Chris Anderson is writing a book about The Long Tail which started as one of my favorite articles that he wrote for Wired. He has also started a blog about the Long Tail. The original article is online at Wired.

18 Comments

I have to say that I can't believe people are making such hay out of this. When I read the original article in the magazine when it came out I was seriously underwhelmed and even thought that the editor had shown "the emperor has no clothes" by writing a rather simplistic/uninspired article. The fact that he's getting a book deal out this, I'm convinced has more to do with his job title and not his ideas -- which as another poster correctly pointed out, are nothing special or noteworthy. Let me rephrase that -- the manner in which Chris Anderson states the obvious is nothing special and in fact does the topic a dis-service. I'm beginning to think that we are living in an age where everyone is scared to dissent and challenge people (unless it's a popular dissent movement with built in support) when we think they've missed the mark. A better, more inspired thinker/writer, could have truly made something big out of this. Nice that he hustled a book deal out of it though.

At least New York Magazine called it correctly...

"Martha [Stewart] isnt that famous outside of America...Neither is Wired editor Chris Anderson, but sources say he managed to sell The Long Tail to Hyperion for just over $500,000. Its a book-length version of a meditation he wrote for his own magazine about the end of the mainstream in culture. Jaws hit the floor over how much they paid, says one source whose house was outbid. Watch for the Wired trend story: The tech-book boom is back!"

http://www.newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/people/columns/intelligencer/10709/index1.html


They called it. This book is about hype and knowing the right people, not about revolutionary ideas worthy of an entire book. It will be interesting to see how many people unwittingly provide Anderson with free research/work by offering insightful (more than his original story) comments on his blog.


Stating the "obvious" for people who haven't pondered and considered a particular point is the essence of popular exposition. Now Chris Anderson may well be riding on the coattails of his Wired connections, I won't dispute that. And the initial sales of his book may ride on some puffery.

But I for one was intrigued by what he said and gained some new understanding. Then maybe I'm not as smart as the exalted Mr Bixby.

Uhm, I'm not exalted (at least not as exalted as Anderson seems to be), and I would only consider myself bright, not a brainiac of any sort.


Anderson wrote, "The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream." Smell the fresh scent of hype buzzwords... With Bittorrent, Kazaa and Napster all several years old, I don't think this "long tail" article represents new/innovative/original thinking by any stretch. Can't you just disagree without flaming/insulting; who I am isn't important, what I'm talking about may be?


I'm more interested in hearing who thinks this article (now, book) actually represents revolutionary thought, and why they think it's worthy of a book.



I don't know that it is worthy of a book but certainly the concept/trend is (at least) one more nail in the coffin of the Public Domain.

As posted in the "Google adding major libraries to database" thread:

"- Joi Ito @ December 15, 2004 01:19 PM

From the Eric Eldred Act FAQ

We estimate that of all the work copyrighted between 1923 and 1942 (the first twenty years affected by the Sonny Bono Act), only 2% has any continuing commercial value. If a work has no commercial value, then there would be little reason for the copyright owner to pay the renewal fee. That work would therefore quickly pass into the public domain. If the proposal were adopted as outlined, then within three years, over 90% of the copyrighted between 1923 and 1952 would be in the public domain. This would be massive increase of material into the public domain, through a mechanism that would create a cheap and useable record of the material that remains under copyright."

So what if 100% of these works have 'continuing commercial value' due to 'The Long Tail'? What impetus do the copyright holders (or the government acting for them) have to let copyright expire? ever? Very easy to argue harm when 100% of your back catalog could be making you money. Provided you can actually make all your works available... or not, maybe 'conceptually' they _could_ be making money is a strong enough argument.

Isn't it ironic that the first paragraphs of "The Long Tail" recount the story of a book which didn't sell well when first published and then sold very well after someone made a film from it? That does tend to undermine Mr. Framks argument that if you don't get an immediate response to your work it should be forced into the public domain. We seem to circling back to the same arguments made in the discussion on Copyright in these same pages.

