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3.9 out of 5 stars
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 December 2015
Every now and again a book comes along that makes me question why I read so many business books and this is such a book.

I began to read, eager to find out why the middle market has collapsed in many markets but the more I read, the more I despaired.

It's what I call intellectual claptrap and I am astonished at the positive reviews on Amazon. I read with a pencil in hand, ready to underline or asterisk anything that I wanted to note. I gave up at page 110 because I wasn't marking anything, other than a couple of companies I want to check out on customer profiling.

I suspect that there is an interesting book in there but as far as I'm concerned it is struggling to get out. I believe there are hidden persuaders which influence us, either intentionally or often unintentionally, and change society.

The book is wide ranging both in terms of topics covered and in history. In fact I think that's part of the problem. It moves around so quickly that it is difficult to follow the thread of the argument and I found jumping around the times to be extremely irritating. This is a book that I advise any pragmatic entrepreneur or small business owner who is looking to develop a niche to avoid.

Will I go back to the back? Maybe. In some ways I hate to leave a book unfinished but I've had more than enough of this book for the time being.
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If any retailer were still in any doubt that specialism, working out what you are and being great at that thing, is the only hope for bricks and mortar retailing then this brilliant book should wipe that out at a stroke. Harkin makes the case for specialism, authenticity, originality and daring communication in a superbly readable and instantly credible fashion.

One thing I like very much is that wherever his case studies relate to examples we've all heard of--Woolworths, Gap or GM, for example--he is able to pull out detail, quotes or analysis you've not heard before. That's hugely valuable and contributes to an unusually high, and unusually entertaining, pace for a business book.

I'm a retailing consultant whose main task, right now, is to teach retailers that having a Big Idea--being something clear, specific, novel and attractive--is the absolutely the key to surviving and thriving in the modern marketplace. Harkin has stuffed me a bit because now I probably ought to just give clients a copy of Niche and save them my full fee!

Well played James, more please.
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on 13 June 2011
If you have read books such as Tipping Point, No Logo, Tribes, The Long Tail and Microtrends, you will learn nothing from this book. I found Niche to be an amalgamation of these books and similar titles, as well as some light weight interviews, business case studies and some ridiculous comparisons (the "success" of a small motorcycle store versus the "failure" of GAP in the closing chapters).

To me the author should have heeded his own advice and not gone "middle brow" with his book and provided a more detailed account of his time as a trend spotter or focussed on the UK (as the titles listed above are very US centric).

Also, the editor should not have allowed the far too frequent use of the phrase "big beasts" as after a while the excessive usage becomes ridiculous.

If you are new to the topic, this book could be considered a starting point, however, I feel you would do better with Tipping Point, No Logo and The Long Tail.

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on 7 September 2011
Received the book in pristine condition and quite quickly. Although it was supposed to have been almost new it looked like whoever had it before me either had not read it or had a reverance for its contents.

Lots of revelations about varying businesses. Was expecting something quite different on niche markets. Nonetheless an interesting book. Plenty of historical developments within different businesses.

Would have liked to have seen a more expansive chapter on how to grow a niche. A mention of the current economic situation and its impact on the home/online worker trying to find the elusive niche might have been another interesting topic. The market is saturated with internet marketers selling niche market solutions that don't necessarily work but make the so called "Gurus" a fortune.

Final assessment: capitivating snippets of information but felt that there could have been so much more.
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on 30 March 2011
Had you ever hear of singer songwriter Charlotte Manning or the group Mumford and sons before they scooped Brits awards last year? How did such little known artists break through and triumph over other music acts that were supported by well-financed PR machines? James Harkin in his book 'Niche' would argue it was precisely because these music acts had niche appeal; that was carefully delineated via the Internet and social networking websites, and became a key ingredient in their success. Harkins book is not overly concerned with the fate of the music industry and makes a wider more critical view of the trends in contemporary consumer society. James Harkin foregrounds the argument that until recently large companies dominated the centre ground of mainstream culture. The growth of companies such General Motors and Woolworth's during the 40s, 50s and 60s demonstrated how the 'middle ground' culture that was so popular in these decades was dominant.
I think the analogy to popular music is telling because according to James Harkin the every man appeal of these companies, and the fact that they provided 'something for everyone' played a key part in their decline. These giants of consumerism began to resemble fat bloated 1970's MOR super groups, who were blown away by the energy and eclectic cultural appeal of the punk movement. Rather like punk the phenomenon of 'Niche' has a grass roots quality, with audiences gravitating to products and cultural trends that have a clear and distinct appeal. (For example the fanatical fan groups that sprang up eulogising TV shows like the 'Wire' and the 'Sopranos').
With the rise of the Internet consumers can hone in on their choices for products and cultural experiences. A buzz is created and shared via social networking media. Harkin examines this effect and explains how the 'Niche' appeal of a product is key to its success; the consumer now is a jumped up fan boy who cant wait to tell everyone about his latest app. The days of the stoic consumer accepting his Model T-Ford in any colour as long its black are over.

