Jul 282006
 

Dave Taylor has a great post on the Long Tail this morning (Chris Anderson’s new bestselling book, and his blog of the same name).

I’m a big believer in a key tenet of the Long Tail — that with the advent of the internet more obscure books, movies, and products can have a meaningful and productive sales history and might become profit centers in their own right, or as Dave puts it, “the inherent implication (is) that as the Internet grows you’ll be able to find more and more obscure information.”

I like obscure, I studied the obscure in college.

But based on my experience as an agent, I know the Long Tail will work best when you also have the “Huge Backlist,” and ideally a “Big Head” to boot. Amazon can make money on the Long Tail, and so can iTunes, or Random House, but it will be harder for Joe Author with the obscure backlist book. Sure, he can see improved sales, but they’re not going to make him rich.

A Huge Backlist has a way of paying for operations — your publishing company will grow as big as your backlist allows — but it’s the Big Head of hits that pays for growth, and your executive bonuses, sales conferences in Florida, and your bestselling author’s million dollar home.

The Long Tail can be a boon to authors who have a steady backlist, a self-published book with a higher profit margin, or some variation of multiple streams of income, and backlist provides critical income for any thriving agency, but I think Dave is right when he says that the real money remains in hits.

And I’m sure that Chris Anderson would also prefer to be in the Big Head.

  One Response to “Dave Taylor on the “Long Tail””

  1. Amazon is about to create one heck of a new long tail with the e-book market. And if they don’t exercise some discretion in what they accept for publication it will match Halley’s Comet’s tail at perihelion. People who never thought about producing an e-book will become writer/publishers overnight, especially if the Mobipocket creator software is given away, as is the rumor.

    Amazon is likely enjoy a cumulative profit on all those long tail sales (books on subjects like aerial photo interpretation and model rocketry telemetry). At the same time, the company should build up a hefty float as it sits on the proceeds of all sales for three months. That follows the hardcopy book publisher model, but Amazon doesn’t have to worry about collecting as conventional publishers do.
    –Mike

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