Newsletters & Niches

Thoughts on Linda Lebrun’s Q&A with Edwin Dorsey (The Bear Cave)

Twitter Spaces Q&A

I attended a great Twitter Spaces session yesterday (yes, I am “online” now) hosted by Linda Lebrun and Edwin Dorsey (author of The Bear Cave). The session was about Edwin’s story and how he grew The Bear Cave.

It was a fascinating discussion, but something Edwin said really stood out to me. I’m paraphrasing here, but when sharing advice for new writers, he said to ‘find something no one else is doing and to do that.’

Makes sense, right? Find a niche and do a great job. The slogan equivalent would be “write it and they will come.”

He also mentioned that internet niches are bigger than what you think (and they’re still bigger than what you think if you already know that they’re bigger than what you think). Say that ten times fast.

As a self-proclaimed generalist, Edwin’s advice got me thinking. Is there a market for generalist writers/newsletters? Because from what I’ve seen, all über successful writers have a niche.

Examples

Let’s look at some of the most popular newsletters out there.

The Bear Cave
Problems at Root Insurance (ROOT)
Root Insurance (NASDAQ: ROOT — $3.94 billion) is a car insurance company that is misleading investors and consumers. The company went public in October and claims to use its phone app to distinguish good drivers from bad ones by tracking driving speed, braking, travel times, phone usage, and other factors. Root recently reported improved underwriting results, which it credits to algorithmic enhancements. I believe Root’s results are driven by undisclosed price increases and a one-time pandemic benefit…
Read more
Noahpinion
Pass the damn infrastructure bill, dammit
I am annoyed at the way Democrats are handling the two spending bills now moving through Congress. When the bipartisan infrastructure deal passed the Senate, I assumed it was a done deal, and we could move on to the reconciliation bill. Instead, progressives in the House…
Read more
PETITION
💥What the Bloody Hell is Happening with Evergrande?💥
Part I. What is Evergrande? So this one is a colossal clusterf*ck…
Read more

Here’s a TL;DR summary of each:

  1. The Bear Cave focusses on corporate misconduct: a one-stop shop for short-sellers. Niche!

  2. Noahpinion is an economics writer mostly focussing on (you guessed it) economics. Niche!

  3. PETITION is an anonymously-published financial newsletter specializing in distressed investing & bankruptcy. Niche!

This is obviously a small sample size, but go searching for newsletters and I’m 99% certain you’ll come to the same conclusion that popular writers have niches. If you don’t, I’m very curious so please let me know.

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Generalist’s value-add

During the Q&A, Edwin drove home another point: you won’t grow if you don’t add value. Can’t argue with that. If you’re a subject matter expert then your niche writes itself. If you’re not a subject matter expert, your value-add proposition is more complicated.

I asked a Discord community about this to get some insight. One person responded that you don’t need to have a subject niche but you’ll have to have one for your voice.

In other words, a generalist’s value-add is their writing style. People will flock to your newsletter to hear you. For the Zoomers reading this, Emma Chamberlain (a vlogger) is someone who does this extremely well. She lives a life that’s not relatable for most people. But, her narrative voice/style is something that her 10.9 million subscribers relate to.

There’s more to it. I’ve brainstormed some types of generalists that can add value:

  1. The Information Fiend: someone who gathers info that people wouldn’t have otherwise (this article is a fitting example…presumptuous huh)

  2. The Amiable Teacher: someone who’s learning about a new topic and shares their learning as they go…time for shameless Jordan Belfort-esque self-promotion:

    Factorial Zero
    Crypto’s mainstream adoption problem
    Where we’re heading I’m not here to convince you that crypto is the future…there’s already enough online about that. If you are, however, just learning about crypto for the first time, I highly recommend listening to this podcast hosted by Lex Fridman…
    Read more
  3. The Outlandish Theorist: someone who proposes crazy theories to get people thinking (they don’t have to be right but they get the conversation going):

    Factorial Zero
    Why young people love free markets
    How do young people feel about capitalism? Let’s play a game. $100. I’ll ask a random person — who’s in their twenties — whether they like hyper-competitive markets. If they say “yes,” you win $100. What do you think? Do you like your odds? If you’ve logged on to social media sometime…
    Read more

Being an Information Fiend, Amiable Teacher, or Outlandish Theorist might actually be a niche in itself. If you juggle around these three roles — which I try to do — I still think you’re a generalist, but we can let the erudite readers debate that.

There’s still one lingering question for me: why aren’t there many (if any) famous generalists today?

My answer to this is twofold:

  1. To be a famous generalist you need to have a following; however, the best way to gain a following is to become well-known in one domain. If you manage to become well-known in one domain, there’s inertia and you end up not wanting to swim into unknown waters. Thus, the well-known specialists out there can become generalists but there’s too much overhead to transition so they don’t.

  2. If you want to be a generalist from the get-go, you need to have consistently profound insights that add value and that’s just hard to do.

Are the odds stacked up against you if you’re a generalist? Perhaps. But the odds are stacked against you even if you’re trying to be a one-subject expert, so that’s not saying much.

The value proposition for generalists is clear. Whether there’s a large market for this type of writing is something we’ll have to see. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to keep the generalist tradition alive here.