The content of "The Long Tail" may seem blindly obvious, but I think Chris Anderson did a very good job of pulling together the facts and packaging them in a way that caught the public's attention. Much of what he had there was along the mines of my won conclusions from setting up "Francis Hamit Electronic Publishing" and re-selling copies of my previously published magazine articles. Since there are only two or us working this thing and it is far from the only thing we do, promotion had been minimal and I suspect most of my customers are researchers. The market seems to be about a mile wide and an inch deep.

I was fortunate in being able to offer a wide range of material, but none of it sells enormously, and some of it has not sold at all. That's not surprising. The marketing model was one of a man throwing globs of mud at a wall to see which of them would stick. That they sold at all was becuase they were exposed to a potential market of tens of millions of people. Most are priced at the minimum permitted by the economics of this distribution system. How elese would those people find those articles if they were not available on so many web sites which make them available for sale and downloading with a few clicks of the mouse.

So, I hold no resentment of Chris Anderson or the fact he was able to win a huge advance. Having written a few books, let me tell you, it only looks easy and that the one you read in three hours probably took about three years to get into final form and in your hands.

My book on Virtual Reality was a case in point. It was supposed to take six months to write and took fives times as long because the story kept changing. The deal came from a very casual conversation with a guy standing next to me at VR exhibit at one of the first trade shows in that field.

It went through five drafts and two publishers because people within the field saw me as an outsider (which every journalist should be) and one of them threatened to sue because the reality I reported was at odds with his own publicity. I ended up losing money on the deal, even though the book sold out. The fact that I had done the book and it was well reviewed got me hundreds of other writing jobs.



Mr. Bixby should read the article again. It is actually a very useful bit of informaiton for those who have yet to figure out the impact of the Internet on retailing, distribution and business models. The Long Tail really empowers small players by removing barriers to distribution.

Amazon.com's used book buisness is a case in point. There are now about 700,000 people using this to resell used books through Amazon's pages. It allows a delaer to offer a book to the world rather than just the cusotmers who happen to find his store and the world to find all of the copies available on the system and see what which one is priced at. I do this myself. It is how I paid the expenses for the electonic publishing business and the profit margins are spectatular if you know how to buy and what to buy. I've sold books I bought for 25 cents here for as much as $40.00 in places like Ohio or North Carolina. Took me all of five minutes of my time, although it took that customer about eight weeks to find me. Amazon got their cut, of course and I had to pay postage and for a nice shipping envelope, but I still made a hundre times my original investment...and I've sold about 200 books that way this year, usually for less of a margin.

Big publishers and author's group are very unhappy with Amazon for doing this because they think that it means less new books will sold. Maybe they're right. But out-of-print books find new homes and don't sit unused on shelves as much and individual entreprenurs make a few extra bucks rather than the big guys. It actually empowers the little guy and that cannot be a bad thing.

Mr. Bixby should try and get past his personal bitterness at Mr. Anderson's good fortune in being associated so closely with WIRED and being able to ride the coattails of that brand to a well-paid book deal. The book will be about forty times the size of the article so he has a lot of work ahead and will earn the money. It was the right article at the right time and place. Sometimes genius merely consists of pointing out the obvious. Any consultant will tell you that.

Dude said,

"Mr. Bixby should try and get past his personal bitterness at Mr. Anderson's good fortune in being associated so closely with WIRED and being able to ride the coattails of that brand to a well-paid book deal. "

*sigh*

I really don't get why this keeps coming back to who "I" am, what my "personality" is, when nobody really cares about that. This is about ideas, not about me. With all due respect Mr. Hamit, you are off the mark on that call. By the way, it wasn't "me" who begrudged Anderson his book advance, that was New York Magazine, yet somehow, you didn't call "them" bitter (guess you don't want to kill a potential writing opportunity with them--I understand completely). There is no emotion in my critique, plain and simple I think his story (now blockbuster book!) is an overblown collection of things that people in the blogosphere have been writing about, and more importantly Doing, for the last few years.

