Friday, June 29, 2012

Long Tail Theory And Saving The Planet & Stuff

I'm actually a few days ahead on a writing project I'd assigned myself for the month of June, so I'm chipping away at the mess that is my desk. This included finishing typing up some notes from a marketing conference I attended several months ago. I was very intrigued to see that I had written "Long Tail Theory--Amazon may be selling more in backlist than up front." I have no idea if that bit about Amazon is true, but I looked up "Long Tail Theory." It actually applies to something I'm planning to do later this year with Saving the Planet & Stuff.

Long Tail refers to a theory first described eight years ago in an article by Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, and later in a book. He describes the theory, complete with a nice graphic that visually explains how it got its name. His graph shows the relationship between popularity and products--that a few products are extremely popular (profitable) and many more are less so.

This relates to publishing in a big way. A very few books are big sellers. They would fall in the "head" of Anderson's chart. These books are stocked in stores because they're likely to sell. However, far more books don't sell a lot. They're in the tail of the chart, and they don't get stocked because they don't generate enough sales to make it possible for booksellers to do so.

However, the tail is long. There are a lot of books in there. Taken together, they could generate a lot of sales, if buyers could buy them.Years ago, books in the long tail would have made up publishers' backlists, and buyers could, indeed, buy them. They could at least order them through booksellers. Backlists aren't very large anymore because of the expense of warehousing and paying tax on stored books. (How Thor Hammered Publishing, O'Donnell, 1993) Thus, between the economic issues for both booksellers and publishers, buyers often can't buy backlist books. 

Anderson contends in his theory that if consumers could get many of these books--and with POD publishing and Internet sellers who don't have the same expenses as a traditional bookstore they can--they will purchase out of the long tail.

This brings us to--e-books! They require no storage. No warehouse taxes. No shipping. E-books can become the books in the long tail, available always. They can become an eternal backlist.

Publishers must agree, because their contracts now include e-rights. My publisher has three of my titles available as e-books now--Happy Kid!, A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat, and A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers. Yes! I have a backlist!

We hope to expand the list with an e-book for Saving the Planet & Stuff. We have an illustrator working on a new cover for this edition, my computer guy is working on some techie stuff, and I'll be working on marketing over the summer. And now I have this Long Tail Theory business to talk about in relation to the whole project.

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