I've had a number of email/PM conversations since I started exposing
myself my attempts at money making in public looking for my opinions on which route I think is the better to take: the full-fledged Build A Niche Store route or the quick minisite mashup route. My answer, every time, has been both.
THE NICHE STORE ROUTE
A well-executed, SEO'd niche store is a wonderful thing to behold. Steady $2, $3, $10, or even $50 commissions roll in with little or (better yet) no effort on your part. That is, AFTER the initial planning and customizing and SEOing has been done. A converting niche store requires a fair amount of effort up front if it is going to succeed, from keyword research to domain name selection to menu customization to look-and-feel to backlink building to... well, you get the picture. Putting up a straight-out-of-the-box BANS site on a broad, competitive niche and expecting the commissions to roll in is simply wishful thinking. It's not that BANS development is back-breaking labor by any means, but there definitely is an initial effort investment.
THE MINISITE MASHUP ROUTE
On the other hand, the minisite mashups are great because they are so painless to set up. Do a little basic niche research (consisting primarily in determining if there exists enough products in the market for whatever topic you are looking at), paste a couple handfuls of decent keywords into a text file, upload, and a minisite is born. I do a few more tweaks, such as inserting some stat tracking code and setting up site-specific Adsense channels, because I want to see how much traffic -- and from where -- each gets. But even with those extra steps, I can still put up a mashup minisite in less time than it takes to steam a batch of rice. Overall, the performance on these mashup minisites is hit or miss. I have a few that paid for themselves - meaning, at least covered the domain registration fee - in less than a week. And I have a few that, if they continue performing the way they are now, I'll be lucky to have them pay for themselves in a year (which earning just $0.63 a month will do). Most of their earnings come from Adsense, but I've also gotten a handful of eBay and Amazon sales as well, and it doesn't take many of those to get that domain registration fee back!
SO WHY BOTH?
Like I said, I've had a surprising level of success with a couple of my mashups, whether from a random sale commission or eBay signup here and there. Nevertheless, the main drawback to the minisite over the fleshed out BANS site remains their earning potential. The award for consistency definitely goes to the BANS sites. I can count on an optimized BANS site converting regularly.
So why not just build niche stores? Because my time is finite. The true benefit of the mashups isn't necessarily the trickle of money they bring in (though I won't turn it down!); it's the information I glean from their traffic. Once they are up and getting noticed by the search engines, noting those that perform gives me a decent indication of which ones will do well as a full blown sites versus those that may not be worth the effort involved. I simply have more ideas than time, so using something like the mashup to help decide where to focus is invaluable.