I've been planning to start a Long Tail FAQ, beginning with a question I get all the time: " I can see what the Long Tail offers consumers
and distributors, but are there equal advantages for producers?" The answer to that will be at least one chapter of the book, so it's a lot for a FAQ. But the short form is "Yes". The supply side of the Long Tail is a rich topic that neatly compliments the demand-side focus of most of my writing to date.
Kevin Kelly has now prodded me into FAQ action with a great production example--how to self-publish on Amazon. It's a comprehensive, step-by-step guide, and it begins by answering the "why?":
I began listing self-published material on Amazon because I wanted a way to reach the wider public with my stuff but I did not want to have to deal with shipping out copies to each customer who ordered on my website. For a small-timer like me, mailing out, and keeping track of onesies and twosies is very disruptive for my day job. By having my stuff on Amazon, Amazon's mighty enterprise became my shipper (they are very good at this), so the only place I have to ship my copies to is to their warehouse.
More importantly, as popular as my website may or may not be, it doesn't compare to the traffic headed to Amazon to search for books and DVDs. By having my stuff pop up among the big publisher's offerings for "similar books" or even in reader's lists and guides, my titles gain a greater chance to be seen and ordered. In a certain way, unless your stuff is available on Amazon, it ain't available.
This example encapsulates two big Long Tail advantages for producers. The first is access to market. Only a distributer/retailer with effectively infinite warehouse and shelf space would be willing to carry Kevin's self-published books (as distinct from his very successful commercially-published books, Out of Control and New Rules for the New Economy.) Even then, the process has to cost the retailer as close to nothing as possible, something Amazon accomplishes by making the entire transaction self-service.
The second advantage is low-cost marketing. Recommendations, whether by software filters or network-amplified word of mouth (from blogs to viral emails), can be far more powerful than traditional advertising, especially for niche products aimed at narrow markets. This isn't a cure-all for obscurity: much of what's produced far down in the Tail just isn't very good. Other products are good but simply aren't for everyone, and the people they are for aren't easy to find. And there recommendations can make all the difference in connecting niche producers and niche consumers.
Two other quick points about how the picture is improving for the producer: As Kevin notes, the tools of creativity--from cheap digital video gear to GarageBand--are being democratized at a dizzying pace. Every Mac now ships with music, video and photo editing software that rivals the professional tools of just a few years ago. If you have talent, there's little stopping you from doing something about it, and millions are. Although this isn't a consequence of the Long Tail (it's just a function of the spread of digital technology), it does have the happy effect of populating the Tail at a pace never before seen.
Finally, it's worth noting that commercial success is not the only (or even main) reason to be a Long Tail producer. Most authors write books not to get rich but to reach a readership, whether it be to enhance their academic reputation, market their consultancy, or just leave a mark on the world. The Long Tail effect may not pay their rent, but it will find them a bigger audience, and if what they're offering is really good it may be dramatically bigger. As Kevin puts it, self-publishing on Amazon "is not a way to make money; it's a way to distribute your message." As powerful as the Long Tail is for commerce, it's potentially even more powerful for communications. And for producers of all sorts, that's good news.