Posts Tagged ‘The Long Tail’

The E-Book market is growing — fast. Nikkei Electronics Asia’s August 2009 Cover Story paints a rosy growth picture. The article focuses on electronics and dedicated readers. They report that a recent survey predicts that shipments of dedicated e-readers in the U.S. will hit 28.6 million units by 2013. Only one million shipped in 2008. That’s a huge increase. Yes, but…

Photo by "Alton"

Photo by "Alton"

The real explosion will come when content is compatible, runs on many different platforms (not just dedicated readers) and delivery is easy. One argument you hear often is that people prefer the feel of “real” books and don’t like reading from a small screen. Ya think?? A connected generation growing up with blackberries, smart-phones, laptops and the Internet would beg to differ.

People want simple, convenient and stuff that just works. You don’t need a large screen for recreational reading. People carry their Blackberries or smart phones everywhere they go. Get to a meeting early and have a few minutes to kill? Whip out your iPhone and pick up where you left off in the latest novel you’re reading. Stuck in the airport? Pull out your Blackberry, connect to B&N and you can be reading a novel in minutes.

The ecosystem of content delivery (and compatibility) is evolving quickly.
Sony announced their support for the ePub format. All of the Barnes and Noble E-Books will be in ePub format. ePub is a new standard for “reflowable digital books” developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum. Reflowable means that the text adapts to the screen of the device. It’s a fancy way to say the text will wrap at the edges of the screen.

Back in the stone age of handhelds, I read many books on my palm pilot’s tiny 160 x 160 screen and enjoyed every minute. I even snuck in some reading when I was supposed to be working. The screens on today’s handhelds are far superior and highly readable.

More and more big names are jumping on the e-book train. Google, Samsung, major publishers and rumors of Apple joining the fray abound. What’s needed is a critical mass and I think that will come the adoption of the ePub standard. Proprietary formats (like the Kindle) are doomed.

When people can use the devices they already have and when most E-Books use ePub, a completely free and open standard, the stage will be set for a seamless ecosystem of content delivery for E-Books. The market will decide, not the proprietary dinosaur formats. Self-publishing will target The Long Tail and give people what they want. ePub and the ecosystem it will spawn will be the final nail in the coffin of traditional publishing.

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Publishers carry on about Amazon and E-Book pricing. They worry about E-Books cannibalizing sales of their printed hardcover editions. Amazon drops the price of the Kindle to below $300 for the first time. Publishers, who have always controlled the market, are losing their publishing and distribution monopoly. Amazon wants to take their place and dictate E-Book pricing and make the Kindle the dominant ereader.

"Gustave Doré's illustrations to Dante's Inferno, Plate LXV: Canto XXXI: The titans and giants. "This proud one wished to make experiment / Of his own power against the Supreme Jove" (Longfellow)" is the image of the day (July 15, 2009) on Wikimedia Commons.

"Gustave Doré's illustrations to Dante's Inferno, Plate LXV: Canto XXXI: The titans and giants. "This proud one wished to make experiment / Of his own power against the Supreme Jove" (Longfellow)" is the image of the day (July 15, 2009) on Wikimedia Commons.

The true titans and giants of the written word are authors, readers and the Internet marketplace. Publishers owned the presses and controlled the distribution of their printed books. They chose the writers who would be published and set the prices readers would have to pay. Amazon is trying to do the same thing with their aggressive pricing and kindle monopoly.

It can’t work long term. Writers have all the tools they need to publish their works without the need for publishers. Readers won’t be herded into accepting still another proprietary electronic device just to read books crippled with ridiculous copy protection schemes.

Innovative display technologies are in the pipeline now. Remember the floppy disk? Who buys CRT monitors these days? How long will the Kindle remain on the cutting edge? Not as long as Amazon hopes.

Once writers and readers realize that their chains have fallen away
and their prison doors are open, they will come together without the intervention of the middlemen. The greatest market we’ve ever seen, the Internet, driven by The Long Tail, will decide who will be read and how much they will earn for their efforts. And that’s a good thing for writers and readers — the true titans and giants of the written word.