To twist this in another direction, somehow I don't think Conde Nast (Mr. Anderson's boss/publisher of Wired) would approve of me reselling Wired at a healthy profit. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that if my sales website devoted to reselling their magazine got popular enough, they'd try to shut me down. So...Would Anderson come to my rescue? You know the answer to that one. So my point in this area is that it's sexy to grab a bunch of existing memes and pimp them when you're in the position Anderson's in. But his article lacks intellectual heft, and I doubt he'd stand behind his ideas in the same way writer Cory Doctorow has.

Just because you criticize someone doesn't mean you 1)hate them, 2)are bitter, 3)think they should burn in hell. I just called it as I saw it, and if you paid attention, I never made a personal attack on Anderson, I attacked his writing. It's not like I accused him of being a coke-head or anything. :^)

Hmmm. Actually I've never thought of writing for "New York". Nothing against them you understand but they don't publish the kind of material I'm interested in writing about.

As for Conde/Naste approving of you reselling WIRED, I'm not sure how you mean that. If you mean copies of the magazine that they already sold, well they don't have a say over the physical object once they've sold it. That's called the "First Sale" doctrine. As for the content within the magazine, which they paid to have developed and written, if you do it without their permission and take money out of their pocket, yeah, expect a law suit. If you're commenting on what they do, then that's under "Fair Use" as long as you don't reproduce wholesale chunks of it. (Very gray area here. It depends on whether or not you comment takes away their sales by providing for free what they sell)

As for the size of the advance, Mr. Anderson must pay his expenses out of that and deliver a much bigger work than the original article. I looked at his blog. I've reported on UAV technology, but frankly it never occured to me to link it with online retailing. I think he intends to look deeper than the original article. In places where most of us would not think to.

This is always the problem with publishing in a print medium. You are constrained by the size of the "news hole" allocated for that particular article, which is the reason behind the inverted pyramid order of information paradigm used by most journalists. When you have a really interesting topic you find that you can't possibly use every fact you've collected.

And I'm sorry, Mister Bixby, when you attack the writing of someone with the credentials of Mister Anderson, it has to be viewed as personal and perhaps even malicious. If you could write something better, you would, and let it go at that.
I'm looking forward to Anderson's book. The article was mostly made of of things I had already discovered on my own from working the process as an electronic publisher, but he condensed it, codified it and connected a few dots I hadn't yet. So, I'm a little impressed, but not envious, because I know how hard he's going to have to work to deliver that book. (By the way about half his advance will go for income taxes and legal fees and insurance, so his net works out to a good, but not spectacular income,for the time he'll spend on the work. Half a million bucks is not just what it used to be.)

And, I'm sorry again, Mister Bixby, but the tone of your post does seem a little angry.
Just a bit. You asked what is the big deal? Anderson did the story that we all wanted to do, if we'd thought about it, but he did it first, and did it well.


BTW, for the record, these days I am available for the right kind of journalistic assignment, but not actively seeking them. I've focused my efforts over the last three years on writing ficiton and drama.

But that's another story. :)

"when you attack the writing of someone with the credentials of Mister Anderson, it has to be viewed as personal and perhaps even malicious."

Huh? So... anyone who has a professional writing resume is now above critique? Wake up Shakespeare. When you postulate theories, anyone is free to dissent and pick your argument apart. In this case, I don't think there's even much to pick apart, other than the end result of the media hacking.

"If you could write something better, you would."

Hmmm, well, I have actually. But in your words, that's another story. Unlike some people, I'm not here to logroll. ;^)

"And, I'm sorry again, Mister Bixby, but the tone of your post does seem a little angry."

I think you're confusing 'angry' with 'uncompromising'. Angry would be disparaging the man's character, or attempting to insult you and anyone who disagreed with me. As you can see, that's not what I'm doing. Nice try though.

"BTW, for the record, these days I am available for the right kind of journalistic assignment, but not actively seeking them. I've focused my efforts over the last three years on writing ficiton and drama."

