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REVIEW: Ebook Weekly: The Long Tail (or the end...

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.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

9 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Jul 16, 2006 @ 08:52:42

    I don’t really glom much anymore because some books are clearly missed for a reason. I love Seidel and since she no longer writes romances anymore (her books were barely classified as that really), her books will continue to be elusive unless her mainstream novels succeed. I was fortunate to find them all when they were readily available. The most expensive backlist for me was Diana Norman and it was well worth it, too. She’s the exception. I have backlists for so many authors that I don’t read anymore. I hate gloming and yeah, I get annoyed when older books are reviewed because your intrigued and you want to read it but what are the chances that you’ll like it, too? Have you read Tabitha King yet? Not all of her books are worth gloming just One on One, Pearl and The Book of Reuben. Great topic.

  2. patricia
    Jul 16, 2006 @ 12:34:20

    Personally I love it when I find “dustier” recs as I find fewer and fewer new releases that rate higher than satisfactory. I read several hundred titles per year I have a very long out-of-print list. As an ebook consumer, I look forward to the day when the smallest of backlists from low-output authors become availble. I admit, it is difficult finding OOP titles, but if you exhaust your local/regional UBS, a bit of web-work might find your title. I’ve found many books available on paperbackswap (which has a fine wishlist feature) and other bookswapping sites. The CA Libraries Catalog [http://calcat.org/] is invaluable and as it has a “worldwide” copies held feature, I’d imagine other states have OCLC searches. And for the truly dusty recs Fanny Burney, Elinor Glyn, etc. there’s Gutenberg [http://www.gutenberg.org/].

    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.

    When the publisher, UBS, library, bookswap sites and ebay fall short there remains peer-to-peer where all of those titles are available.

  3. Shannon
    Jul 16, 2006 @ 13:05:00

    Excellent post. I don’t glom much either, myself, largely because I’m totally blind, and there are only so many books available in audio or, worse yet, Braille formats. Which is why I love ebooks. I can read whatever I want, I can buy books I want when they’re just released, and, potentially, talk about them with other readers, because I can actually read them.

  4. raine
    Jul 16, 2006 @ 13:53:35

    I’m definitely a glommer. (sp?)
    Let me find one book by an author that really, REALLY impresses me, and I’ll move heaven and earth to find their backlist. So the idea of the ‘long tail’ really appeals to me as a reader.
    I also like the idea that some of the e-books I loved writing may be available much longer than the average print book and available to EITHER audience.

  5. Michele
    Jul 17, 2006 @ 10:34:11

    Thanks for the email about this subject. It’s something I blogged about back in May. I haven’t seen a lot of talk about it yet, but then the only author groups I belong to are NINC and the Author’s Guild. I expect to hear more about the LT because I do think the concept holds a lot of appeal.

    As someone who’s discovered lots of new artists at the iTunes stores because of the long tail theory, it’s definitely a win-win situation for consumers.

    I don’t expect midlisters will see much of a profit via the long tail — this is my livelihood, so of course I look at it from this point of view as well — but even a small profit is better than no profit.

    Signing with Moxie Press helps me gain control of distribution for my books again so that I can get them out there for readers to READ, which is the only reason fiction books exist in the first place. :)

    I haven’t checked to see what other publishers are doing for ebook versions of their authors’ books, but Pocket has both of mine in ebook format and I’m definitely a midlister.

    The reason that big NYC publishers won’t always have ebook versions of print books is this: authors want control of how and when a book is determined to be “out of print” so they can get their rights back. NYC is still figuring out how to deal with this new technology, but until authors and publishers can work out royalty rates and other contract-related details, authors are going to want their books back ASAP once they go out of print.

    Then they can, if they wish, find another way to sell them.

  6. Jane
    Jul 17, 2006 @ 10:43:16

    [quote comment="2245"]The reason that big NYC publishers won’t always have ebook versions of print books is this: authors want control of how and when a book is determined to be “out of print” so they can get their rights back. NYC is still figuring out how to deal with this new technology, but until authors and publishers can work out royalty rates and other contract-related details, authors are going to want their books back ASAP once they go out of print.[/quote]

    Ah, that makes so much sense. I never really thought of it before. It would be nice, though, for authors to put out ebook versions and reserve the print rights.

    SimonSays (your publisher) is doing alot of things right in the ebook market, starting with selling the ebooks at 40% off!!

    Thanks for coming over here and commenting. I recalled in a moment of panic last Saturday night when I emailed you that I forgot to link the article or the website. Headdesk moment.

  7. Michele
    Jul 17, 2006 @ 14:06:42

    I checked my contract, and my ebook royalties for books I sell to Pocket are 15%, which is more than the 8% I get for print sales, but not nearly as favorable to me as the royalty rate from Moxie Press (and likely other ebook publishers.) Eh, it’s NYC. It’s big business, and they’re going to want to keep as much money as possible. That said, we checked first with my editor about republishing AT and ANL. Pocket wasn’t interested in reprinting the books, but also said reissuing the titles with Moxie wouldn’t be a hindrance should Pocket decide differently in the future.

    And your email is dearauthor.com, so even my post-deadline brain fuzz was able to make sense of that.

  8. alau
    Jul 18, 2006 @ 14:36:46

    This was a very informative post. I never knew about that Long Tail theory. Interesting!

  9. The E-Book Experiment: Product Availability | JA Marlow
    May 19, 2010 @ 22:17:52

    […] is big money in that long tail, over the long term. That is, if the book and back-list remain out […]

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