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Blogs and bloggers are positively Medieval and that’s a good thing. Medieval bards were the first citizen journalists, individuals carrying the latest news from place to place with their tales and ballads. People are curious. We’re communicators, we’re social and we’re nosey. We need to know what the neighbors are doing.

Even before the printing press came along, ballads were handwritten and passed around on broadsides (or broadsheets as they came to be known). If the bards were the first news reporters, then the broadsheets were the first newspapers. Today, the term broadsheet refers to the familiar 4-fold newspaper format of the “serious” newspapers. Unlike the tabloids, they print only “proper” news.


The NY Times motto is “All The News That’s Fit To Print.”
Then again the Boston Globe masthead says: “The World Is Governed Too Much.” I think they’re right about that one. My favorite is the masthead carried by the Scripps newspapers.

“Give Light And People Will Find Their Own Way.”
Those powerful words were placed on a newspaper masthead in New Mexico back in 1922. Carl Magee refused to back down. He provided the light that helped blow open the Teapot Dome scandal in 1923. He suffered personally and financially because of his stance, but never wavered in his convictions.

The modern newspaper institutionalized the gathering and broad casting the news but it has always been courageous individuals like Carl Magee who pull the curtains of secrecy aside to reveal the truth.

Bloggers are the bards of the Internet, shining their light (mostly) at the speed of light and the people can and do find their own way. The world has come full circle. Every day the Internet dilutes the power of institutions and gives power and freedom back to individuals. We have the freedom to decide for ourselves and that is a good thing. It’s The Long Tail wagging.

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Good luck. You’re going to need it. How do you measure a baby’s smile? is an expression I like to use when someone suggests measuring the unmeasurable. Any attempt to measure a baby’s smile or any other emotion is going to run head on into an oxymoron, an impossibility. A baby’s smile is an emotional outpouring that forges an instant connection with our own emotions and our inner being,  and short circuits our rational side.


You can’t possibly measure the tears of a broken heart, the earth shattering grief of losing a loved one, the beauty of a sunrise or a baby’s smile, but you can try to capture the moment in words, a photograph or a drawing…

Such an image is a gestalt (leave it to the Germans to invent the perfect word). The more powerful the image, the stronger the gestalt. We, the viewer or reader, are drawn in instantly. Somehow we become one with the object. We know, we feel, and the sum is much greater than the parts.

When I work with a photograph, I know when it’s right. I can’t explain, and I don’t think an explanation matters anyway. The image speaks for itself. It’s easier to understand how a photograph, a drawing or a painting can give us that gestalt, that instantaneous recognition, because our right brain is visual, swallows whole and understands without words.

Words are sequential and take longer to “decode.” The creative writer has a different challenge then. A challenge to create a word image, to paint a verbal picture that builds to it’s own crescendo.

The poet probably comes closest, as he or she packs so much meaning and emotion into few words. I love the haiku. So spare and yet such fullness in only 17 syllables. Much is unsaid and therein lies the real power. The unsaid completes the image because we, the readers close the circuit.

Smallest warrior
Wordless, she pierces the heart
Smiling her embrace

Yes, what is left unsaid is the secret to powerful images, be they visual images or word paintings. The photographer who captures “the moment,” the writer who cares about every word and phrase, who creates pictures with words — they understand that you can never measure a baby’s smile. They know when the image or the words are right and that’s enough.

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David Coursey, in “Paving the Way for Premium Content,” his  6/11/09 Tech Inciter, PCWorld blog post, leads off with “Paid content is the best hope of saving “the media” as we know it.” I disagree with him on that score because the media as we know it is disappearing faster than an ice cream cone in August and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. The rest of his article is deadly accurate.


The content aggregators don’t want to hear it, but David’s first point is free and low cost content supported by ad revenue is “absolutely broken.” I’d call it a train wreck in the making. Forget profits, content aggregators like Helium are struggling just to stay alive. Maybe their ad supported model made sense a couple years ago, but they’ve put their train on the wrong track and it’s probably too late to switch.

The quality of content that can be supported by ad revenue simply isnt’ there and the signal to noise ratio of ads to real content drowns out even that content. Coursey says that for premium content to take hold, the free stuff needs to go away. I think it will. When the ad revenue model fails and the content aggregators crash through the wall into the street, free content will disappear for lack of patrons.