And finally, the veil is pulled back to reveal...an unvarnished advertisement for writer services. TIP: Book editors tend to give writers gigs more often when the writer can actually 'spell' the word FICTION (as opposed to your rather fictional 'ficiton'). Or, maybe that's some subtle meme injection for your new sequel to Narnia based in the land of Ficiton. Nice title, rock on!

Back to business... Since I already mentioned Cory Doc, I thought this might be a good time to mention another space where bleeding edge ideas are written with true intellectual heft (something, let's all be honest here, Conde Nast has little tolerance for) -- the location is www.edge.org enjoy!

Mr. Bixby your tone is bitter. Tone is the province of the author, spelling is just an editorial tidying. Accusing me of flaming while your dagger still drips is a bit much, I think you need to relax a bit...

Mr. Bixby: You should know that I am dyslexic and while I go over these things for such errors, I can't always find them all. I normally have my assistant Leigh go over them too, but she's got a bad cold today. Such is life.

And if you check with our esteemed host, he will tell you back in the day, that I never had to troll for assignments. I used to average a feature article a week for one magazine or another. He and I used to run into each other at conferences and trade shows.

I don't find it useful to play critic with the work of other writers. Everyone has a different style and a different background and everyone works differently. What's quality to one person is crap to another.
I respect track record. In this mercenary society the mark of being a professional anything is getting paid for your work.
I get paid. Not for this stuff, of course, but we're just having a conversation, right? And 'True intellectua heft". What does that mean? The rest of us are too dull to grasp your true meaning?

My own experience as a journalist for about 35 years now has taught me a few things. One is that people who use to word "intellectual" as a put down are usually insecure about their own capabilities in that regard.

Come on, pal, the name of the game is "communications". How does someone else getting a sweet book deal hurt you? Why does it piss you off so much? There are other opportunities out there for all of us. Lighten up.

I haven't met Mr. Doctorow or read much of his writing. I understand he's pretty good and that he and I have radically different ideas about copyrights.

To that end, if you want to know about my work, check the online records at the Copyright Office. I register every article I've published since March 1989. Most of it will not be to your taste probably.
You can also look at the list on Amazon.com, in the e-book section where I am exploring my own version of The Long Tail.

Now you might call that last paragraph shameless self promotion and you'd probably be right. :) There's more than one way to get paid for your writing.

It's all hype, guanxi, connections. Some agent knows the author from collge, work, socializing, relatives, smelled a book, called him, inked a deal, power lunch, another magazine article becomes a book. Nothing new here. It's par for the course on Publishing Row. And when the book comes out, in 2008, expect the NY Times stories, the AP story, the CNN interview, the Larry King Show, Jon Stewart, it's all part of this game we are all playing. It's not Chris Anderson's fault. More power to him!

Francis said:


"Isn't it ironic that the first paragraphs of "The Long Tail" recount the story of a book which didn't sell well when first published and then sold very well after someone made a film from it? That does tend to undermine Mr. Framks argument that if you don't get an immediate response to your work it should be forced into the public domain. We seem to circling back to the same arguments made in the discussion on Copyright in these same pages."

I wasn't arguing for shortening copyright nor 'should be forced into the public domain' but merely stating that arguments like that which Joi made simply won't fly in the face of 'The Long Tail'.

We estimate that of all the work copyrighted between 1923 and 1942 (the first twenty years affected by the Sonny Bono Act), only 2% has any continuing commercial value.

The long tail says you can make 'continuing commercial value' approach 100%. So the 98% 'orphans' argument won't fly, and neither will any argument that copyright should be shortened... and neither will any argument that copyright should _ever_ expire. If your back catalog can have 500 years of copyrighted material in it, why not? Just get congress to extend copyright even further.

Hence my thought that 'The Long Tail' could spell the end of the Public Domain.... copyright holders argue harm, copyright terms get extended and the Public Domain is frozen to pre-1923 forever.

