The long tail has changed everything for the author, and now the author needs to change how he or she practices his or her art to get the biggest advantage of that long tail. Got your attention? Okay, let me first explain what the long tail is.
In the days before the long tail, before Amazon.com, and before print on demand, an author’s book was only available for a limited period and then was “out of print” and/or it was “off of the book store shelves” because the low volume of sales no longer justified stocking the work. If you were to chart the life of a book twenty years ago, it would look something like a bell-shaped curve. The book came into existence on the left side of the bell curve, retailers began to sell the book, the volume of sales peaked and began to decline. Eventually, the book went out of print or the level of demand for the book longer justified giving the bookshelf space. All sales and all royalties stopped.
What has changed for the modern author, is that the right side of that bell shaped curved never ends.it continues. Theoretically, it continues forever which is particularly true for digital books. eBooks never go out of print. For all practical purposes there is no cost of maintaining availability for future purchases. Thus, readers have access to every book ever published as an eBook. Now, the advent of publish-on-demand has given printed editions of books almost the same “long tail” attributes, because print-on-demand is the process of using a book’s digital content to print the physical copy at the time a reader purchases it. There is the cost of maintaining inventory and no requirement that the book take up limited shelve space. The long tail means that today’s author can continue to receive royalties long pass the traditional life span of a novel or other printed work.
From a long-term perspective, the long tail should be an incentive for the author to keep writing and publishing rather than spend time on promotional activities that maximize the sales of just one book. As Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail said, “The Future of Business is Selling Less of More.”
That is true in the book world. Rather than living from book to book, you, as an author, will continue to earn royalties from your entire body of work. Your income will eventually come from more books rather than more sales of one book.