The Long Tail Needs Community

Gavin Bell (
Location: Broadway North (6th Floor) Level:
Average rating: ***..
(3.00, 2 ratings)

The long tail relates stories of profitable sales for those with unlimited shelving. Book creation technology is catching up with what the music industry has had for several years. On demand printing and ebooks mean that books can be available in moments. Yet the music industry is now heading into a different direction, concerts are the profit maker -somewhere we cannot follow -so we need to blaze our own path.

We know people like books, good books, but how can you get to these “people.” One approach is to foster a community around your area. Travel and technical books are already doing this. Getting direct community feedback on published information makes the new edition easier and cheaper. This process can even begin prior to publication with beta book releases, allowing the community to support the author. Many communities want the best book in their area to be published, so will come and help to make the book the best it can be, so that they can then buy the best book.

A social network enhances this process, strengthening the connections between the readers and you. Brands vs authors does complicate who the “you” is, but establishing an ongoing relationship between your community and the books you sell is likely to generate more sales. Harnessing the long tail requires appealing to niche areas, and these are well served by social networks, which cross geographic and organizational boundaries.

Building a social network need not be expensive nor take a long time. There are a range of approaches from off-the-shelf white label products, through open source products to bespoke software development. Social networks are not about adding friends, they are about tracking activity from existing social relationships. The key is to host the community and help it to create the best books and benefit from that process. Exploring the major decisions in building a social network, this session will help you build a successful community online.

Photo of Gavin Bell

Gavin Bell

Gavin designs web applications and social software for the Nature Publishing Group. Large scale web applications covering identity, on-demand media and social software have been the main focus of his work. Since the early 90s he has worked in academia, advertising, publishing and developed multimedia software. He is writing a forthcoming book on social web applications for O’Reilly Media Inc. He lives in London with his wife and two sons. He keeps track of the world on take one onion and you can keep track of him on were he generally avoids the third person.

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Thomas Lukasik
02/18/2009 12:48pm EST

“not likely to be in the same order of magnitude as the music industry”

Yes, that’s true.. but I am thinking more along the lines of making a living on the scale of Todd Rundgren, not Metallica or The Stones.

The Internet has made it possible to survive as an independent content provider, whether it be books or music, as long as you are not greedy, and as long as whatever you are selling is both original and has genuine value.

Rundgren has a faithful fan following that looks forward to and buys what he produces because they want to support him, and even more so (I believe) they do not want to steal from him.

And if you discard the extreme high and low end of what working musicians pull in, and consider the fortunes that quite a few non-fiction authors have amassed, I’d argue that any gap between the two economies can eventually be closed as non-fiction content providers get better at and understand more about monetizing and marketing two products – their content and themselves.

I’d be very interested in your thoughts regarding whether or not this is too emotional an argument to use as a reason to believe in a prosperous, post-paper future for non-fiction authors and their content.

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Gavin Bell
02/16/2009 7:05am EST

Thomas, You are right in that it is possible for a some authors and publishers to make some additional income alongside book sales. However this is not likely to be in the same order of magnitude as the music industry, with a few exceptions.

Bands get started gigging, they make some money from the start, this is just not the same model as authorship.

In my talk I looked at making longer term services from deeper relationships with the readers of our books than just one of purchase.

Thomas Lukasik
02/15/2009 9:04am EST

Re: ”..concerts are the profit maker – somewhere we cannot follow..”

IMHO we can. It is not much of a stretch to see live speaking engagements, lectures and even book signings by an author as the book industry’s equivalent of music concerts. And taking it a step further, there’s no reason that authors cannot hawk goods just like the bands do.

Maybe not T-shirts, but a table full of branded planners and similar business-like items would sell for sure. And for a few celebrity, “Rock Star” style authors even T-shirts might fly off the table!

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Gavin Bell
02/11/2009 9:08am EST

My slides are on slideshare, Long Tail needs Community

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Chad Capellman
02/11/2009 7:45am EST
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