I think most people would agree that having a public domain is a good thing... but it just became an endangered species.

Well, I tend to agree with Mr. Franks that there has to be a time when copyright ends. I've just finished a novel about the U.S. Civil War where I leaned pretty heavily on the Public Domain. In historical fiction you are more or less required to do that to get it right.

The law does not permit perpetuities: arrangements that go on forever. With copyright, I think it is related to life span. Life of the author plus seventy years. That takes care of the kids and the grandkids and maybe a generation beyond that. Back when copyright terms were shorter, so was life expectancy. The corporate version has a fixed term, so work-for-hire, anonymous and psuedonymous works all have a definite date when they become available.

Now you can create new copyrightable work based on the public domain, as Nicholas Meyer did with the Conan Doyle characters Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in "The Seven Percent Solution". Anyone can use those characters now, but Nick still got paid for the film rights when they made the movie. That was because he created an original expression in terms of plot, dialog, and the heretofore undiscovered professional relationship of Holmes and Sigmund Freud.

The copyright term is a matter of law. The only way to change it is to change the law. You cannot do that without also changing the relevant treaties to which this nation is a signatory. The Supreme Court upheld the right of Congress to set any term they desire. No doubt huge commercial interests are going to lobby for further extensions. To defeat them, someone will have prove actual harm will occur. The simple wish to use others' material without payment or permission does not rise to that level. The exceptions for fair use, libraries and achives pretty much make the issue a commercial one. It's about the money.

So your choice is clear. Get a license and act like a professional, or create something fresh and original yourself.

I actually think the Long Tail is a really long tail. There is plenty of stuff there where the copyright holder is either not identifiable or would rather see their work in the Public Domain than to try to extract commercial value since it is so small. On the other hand, I believe the less well-known independent works as well as some of the older works which still have commercial value will be revived. The current copyright term of 70 or so after death is a VERY LONG time. I'd like to see some statistics here and maybe Chris will do this in his book. How many/what percentage of books that are 90-110 years old are still commercially viable from a copyright perspective?

Joi: The viability of an old book depends upon the following: Reputation of the author and popularity of his or her other works, relevance to today's culture and political situation, cost to market for the new edition, (and that is much less now with electronic publishing) and demand for the item in question. There are many of Shakespeare's plays which are not widely read outside of Required Reading lists. And as, for Marlowe, it's Doctor Faustus and forget the rest. (Have you ever read Tambulaine? Bloody-minded in the extreme. Interestingly enough it was taken from an actual historical account that Marlowe found in Archbishop Parker's library at Cambridge. Only the language makes it worth saving.)

I think we are back the Sturgeon's Law for most of this stuff. Someone at a cocktali party once confronted Theodore Sturgeon, the science fiction writer, with the pronoucement "Ninety percenty of all science fiction is crap!" Sturgeon shrugged and replied "Ninety percent of everything is crap."

As I've said elsewhere, the big barrier to getting most of this material back into circulaiton is the cost of preparing it for distribution. It has to be scanned or retyped or imaged in some other way before electronic distribution can be done.

Check out my 1970 Frank Zappa interview. I paid to have that retyped for electronic distribution, and because it is public domain, very few people have paid for it, certainly not enough to cover that initial cost. Zappa is a major brand name with a huge fan base so, if what you and Cory Doctorow hold about giving away the store were true, I'd have made a little money. Maybe, in time thanks to the Long Tail I will, but I'm not hopeful. There haven't been any sales lately. Everyone knows it is PD, so why bother to pay?

I was thinking of distributing other PD work, like Alfred Thayer Mahan's "The Influence of Seapower on History" (published in 1895 but still a key document if you want to understand our current national security posture. It's the reason we have 12 aircraft carrier groups when most other nations have, at most one or two.) I'd like to make that book available, but I can't make a business case for doing so.

In other words, just wishing material into the public domain won't make them widely available on the Internet.

