Saturday, May 19, 2007

Einstein, Gladwell, the Niche Market and What They've Got to Do with Books

Let me introduce you to Chris Anderson, if you don't already know him. Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and Tipping Point calls him the man of "Big Ideas." Gladwell says he does not the big idea guy in the same sense of Einstein, though our lovable physicist (in my opinion and maybe Gladwell's too) had a knack for Big Marketing. Everyone knew Einstein's images--both his face and his formula. Trouble is, according to Gladwell, most people found his Big Idea well, not easy to follow.

Gladwell's Big Idea definition applies to ideas that are "transparent." That's where Chris Anderson comes in. I mentioned the term Long Tail "in "Sharing with Writers" recently. Long Tail refers to the concept that we tend to read the same books, magazines or whatever because only so many can be published. Gladwell says, "there is not enough space to give us exactly what we want. So we all agree on something we kind of want."

So here's what Chris's Long Tail theory does for you, the reader. And you, the author. Computers mean you readers can find whatever you want. Bookstores (online or brick and mortar) can stock millions of books in the bowels of a big machine and you can find exactly the little crevice book you are looking for. That means that authors can write these books with you in mind.

So, publishers don't sell 100,000 copies of one book anymore. They may do so, but that's getting to be a rarer occurrence all the time! Instead bookstores (Amazon, say) may sell 100,000 copies of 100,000 books. Authors, that means yours will be (not may be but will be) among them and that means you are not constrained to writing a book that you feel will market well; you get to write what moves you. And readers can find you with technology. And they'll recognize what moves you moves them, too.

Oh, and here's another result of Long Tail that has already started to come true. Writers--more and more -- aren't at the mercy of gatekeepers. You can be in charge of your own destiny, your own creativity. And what if your book or article (think Amazon shorts) does get read by 100,000 just because you followed your heart? It can still happen.

If you want proof, look at Amazon again. Authors, look at your own book's page. Readers, go browse a bit using keywords. You'll find ideas, books you want to read that you didn't see reviewed in the New York Times.

Sure there are some drawbacks to the Long Tails theory. Nothing's perfect. That's progress and it is the new big idea, the reality. Might as well face it and use it to your benefit.

Oh, and about that Chris Anderson. He is a physicist, just like Einstein, who did research at Los Alamos National Laboratories in New Mexico. He first described Long Tail in his magazine Wired. His book is The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More.
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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author THIS IS THE PLACE; HARKENING: A COLLECTION OF STORIES REMEMBERED; TRACINGS, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T; and THE FRUGAL EDITOR: PUT YOUR BEST BOOK FORWARD TO AVOID HUMILIATION AND ENSURE SUCCESS.

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