Ansley Asher

writing thoughts

Cutting Off the Long Tail

Kevin Kelly, the very well-respected Editor for Wired Magazine , made a truly inspired post on his blog The Technium a few days ago. Called 1,000 True Fans, it addresses the question, “What can an artist do to survive (even thrive) in a world where free content is the norm?” Large companies like Amazon can sell lots of little niche products (the long tail) because they are great distributors of a huge variety of content. But a creator can’t vary her content that much. I can’t write enough to satisfy people who all want or expect different things from a book. But I can satisfy 1,000 people who might pay $20 for a book, or $200 if that book comes with some sort of special collector’s edition type of material. He writes:

But the point of this strategy is to say that you don’t need a hit to survive. You don’t need to aim for the short head of best-sellerdom to escape the long tail. There is a place in the middle, that is not very far away from the tail, where you can at least make a living. That mid-way haven is called 1,000 True Fans. It is an alternate destination for an artist to aim for.

He discusses authors who have made this leap, explaining that it’s also possible to collect a set amount from fans and then release your work as available to all for free. For example, if a goal of $25,000 is reached, the novel will be published on a pdf file and made publically available for download.

I think that these ideas are not only doable (as they have been done already), they’re possibly the best way to go when normal routes of publication have been exhausted. Clearly, people will not pay for content if they feel the quality is poor, or if they are unsure of the content. In other words, you still have to do the work to get the fans, there’s no way of escaping that. But for authors who have sold work but can’t seem to progress for whatever reason, this might be a way to escape forfeiting a writing career. My gut feeling is that it’s not for everyone, since not everyone enjoys marketing, and this model means that you basically have to take up a business upon your shoulders in addition to your craft.


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