Selling Less of Lots

Tortoise and Hare

Tortoise and Hare

You are probably familiar with the idea of the the Long Tail by now.

Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail, not only made the concept famous, but explained it quite clearly. If you’ve read the book, however, you may have been left wondering: what good does this do me?

Amazon may make millions by selling five or ten copies of thousands and thousands of books. But if you are the author of one of those thousands of books – you are only selling five or ten copies a year. $10.00 profit per book x 10 books is a meager $100.00. All the other books on the long tail profit you not at all.

In other words, selling on the long tail doesn’t offer the same monetary benefits to information product producers as it does to large retailers…

But wait – we’ve fallen into a trap!

“Make Millions on the Internet” type marketers entice new buyers with the lure of the gigantic product launch. You’ll hear how company “X” made $1,500,000.00 in a week or how entrepreneur “Y” sold 1,000 copies of a $97.00 ebook in 48 hours. Then those products disappear and the creators move on to the next big launch.Easy Auction Photography

There is no reason to follow such a strategy unless you are trying to stay just one step ahead of disappointed customers.

Amazon has millions of books for sale, day in and day out. Why should only one of them be yours? Digital technology has not only turned each writer into a publisher and every singer into a producer – it has also given all independent product producers the ability to maintain a comprehensive backlist.

The less glamorous part of the Long Tail is an “Old Media” story we all know – the Tortoise and the Hare.

Everyone dreams of creating the book or DVD that sells 50,000 copies. And eventually, some of us will. But you don’t have to swing for the fence with every product. A DVD that sells just 2 or 3 copies a month, every month, for two years can easily make a profit of $3,000.00 or more. Multiply that by 10 or 20 DVDs and your backlist looks a lot more valuable, doesn’t it?

When Ghost Leg Press published Easy Auction Photography in 2006, we had very strong sales in the first six months. Two and a half years later, sales have tapered off, but the book continues to sell. (In fact, we are discussing a second edition.) That has been the pattern with all of our products: a strong launch followed by slow, steady sales.

In a traditional bricks and mortar store, shelf space is valuable. If a product doesn’t pay the rent, it gets evicted. But on the internet, the cost of a few bytes in a database is infinitesimal. The long tail benefits small businesses by accommodating our slow but steady sellers on the backlist. While the best sellers and the blockbusters get the acclaim, we just plod along, selling a few thousand dollars worth of products each month, every month, year after year, long after the mega-hits have faded into memory.