There is a new rule in business: don't aim for the middle market - unless you're cheaper than cheap, you're going to fail. Instead, find a Niche and reap the rewards. Woolworths suffered from a lack of identity and found that low quality and low price wasn't enough; General Motors crashed as motorists failed to distinguish between cars in their range. Yet HBO, Moleskine and specialist media like The Economist have all concentrated on being the best they can be - and customers have flocked to them as a result. For sixty years, our cultural consumption has been controlled by the giants of the mass market. But thanks to the recession they have become weak and defensive, and are now in a desperate fight for their lives. From this new cultural terrain the niche has evolved to become the place where innovation flourishes and sales take off. From the author of CYBURBIA comes a superb examination of the growing proportion of economic, political and cultural activity aimed not at the mainstream audience but at tightly defined but globally scattered niches, bound together by the power of the net.
I'm a writer and social forecaster. I write for The Guardian, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Newsweek, the London Review of Books and have also written for The Economist. I also write books. Niche, my latest, is published by Little, Brown in the UK. Before that I wrote Cyburbia, and before that there was a book called Big Ideas, based on a weekly column I wrote for The Guardian newspaper in the UK.
I was born in Belfast and educated at St. Malachy's College Belfast, King's College London and Hertford College Oxford. Between 1996 and 1999 I taught and lectured in social and political theory at the University of Oxford. In 1999, I exited academic life to work as an analyst of global business, social, political and technological trends (or 'futurologist') at the think-tank The Intelligence Factory (then part of Young and Rubicam) in New York. Between 1999 and 2004 I worked full-time as a 'futurologist' for agencies in New York, London and in continental Europe. I also managed projects on changing social and technological trends as an associate of the London think-tank Demos, and authored a number of Demos pamphlets, including Mobilisation: The growing public interest in mobile technology, and Eternal Youths: How the baby boomers are having their time again. Since 1998 I'd been writing regularly on social, political and technological trends for British newspapers and magazines and in 2004 I became a writer for the Financial Times magazine. I've written essays, features and cover stories for the FT magazine, contributed to the comment pages on ideas and trends, interviewed everyone from Tom Friedman to Naomi Klein for the "Lunch with the FT slot" and reported for the FT from Beirut. Between September 2005 and October 2006, I wrote a column for The Guardian called BIG IDEA, and before that I wrote similar columns for The Times and the Financial Times.
I also talk. I've appeared on Newsnight, Channel 4 News and Sky News to talk about social and technological trends, and have lectured on political economy and social theory at Oxford University, the consequences of the internet at the LSE, and on the changing nature of film storytelling at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I also talk for companies and organisations. I've delivered keynote addresses at the annual conferences of the Arts Marketing Association and Schroders Bank, for example, have led seminars at advertising agencies like McCann and participated in panel debates run by outfits like Editorial Intelligence. Between 2004 and 2009, in fact, I was on a part-time basis Director of Talks at the ICA in London. Speakers I invited to the ICA and hosted there included Malcolm Gladwell, Chris Anderson, Gerry Adams, Naomi Wolf, Boris Johnson, Antonio Negri, Amartya Sen, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Tariq Ramadan, and the late Anna Politovskaya.
Other stuff. I was the associate producer of Adam Curtis's three-part series about game theory, The Trap: Whatever happened to our dream of freedom?, which aired on BBC2 in March 2007. In the same year, I took second prize in the annual Sean O'Faolain short story competition in Ireland. My Big Ideas book was originally published in 2008 by Atlantic Books, and has now been translated into Korean, Spanish and Polish. My second book Cyburbia was published in February 2009 by Little, Brown and by Knopf in Canada. In the same year my essay "Caught in the Net" was re-published in Yale University Press's annual Best of Technology Writing book for 2010. My new book Niche was published by Little, Brown in March 2011. I was one of the associate producers of Adam Curtis's most recent three-part series about cybernetics and ecology, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, which aired on BBC2 in May 2011. I still work as a social forecaster, analysing and predicting trends at the intersection of technology, economy, culture and society for a new forecasting and strategic research agency called Flockwatching. In August 2011 I was one of the few journalists to report directly from the London riots; my report for The Guardian went around the world, and I talked about the impact of the riots on both BBC and NPR radio. For the last eighteen months I've been covering the conflict in Syria, for The Guardian, Newsweek, The Atlantic, The New Republic and a range of other newspapers throughout Europe; I'm also regular contributor to Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondent. My little book of reportage from Syria, War Against All, was published in November 2012 as a 'Kindle Single' ebook in the United States and around the world.