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The Mad Scribbler

 

 

Grab a Tiger
by
Its Long Tail

 

“In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.”

Chris Anderson, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More

In his keynote speech at the 2007 NINC conference, Chris Anderson explained his Long Tail theory to us, discussing how our culture was shifting away from a small number of mainstream markets and products toward an enormous number of niche markets and products. In the six years since I attended that speech, the various ways the Long Tail can benefit writers have become more apparent, and the possibilities keep multiplying.

The ebook market is the most obvious example, of course. Although self-published mega-sellers are the best-known success stories, a huge range of writers are making real money these days via self-publishing— and often doing so with sales figures that would be considered a “failure” or “not worth our time” at a major house. Thanks to new technologies and distribution mechanisms, a lone writer can now effectively publish and distribute her own books for a very low overhead, and she gets a very large percentage of the sales proceeds.

For precisely these reasons, although my twenty-book backlist was generally considered worthless in 2007 (and, indeed, wasn’t earning me a penny), that same backlist accounted for one-third of my 2012 income.

Now that new technology and distribution channels have made our industry’s tail very long, I am able to earn a significant portion of my income from old books that sell quite modestly in the new e-market. The most significant change we’re seeing, in my opinion, isn’t that some writers are becoming wealthy bestsellers with self-published books that publishers rejected, though that is indeed great news. The biggest change, I believe, is how many writers are experiencing an increase in their writing income—whether their earnings were previously munificent or nil—because of Long Tail economics.

And ebooks are just the most well-known example, not the only one—not by a longshot. Many creative new income opportunities are being explored in our era, possibilities that didn’t previously exist for writers (at least not in any practical or widespread sense). I’ve been studying such endeavors since I finished unpacking my new office and started focusing on my future. After all, as the proud new owner of my first house, I now owe epic sums of money to my mortgage bank, and I’ve discovered that this creates a powerful motivation for contemplating foul phrases like “additional mechanisms for monetization.”

Crowdfunding, for example, has become a viable path for launching all sorts of writing projects. Crowdfunding is a means by which individuals (for our purposes: readers) contribute money to support a project, typically in exchange for receiving some form of benefit as investors. In simple terms, this means the writer gets an advance from readers rather than from a publisher.

If you’re unfamiliar with crowdfunding, I recommend Elaine Isaak’s excellent article on the subject in the March 2012 edition of Nink, available in the members-only archives at Ninc.com. That article also discusses Kickstarter.com, the best-known crowdfunding site. Additionally, I recommend sf/f writer Tobias Buckell’s    

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