Francis said:


I was thinking of distributing other PD work, like Alfred Thayer Mahan's "The Influence of Seapower on History" (published in 1895 but still a key document if you want to understand our current national security posture. It's the reason we have 12 aircraft carrier groups when most other nations have, at most one or two.) I'd like to make that book available, but I can't make a business case for doing so.

This book is available online from Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/13529

Francis:


"In other words, just wishing material into the public domain won't make them widely available on the Internet."

The above would beg to differ... if it is deemed important by someone and in the Public Domain it _will_ find its way online... but if it is still tied up by incredibly long copyright then it may well be lost forever.

As you noted in a post further up there are uses for a strong Public Domain, in your case doing research. I am a proponent of short(er) copyright terms in the belief that more of those works can and would be made available. I also belive that we shouldn't just 'cherry-pick' the past but instead make all of it available.. pot-boilers, Victorian Porn, whatever. There are many times in the creation of ebooks at Distributed Proofreaders that we run across books with missing pages... and I am always surprised to see how few copies of old books libraries really have. In some cases there only 1 or 2 holdings of a title (using WorldCat) anywhere in the U.S. That is a bit scary to me. Should the preservation of our heritage be left up to chance? that maybe someone has the last copy of a particular book in their attic? Long copyright terms increase the 'risk' that some works will be completely lost.

Charles: The Copyright Act allows a library to make up to three copies of a rare book simply for the reason you've outlined. By the way as someone who has a sideline in old and rare books, I'm amazed at the number of them which have been discarded by libraries. The idea of the library as a repository is apparently out of fashion. However, I am not all that sure that electronic media is a safe bet for preserving them either. Apparently laser discs will go bad after about 50 years , in the best of conditions, so you either have to keep making new copies or you will end up with the obsolete equipment problem that NASA contends with. They have tapes of data from space exploration missions that have never been read and probably never will be, because the equipment used to read the tapes no longer exists.

The best format for preserving printed information is acid-free rag paper kept under climate controlled conditions. It lasts for centuries. Well washed black and white photographic prints will also last a thousand years, Electronic data, I'm not so sure. It gets damaged, wiped out, corrupted, etc.

And I'm all for making it all available. I really would like to look at the novels written by John Estin Cooke. He's a minor character in my Civil War novel universe. Whatever archive that has them will want me to go there, not put them up electronically. The demand is not there for that. What are the usage figures for Project Gutenburg? How many people dowmload a title from them in a given year?

In theory, I'm with you, but how do we pay for it all?

And given the Fair Use provisions that allow libraries to make copies, why are they not doing so? Why are they discarding the books that a casual user might want to consult for research? The answer is money; they're trying to save money. If a book isn't checked out enough, they think no one looks at it, and they need the shelf space.

Again, I don't see how changing the copyright laws will change any of this.

Leave a comment

6 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: The Long Tail the book and the blog.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://joi.ito.com/MT-4.35-en/mt-tb.cgi/3140

The Long Tail has been the latest phenom here in the blogosphere. Its discussion of the choice freedom released by online retailers and distributors should be no surprise to anyone who has been online for more than 2 weeks. My Read More

The Longer Tail from little more than a placeholder
December 23, 2004 12:06 AM

Via Joi Ito I found the news that Chris Anderson, author of the article The Long Tail that I blogged... Read More

Quoting from The Long Tail the book and the blog: Chris Anderson is writing a book about The Long Tail which started as one of my favorite articles that he wrote for Wired. He has also started a blog about... Read More

I've kept quiet about the new buzzphrase, the long tail, because like everything else, it's an obvious concept that's existed for some time. And with the widespread reactions to th... Read More

Just saw (via Joi Ito) that Chris Anderson is expanding his Wired Magazine article on "The Long Tail" into a book-length project. He's set up a Typepad blog and writes of his topic: "It's a rich seam. This is... Read More

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to use the Net and he won't bother you for weeks. Read More

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Business and the Economy category.

Books is the previous category.

Computer and Network Risks is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index.

Monthly Archives