Coursey’s second point, that quality costs money, that somebody has to pay for it if they want it puts today’s writers in a much better position. The train wreck is a wide open opportunity for writers who understand what’s going on in the publishing industry. Gordon Crovitz of The Wall Street Journal has seen the writing on the wall and will be offering the WSJ version of a paid subscription in the fall. (see my Newsstand of the Future post for details)

When publishers controlled the presses and distribution, they called the shots. They decided who would write their content and what people would read. The Internet democratizes both. The writers who create content and the readers who want that content are in control now. Self-publishing used to be a “snicker behind the hands” avenue for losers. No more.

Every writer with a computer and an Internet connection has the tools he or she needs to publish. Every reader with a computer and an Internet connection has access to everything. As Chris Anderson puts it in The Long Tail, there are two imperatives to a thriving Long Tail business: “1) Make everything available, and 2) Help me find it.”

All we need to do then as writers is create premium content and help readers find it. They’ll pay for it.

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The Times Roman font is small for a reason. It was created to fit into the narrow columns of British newspapers, yet people insist on using it as a standard for wide copy where the font is out of place. Why? Helium, the online aggregator, uses a style guide from the print world for online titles: “Helium uses AP style in headlines – first word capped.”

Print guidelines in a digital world? The folks at StomperNet proved, with extensive testing, that the search page (SERP) click through rate on titles where only the first word is capitalized is 9 percent lower than titles using Title Case. You’d think an almost 10 percent increase in click thru would be incentive to change.

People stick with the past out of habit and tradition. It’s what they know. Paragraphs didn’t come along until the Renaissance and the Medieval Scribes didn’t use any punctuation at all (and we argue about misplaced commas!).

DN-0009255, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.

DN-0009255, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.

The Internet is changing the face of our world and a lot of the rules too. Writers and publishers who adapt to the digital world will prosper. As Chris Anderson points out in his book, The Long Tail, the star system where publishers decided what people would read is dead or dying. In a The Long Tail digital world, everything becomes available to anyone who wants it.

Today’s content aggregators try to meet the demands of readers by offering lots of stuff and rely on Google and SEO to bring in visitors and their ad clicks. What happens when (not if) Google changes the rules? What happens when people don’t visit because they’re sick of online ads?

Self-publishing is one answer for writers looking for an audience. I’m writing a book that will show writers how to create a professional e-book using free software. The real issue will be how to bring writers and readers together so both benefit.

I think a subscription service is the best answer. Subscribers would be presented short pieces based on their preferences. Over time, with reader feedback, the offerings would be tailored to each person and their tastes. They would have the opportunity to get to know authors and to purchase and download longer works at reasonable cost.

A good subscription service would build relationships between readers and writers and be fair to both.

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The thump of your morning newspaper landing at your doorstep, the stop to chat at the newsstand on your way to the office, the latest issue of your favorite magazine in your mailbox are going, going, gone…faster than a new, in the box, Barbie doll on eBay. What’s happening?

All the news_WM

The giants of print publishing are falling like dominoes. According to the latest news from UPI, The New York Times Co. is set to cut salaries at the Boston Globe by 23 percent “effective next week.” Guild members turned down a proposed 8.4 percent cut in pay and just a few months ago, The Times said it would close the Globe if salary costs were not cut by $20 million a year. Where will it end?

Gordon Crovitz of The Wall Street Journal thinks one of the answers will be the new Journalism Online service expected to launch in the fall. In an online interview, Crovitz talked about paid subscriptions that will make it as easy as possible for readers to get access to what they want when then want it. He thinks consumers will pay for a subscription service — “don’t hassle me with a pay wall,” give me (the reader) what I want for a reasonable fee.

Of course Crovitz is looking at this venture from the perspective of a publisher as a service to other publishers. Publishers all need the revenue and the online ad model isn’t working. It’s not enough.


People will pay for convenience. They’ll pay for good content. iTunes proved it. But the better model might be Rhapsody, the music subscription service. Traditional print avenues may be closing for writers, but the opportunities that are just beginning to unfold for writers on the Internet are endless. No matter what we have to write about, there are readers out there on The Long Tail that are interested in what we have to say.

