The niche is dead, and the internet is to blame.
The term "niche" is one of those labels that can mean different things to different people. Generally, it can be seen as anything that lies outside the mainstream. Insider hobbies, like butterfly collecting or a sport like zorbing, can be considered niche. Only, with the internet as the primary mode of communication and consumption these days, niche interests, in their traditional form, have evaporated.
While peoples' niches used to foster tight, insular communities, the internet has blown them wide open. Small, quirky bloggers with small follower bases can turn into major media players — that lil rapper with the auto-tuned mumbling can become a superstar with enough streams. It’s cheaper and easier than ever to get your voice out there on a multitude of mediums and to see what goes viral.
Further, any interest you may have, no matter how obscure, can be fulfilled by a quick Google search. Every community now has global reach. How else can we explain the conglomeration of Bronies that have gathered together online.
In one sense, this is a great new thing. Take Chance the Rapper for example. An unsigned musician in constant conversation with the mainstream, all thanks to years of built up followers on internet. Social media helps bolster his digital presence, and without a label, he has almost total control over how he is portrayed to global audiences. Artists like Chance, as well as the digital platforms that serve them, have helped usher in a complete shift in how we seek out and consume media.
In another sense, one removed from pop culture intelligentsia, the death of the old niches hasn’t arrived without its share of worrisome challenges. In a digital landscape where every niche interest is easily accessible, there are some that frankly, don’t deserve to be.
Before the high-speed connections of today, the only platform for the collective hatred regularly espoused on the internet would have been unsanctioned street corners or your racist grandpa at an awkward family dinner. Now, people like Richard Spencer, an American white supremacist, are given undue attention for their repulsive ideologies, gathering like-minded individuals to their cause online. People like Spencer and Alex Jones fulfill a niche interest of a more problematic, unsettling kind, and now we can (unfortunately) know everything about them. Where would Jones’ ramblings be if not for the web? He likely would have remained in his basement.
At the same time, there is an interesting hypothetical created by the death of niche. Would it have been better had these hateful communities never encountered the internet and simply lurked undetected? Or does the internet allow for easier confrontation now that the neo-Nazis and crazed conspiracy theorists of the world can no longer flourish unseen and unchallenged?
Ultimately, it's a good thing the internet makes niche interests more accessible . Creatives who flourish on the perimeter of mainstream tastes can more easier share their talents with a huge amount of people, if they so choose. The potential for exposed niche groups can also put more pressure on individuals to own up to their belief systems. This can spur tough, but necessary, conversations about what we think as a society is okay and what's not okay. And that's worthwhile.