Monday, July 23, 2012

We ARE The Long Tail

Ever heard the phrase 'The Long Tail'?  It was first coined by Chris Anderson nearly ten years ago to describe part of the business model in the digital economy.

It breaks down into the following points.
  • Blockbusters are not as 'blockbusting' as they used to be.
  • Internet economics mean it is profitable to stock items that sell once or twice every three months.
  • Our interconnected world has created large numbers of small communities.

The results can be seen in the dismemberment of television and radio, where instead of a few stations, there are hundreds, most of which turn a profit, and when you add the number of online stations the choice is almost immeasurable.  Yet, although the number of viewers or listeners to each show may be smaller, the total number has grown.

They can also be seen in music where the cost of storing digital downloads on a computer is almost zero, so every sale makes a profit.  If you have several hundred tunes which sell once every three months, that's a lot of profit. 

The same goes for books, which is where we come in.

Amazon, Smashwords and other digital booksellers can store a book so cheaply on their servers, they can afford a very low sale price and still turn a profit on each sale.  This applies not just to ebooks, but to Print On Demand (POD) too.  If you only store the 'idea' rather than the physical product, your overheads are negligible.

As a self-published author, I am part of that long tail.  My books don't sell well in the traditional sense, but they sell enough in the digital market to make it worthwhile for big corporations like Amazon to stock them digitally.  In fact, all self-published authors are part of this tail and take advantage of the digital economy.

We may not become millionaires overnight, but we appeal, and will continue to appeal, to a smallish, worldwide niche market that, in some cases, can run to millions of people.  Yes, I did say millions.

Let's say your books are so niche, they appeal to only a hundred people in your area/state/nation (depending on the size of the population).  Across the planet, linked by the internet, there are lots of those regions, each with a few hundred people who would like what you write.  If there are a thousand such areas attached to the internet, 100,000 people are ready to read your book. If your book appeals to hundreds or thousands in an area, then...well, you can work it out for yourself.

The one problem that hasn't changed is marketing, but there is good news for all self-published authors.  As each niche has its own area on the net, it's easier to find and sell to.  It could be online magazines, websites dedicated to the particular interest, forums etc, but it's there and far easier to locate. We no longer have to worry about the publisher's, or the the agent's, marketing department, we can go direct to the people who would be interested in our book.

Self-published authors don't have the overheads of a publishing house, or shareholders demanding a percentage of our earnings.  Our costs are low, our outlay low and our product just as good as the one being sold by the big boys and in some cases, such as celebrity novels, better.

We are the long tail and we should be proud of it.


Lisa Shafer said...

As a lover of real books over e-books, I love POD, as it reduces waste in the environment as well.

Lisa Shafer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Willoughby said...

Lisa: Not only that, but it also reduces costs for the author with no minimum run.

Emily R. King said...

Definitely better than celebrity novels!

Martin Willoughby said...

Emily: Having your eyes poked out with a sharp stick is better than celebrity novels.