Just as the iPod fueled iTunes and Rhapsody, the newest wave of E-readers, shown at Computex Taipei 2009, will expand the market for the written word. It’s true that people expect freebies on the Internet, but it’s also true that people will pay for convenience and for content tailored to their wants.

Picture a person sitting in a comfortable chair
, away from their computer, with an inexpensive, lightweight E-reader that’s comfortable in their hands and as easy to read as their favorite book. They’ll need good stuff to read. The print world may be dying, but the opportunities for astute writers are just getting warmed up.

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Each online content aggregator puts their own spin, their own brand on their web site in an attempt to be different, to be the innovator and the savior of writers. Publish your material with us they say. We have the page rank to put you in front of a large audience. We’ll reward you for your efforts <insert complex payout scheme here>.

Does this mean that content aggregators are evil?
Not at all. They give writers an instant platform to showcase their work on the Internet. They do pay something for content. But content aggregators all share a business model that puts their own interests ahead of the writers who contribute. This isn’t news, publishers have always worked this way. Writers provide all the content and the aggregators use that content for their own advantage.


The print publishing industry is falling to pieces before our eyes. The content aggregators are simply moving the traditional publishing model to the Internet. They still want to herd writers and harvest our work. It doesn’t have to be this way. As Chris Anderson points out in The Long Tail, “The PC made everyone a producer or publisher, but it was the Internet that made everyone a distributor.”

The Internet democratizes distribution.
The iTunes model took music distribution out of the hands of the music publishers and put it into the hands of the musicians. It showed the world that musicians didn’t need music publishers to get their music out to their listeners. Do you see a parallel here? Why can’t this same model work for writers? I think it can.


Writers can survive and prosper without content aggregators.
Online publishers will wither and die without writers to feed them our content. Writers can choose to be the bulls and lead the herd into the uncharted territory of The Long Tail. Here’s a poem I wrote a few months ago.

In Defense of the Bull

With me
or against me.
The herd moves.
I lead, defend.

Follow my horns
to freedom.
Or wear them in your gut.

Hear the call.
Do you defy me?
Or will you run with me?

Death alone can
still us.
Will you die?
Or will I?

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Not even close. No writer can earn a living out of the ad click tip jar. Associated Content (A/C) calls their payout to writers performance pay while Helium uses the term ad revenue share and bills itself as a co-op. A/C tells you up front that you’ll be paid $1.50 to $2.00 per 1,000 page views while Helium keeps their payment model a secret. Helium only tells you that they share ad revenue with “…active members based on their level of activity and value.” Be careful. If you “fail to participate” and don’t provide the free labor needed to fuel the Helium rating engine, you earn zero.

pennyIn plain English, using A/C’s highest performance pay rate
, each page view earns you two tenths of a penny. How many writers would contribute their work to a content aggregator if they understood up front that they would be paid so little each time a visitor views one of their articles? Sure you can earn $20 but you must “sell” your material to 10,000 people first.

To be fair, A/C pays up front for exclusive publishing rights
and somewhat less for non-exclusive rights. Helium pays anywhere from fifty cents to two dollars and fifty cents up front depending on your writing star status. Helium also runs contests with cash prizes and awards other party favors like badges.

No matter how they present themselves, content aggregators are online publishers.
Their main source of revenue, like their print counterparts, comes from advertising. They may not be making a profit now, but the only reason they are in business is to do just that. The real question is will they ever turn a profit and how much of that profit will be shared with the writers who provide all their content?

Online advertising is big business for Google. They earn billions. The sites hosting online ads, and this includes the content aggregators like A/C and Helium earn far less. Helium’s site looks more like the yellow pages with all the ads. And now they’re pushing advertising to the limit with keyword ad links embedded in published articles. The signal to noise ratio of too many ads threatens to drown us out.

Writers depended on publishers when the publishers controlled the printing presses and means of distribution. Publishers have always handed writers the short end of the stick and online content aggregators have taken this to the extreme. But they cannot survive without the content that we as writers provide. We can publish our writing without the middlemen. But can we earn?

The Long Tail provides clues that say we can publish and be paid for our efforts. The Long Tail can free us from the tip jar. I’ll have more to say about this next time.

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