I have to admit being a fan of James Harkin's previous books, and his latest tome 'Niche' does not disappoint. Part business guide, part cultural analysis, and always an illuminating and humorous read 'Niche' is a book that appeals to the reader's internal boffin and buffoon in equal measure.
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on 30 April 2011
I am not a marketeer or sociologist. So I am not a great expert. The basic premise of this book was that the middle is disappearing - unless you can stack them high and sell them cheap it is no good competing with the "big beasts".

The use of marketeers by some by companies like GAP has lead to failure. GAP used age as a way of segmenting the markets with dire results.

Contrast is made with companies such as HBO who empowered its writers to develop new ground breaking series. The net result being excellent series such as the "Sopranos" and "The Wire".

It is difficult for me to understand that some brands such as Apple or HBO become mainstream and therefore by definition appeal to the middle.Harkin believes that, thrive, businesses should abandon the middle ground and be on the hunt for clearly defined, unique markets. Although this may seem to close them off to large segments of the market, the internet has helped turn small local niches into global ones.

The impresion I got was that most people will buy the essentials as cheap as they can. After that some have passions through which they express their lives.

So small fry businesses need to start off with a niche. Very specialist and create a club like atmosphere. Enthusiasm seems to be an essential characteristic so you develop a following. The internet and social markets and your enthusiastic customers may enable you to grow. There are lots of parallels draw with ecosystems ( badly at times).

The booked had lots of anecdotes but not much science. The book may give you some ideas but it is not a manual. It is certainly not rocket science (or ecology for that matter).
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on 2 August 2012
Breezily written, wry, well informed this is a really good read. It certainly got me thinking about how markets and marketing are working and may work in the future in a fresh way. I didn't agree with all of it and it probably overstates its case (like a lot of books with one word titles). But so did Nietzsche (overstate his case, not use one word titles). I'm really glad I read it and it certainly made me rethink some of my assumptions. I look forward to seeing what Harkin writes next.
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on 13 October 2012
Great read - if you run a business you'll instantly recognise examples of where you got it just right, but probably didn't realise you were quite so clever at the time.

You'll also recognise in the cautionary case studies examples of where you also got it just so very wrong, and now you understand why.

A very useful and fun to read book which you really should make time for.
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on 25 March 2011
Quite simply, a brilliant read - I read it in six hours. Lots of data, not boring like most dreary, self-promoting businessy tomes, fantastic stories I'd never heard before and great jokes. Why don't they get more proper writers to write business books?
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on 14 March 2011
Lively, enoyable and fascinating stories of businesses, big and small, illustrate the main thesis of this book. Accounts of behemoths such as General Motors and Woolworth's demonstrate how the middle ground - where companies tried to be all things to all people - no longer holds. Contrasting with these are the tales of organisations such as Moleskine or Southern California Motorcyles who have created a unique, specialised offer and then courted and built up a loyal and dedicated fan base for their products.

One of the great things about this book is that it ranges so widely; from retail to politics; from the film industry to arts organisations and from on-line dating sites to bookselling and publishing. It, therefore, expands beyond being simply a business book to being a cultural commentary.

Once the growing failure of the middle ground has been delineated, the author goes on to show how the major companies, who occupied this arena, dealt with this problem by traditional market segmentation by age or social demographics. Gap, for instance, opened branded stores aimed at different age groups, thus spreading themselves ever more thinly across the broad market. This wasn't altogether successful.

In the modern-day world of the internet, people can fine tune their search for products and services. The social trend is for them to also gather in special interest groups around something they are passionate about. Successful niche businesses create a distinctive product or service and then go about attracting a dedicated fan base who will spread news of it to other potential like-minded people. The Moleskine notebooks, for instance, have a number of consumer-originated appreciation websites.

James Harkin's book is highly informative, an inspiration for business people and entrepreneurs and a really entertaining read for the rest of us.
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