The Long-Tail and The Author

Tom Collins resides in the small suburban town of Franklin, on the outskirts of Music City, Nashville, Tennessee. The areas of Nashville, Franklin, and their surrounding middle Tennessee communities serve as the canvas for all Collins’s Mark Rollins Adventure mysteries. Collins is one of the pioneer entrepreneurs of the information technology industry. The London-based publication Citytech called him an "outstanding visionary" when he was named as one of the Top 100 Global Tech Leaders in the legal community. He is also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the publication Law Technology News for his contribution to the use of technology in the legal community. His business successes include Juris, Inc., which was purchased by LexisNexis® in 2007. Tom Collins retired from commercial activity at the end of 2007. Today he writes mystery/thrillers and continues to write and speak in the commercial world about managing for excellence.

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, 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 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.

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