One thing I find very frustrating as a reader is when a reviewer raves a book from 20 years ago. I want to read those books, but to do so usually involves effort in hunting them down and then opening up the checkbook if its a particularly HTF OOP (hard to find, out of print) book.
Enter epublishing and the Long Tail. Long Tail is term coined by Chris Anderson in an article in Wired Magazine. The thrust of the article and the corresonding book is that money can be made on the misses and the fringe instead of just on the hits and the center.
The Long tail benefits both readers and authors. The key to the Long Tail is that “Everyone’s taste departs from the mainstream somewhere.” The digital commerce age allows those tastes to be fulfilled. In the romance genre, it works a couple of ways: the backlist and the Out list.
1. The Backlist. Romance readers are known for the glom. One or two hit books for a reader and she finds herself scouring the used bookstore for the out of print backlist. Those are dollars never seen by the author. I remember reading the Compass Club series by Jo Goodman which I checked out from the library. It was my introduction to her and while not every book was good, she was an author I wanted to read more. I trotted off to my local bookstores and found only a couple of books. I ended up ordering from a nearby used romance bookstore every backlist title they had in stock. I remember buying 6 of her other books. I would have bought those new at the store, if they had been in stock.
Exhibit A: At one time, Suzanne Brockmann’s book, Ladies’ Man was selling for over $1000.00 on the secondary market. The book was actually a subscriber gift to Loveswept readers but only about 100 or so were put out into the market stream because the publisher destroyed all but a few. Talk about hard to find. It didn’t matter if this book was crap (we’ll see if it is any good in September when the book is reissued). It was one book that her legion of fans couldn’t get their hands on. Ms. Brockmann wasn’t seeing any of that cash and if she was a midlist author, this book would never be republishd.
I love recommending older Kathleen Gilles Seidel books: Don’t Forget to Smile, Again, Till The Stars Fall. But recommending them is almost unfair to readers because of the extra effort that must be undertaken to purchase these books. Ditto with the old Joan Wolf books. Or how about those wonderful OOP Mary Balogh traditional regencies?
Michele Albert understands this. She signed with Moxie Press to release two of her hard to find, out of print, but often recommended books. These books are on sale right now and will be available for as long as . . . well, as long as Albert wants. I bought the two books last week. That’s two royalty payments that Albert would have missed out on before this.
2. The Out List. The Long Tail helps romance readers in other ways. It allows you to buy and read the books not deemed in by the New York Publishers. Your reading does not need to be determined by some new york editor deciding what is in and what is out because with epublishers, nothing is ever out. Every major publisher is dropping or has dropped the traditional regency. Ellora’s Cave’s sister publisher, Cerriwden Press, is picking them up. Belgrave House sells ebook reissues of out of print titles. The historical is dead or dying in NY. I believe the Long Tail will allow the historical to rise up from an epublisher such as Samhain or Liquid Silver or Loose ID or Cerriwden Press.
The best example of the Long Tail given by Chris Anderson is Rhapsody streaming music service. Over half of its entire library of 735,000 songs are streamed at least once a month. Essentially, the Long Tail says if you release it, it will find an audience. Maybe one of the epublishers will come and speak to this issue (I came up with this article last night and didn’t have time to email anyone about it). Are all the books in their library sold at least once? At least once a month?
What’s ironic is that the authors that the Long Tail would help the most are midlisters and they are the least likely to be released in ebook format. Julia Quinn’s entire backlist appears available in ebook format. But how about Marianna Jamieson or Karen Hawkins? Who needs the Long Tail advantages of digital commerce more?
The Long Tail is all about the misses. The mainstream media is all about the hits. The hit driven market that is run by the New York publishers may lose prominence with the rise of digital age. Those writers who love to write will find a publisher and buyers for their books. Epublishers and the like are going to be providing us lovers of romance the diversity that we as romance readers crave and the hard to find book will be a thing of the past. Long live the Long Tail.