I’m not really too particular about how I conduct market research. There are so many variables that you can get bogged down in analysis paralysis if you overdo it. I take a pretty light-weight approach to it.
Mainly I look for three things:
1. What are people already buying?
2. Where are there gaps with relatively high demand and low supply that I could potentially serve?
3. Where can I add value to something already out there.
Sometimes it’s hard to answer #1 directly because you probably don’t have access to other people’s sales figures. But you can often use other public data to make some educated guesses.
I could look up traffic rankings for a competitors website to see how popular it was (such as with Alexa.com). And I knew of a few publishers personally, so I had a general sense of who was making money and who wasn’t. All of this information combined to give me a decent idea of where there was good money to be earned and where there wasn’t.
During the early days, I could see that authors of self-help eBooks were typically doing pretty well. Today those markets are even bigger, especially with the expansion of the internet.
It can be a tricky balancing act between making something that inspires you and making something that people want to buy. There’s surely some luck and randomness involved too.
But I’ve seen situations where results are 10, 20, or 50 times better when creators finally agree to give customers what they want instead of trying to convince customers to want what’s been created.
Do I think you should sacrifice your artistic integrity to satisfy the public? No, I don’t think it’s necessary to do that. I think most people who feel they must choose one or the other are creating a false dichotomy due to limiting beliefs and blocks to making good money. I didn’t feel I had to sacrifice my art to please others. In fact, I felt that paying more attention to what other people wanted made me a better artist. I liked having more customers to appreciate my creations.
If you think you have to choose one or the other, I encourage you to question whether that’s really true. Can you take the pulse of what other people want to buy and then focus on pursuing inspired ideas that will land somewhere in the general vicinity? I think that’s doable.
Much of the time when artists claim to be undiscovered geniuses and lament that they can’t make money doing what they love, I think the likely truth is that their art just isn’t very good yet.
I think some of the best art is developed with a strong social component, meaning that there’s ongoing feedback between the artist and the patrons.