"the high-end microaudience": the most likely way to make money on the internet

[A different angle on the Angel Gabriel etc. You can get the print here etc.]

This is why I love the internet…

In the old, pre-internet days, if you were a cartoonist like me and wanted to be successful, you pretty much had to be famous.

Not hugely famous necessarily, but somebody with a pretty major publishing gig. Like Peanuts, Doonesbury, Dilbert, Garfield or Bloom County, or some of The New Yorker heavyweights like Steinberg or Ronald Searle.

And those gigs were hard to come by. You needed a big time publication syndicate or media company to back you. And then the newspapers, the advertisers and the media landscape in general had to be on board as well.

And of course, all this required a VERY large audience. Millions of people, literally. Just so you could make an OK living.

As we all know, the more people you need to keep happy, the less likely that’s going to happen, or at least, the less you can control. Mass audiences are a fickle, unpredictable bunch. And they have a nasty habit of ignoring people like you completely, and going for people like Justin Bieber or Paris Hilton instead.

Which is why I never took this route. Too many variables I couldn’t control. And my work was never mainstream enough, anyway.

Thank God the internet came along and changed everything. Suddenly I found myself making a damn good living, without having all those mainstream hoops to jump through first. Just by doodling wee, non-mainstream cartoons all day, to what by old mainstream standards would be a TINY audience that I reach via this blog, Twitter and my newsletter.

This is made possible because the web, as we all know, is  a SUPERB way to sell relatively high-end products. In my case, private, client-based commissions are worth THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of times more than the advertising eyeballs that ultimately pay for the newspaper cartoonist’s mortgage. Of course they are. Not to mention, the commissions are fun and intellectually interesting to work on.

Which is why my advice for anyone trying to succeed on the web is, make the highest-end product you can, and then target the tiny handful of people- the microaudience– who are likely to buy it. Forget the masses. Targeting the latter is too much like trying to win the lottery- though great when it happens (however unlikely), there are just too many damn variables outside your control.

Any questions?


  1. This advice is doubly true if you produce a physical product as your business. There isn’t even survival to be had in the mass market, someone will simply figure out how to have the product made in southeast asia and run you out of business. The only refuge for any “manufacturing” of any sort (and in our case we are talking about very light manufacturing; stationery) is in the niche high end markets.

    It’s easier to expand downmarket than upmarket, so regardless you might as well start near the top.

  2. Hey Hugh,
    Very true. I’ve always been interested in knowing
    1) which tablet you use and how you keep resolution at an ok level to make the physical prints and
    2) how it is that you produce your physical products. I assume there are people on “the series of tubes” whom one can contact and they’ll make it for half what they want to charge me here in Puerto Rico and I can get my own art produced and to my door, so I can hang them on my walls next to yours and compare 😉

    That is, your secret sauce minus the secret.
    Care to elaborate?

  3. The larger audience you are trying to target and cater to, the less you will probably be able to focus only on what you love to do. Even if you try it, it won’t take long before you give in here and there and then completely change the initial idea. Because that is what a big audience dictates; diversity, being spread out or making an average to cover all.

    • gemorris, Stella, yeah, which is why I stick to cartooning. There are very few cartoonists in my space… whereas there ar tons of writers, social media gurus etc etc.

      Thanks 😉


  4. Yea…it’s something to look into, but I’ve heard internet “gurus” make this claim before, and it seemed so much like over-rated hype.

    I love Stella’s point, and it seems like I’ve had that experience recently, but…

    Isn’t is easier to over-saturate a micro-audience than a traditional niche?

  5. This might be the first (and perhaps the only) example of an article on making money on the “series of tubes” (perhaps that should be it double-double quotes? :-) I’ve seen that actually makes sense and is not all-hype.

    Very interesting. A sound biz advice from a cartoonist. Lets see Steinberg or Ronald Searle do that lol

  6. Hi Hugh,

    This is good advice for artists who aren’t cranking out cottage scenes a la Thomas Kinkade or trying to catch up with the latest trend. To stay true to yourself is always easier when you have some collectors in your corner to help.

    P.S. I loved wine week!

  7. What I understand:

    #1 Target the tiniest relevant niche you can
    #2 Narrow that niche again (highly critical)
    #3 Make a product worth being bought
    #4 Sell

    We humans are way too optimist. This had to be taken into account (i.e #2)


  8. I’ve been moving in this direction recently, and I can confirm that this works. I’m phasing out my $40 product and started selling a specialized $295.00 course (10-DVD set and/or online membership). I’ve been able to make more in a month than I made all last year. Providing solid content on my Blog (with Twitter and Facebook leading there) has helped me build a good base of focused customers.

    Thanks for all the great inspiration, Hugh!

  9. […] Hugh MacLeod. Hugh’s usually in good form, often in fine form. Here’s his latest, on the high-end microaudience: […]

  10. Hi Hugh,

    I’ve used exactly this model to sell heritage hogs and artisan pork to high end clients. You’ve been inspiring me for years. Thanks so much!

    Pax. Kimberly

    • Thanks, Kimberly, glad to hear it’s working for you…

      I’m not saying this is the only worthwhile business model, I’m just talking about the best likelihood of an average person having a good outcome etc.

  11. I have to agree with Hugh ; A microaudience is all you need to sell high end products.
    I started a financial blog a few years ago, got credible and sold a “one on one” trading lessons (in several countries).
    Being a cartoonist (as well), wanted to publish financial cartoons daily at first, but quickly found out that I would have a hard time selling them (:

  12. […] Popescu Nu stiu daca stiti gapingvoid.com, dar in orice caz va pot spune ca pe mine ma amuza Hugh MacLeod, pentru modul aproape Chaplin-ian in care se impiedica in propriile bulendre printre averi […]

  13. […] the microaudience: the mot likely way to make money on the internet (gapingvoid.com) […]

    • Oops… I just saw this one… surprised I didn’t comment on it, the first time around. OK, here goes….

      The short answers, I actually know hopw mcuh they make i.e. except for one or two superstars, less than you think.

      Basically, I make more money than most of them… most of them don’t make that much. I mean, they do OK, but nothing worth getting excited about.

      Secondly, the vast majority of them are hacks, doing uninteresting work. Every day. And their contracts lock them into that formula. For ten years, minimum. That’s a long time to give up your freedom, even if the money is good.

      There’s a reason why the last intellectually interesting cartoon to come along was Dilbert, and that was twenty years ago.

      There’s a reason why so many great cartoonists gave up as soon as they could: Larson, Watterson etc.

  14. […] for a while. Hugh McLeod talked about this approach in a recent article. He describes targeting the High-End Microaudience in order to make a profit from his […]

  15. […] create it yourself. Even if it’s a small one. Cartoonist and writer Hugh McLeod calls this your micro-audience. This is the tiny handful of people who are likely to buy your high-end […]

  16. This is such good advice. It can really be hard to break that “mass audience” mentality, but when you do, it frees you up to do anything, anytime and anywhere. Your ideas are in line with Seth Godin’s recent book “Poke the Box” about not WAITING or ASKING PERMISSION to create, just go ahead and create.

    The actor Jim Parsons (from the “Big Bang Theory) said if he couldn’t act on TV or Broadway, he would go back to his sister’s house and put on shows in her back yard. I love to hear passion like that from creative people.

    I know you have chosen a high-end market, but you are also doing exactly what you want and that passion is reflected in the quality of your work.

    Thank you for this great blog post.

    • Hey Kelly,

      Yeah, I’ve always been a member of the “small is beautiful” crowd.

      The “It doesn’t scale” crowd never captured my imagination.