New Beginnings at Niche Digital Chicago.

Even after 30 years in the field, I’m still fascinated and awed by publishing. Last week I attended publishing impresario Carl Landau’s Niche Digital Conference in Chicago, and I can tell you that niche media is thriving, if not in the way you might expect.

In “the old days,” a publishing operation was mainly a manufacturing process with most of the company resource devoted to production and infrastructure. Entry into publishing required a huge capital outlay.

Today, publishing is becoming a pure marketing relationship process, where content (the sharing of knowledge, entertainment, and enlightenment) binds together communities of buyers and sellers at lightening speed. The financial bar to entry is lower, but the requirement for caffeinated beverages is greater than ever.

So what did I see at the Niche conference? I saw dozens of niche publishers, all passionate experts in their subject areas. (I learned that “tribology” is not about the Tribbles of science fiction, but the science of the troubles with friction.) These publishers shared their wildly creative business models and their enthusiasm for the possibilities presented by digital media. The mood was optimistic, and for the first time in a long time it felt like the beginning of an industry instead of the end.