders Margo and Ian Baldwin describe the process of finding their niche to an interviewer:
Ian: We had, I would say, extremely good editorial judgment, and we published quality books, so we built a brand name of a quality publisher that was interested primarily in non-fiction, but what we didn't have was a sense of who are audience was - you've got to pick out your audience and you've got to be extremely precise. So we had difficult times. We had to keep going back and attempting to raise money - but never enough money.
Margo: We were trying to be eclectic, but it became clear that in order to survive you had to be a niche. We were already headed in that direction. Eliot Coleman was an early author of ours, and the organic gardening movement. The other thing we realized was that you really needed to have a backlist of books that sell year after year. That just takes plain old time to build up. That can't be fiction, or temporary non-fiction.
Interview: You need books that people are going to go back to because the information is going to be as good 20 years from now as it is today.
These days Chelsea Green Publishing is one of the few independent book publishers that is profitable. As the sustainability movement gains
momentum, they find themselves in the enviable position of having many of the key books in all the key areas of sustainability. They are
selling 3 to 4 times as many Elliot Colement The New Organic Grower books today as they did in the early days of its release. Finding the right niche not only lets you survive, it can make you thrive.
Chelsea Green Publishing offers a nice case study in the importance and process of finding a business niche. It is also important to note that niches can grow in size over time so getting involved early in a growing niche can be very profitable. Chelsea Green had the vision and tenacity to see that the niche would grow in size and are reaping the benefits of their ongoing editorial judgement within a fairly well defined niche (i.e., Books > Non-Fiction > Politics and Practice of Sustainable Living).
Margo Baldwin is the president of Chelsea Green Publishing. There are not many videos of her on YouTube. Here is one from 2 years ago that gives you a sense of who Margo is and a few of the titles they publish within a niche defined as the "politics and practice of sustainable living".