The Long Tail of Niche Publishing, Shannon Okey


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Larger publishers and distributors are often unwilling to take a chance on what they consider “niche.” Yet consumers want specialization and more advanced content rather than lowest common denominator material. What’s a creative professional to do? Using the example of knit publishing and its evolving presence in the e-book market, as well as best practices for designers and creatives relating to publishing, we’ll explore ways to increase creators’ revenue and buck the established publishing system.

Presented by Shannon Okey of Cooperative Press. TOC NYC 2013.

Published in: Self Improvement
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The Long Tail of Niche Publishing, Shannon Okey

  1. 1. Knitting a Long Tail in Niche Publishing Shannon Okey, Cooperative Press
  2. 2. Why "niche"?For our purposes, niche publishing = publishing on anytopic that isnt readily seen as commercially viable, eitherbecause the topic is too narrow/specialized or becausethe publishers havent caught up to YOU yet!Sadly, the latter is usually the case.
  3. 3. Doing the [publisher] mathThe last major-publisher project I turned down:$15,000 advance offered- $2250 to agent (15%)- $7000 from our pocket to pay photographer chosen by publisher- $4000 to pay technical editor and sample knitters- $500 minimum for shipping & various expenses= $1250, divided by 2 authors, for a year of work. (and unlikely to earn more via royalties!)
  4. 4. The fiction sideA good friend of mine got a 3-book deal (fiction) for $110,000 atauction.Less 40% tax/SEP = $66,000Less 15% agent commission, $56,100That $56,100 is divided over three years, in nine separate payments(signing, delivery/acceptance, and publish date).She earns $18,700 per year (in the Bay Area!) before she even goes toany writing conferences or promotional events. Needless to say, she still works 80 hours a week at her day job.
  5. 5. Release the numbers!Writing as a profession doesnt pay much as a generalrule. Even the lucrative romance novel market... see one of the only publisher-by-publisher breakdownsavailable for a specific genre widely available to thepublic.
  6. 6. The long tailThe one on the left, not the one on the right.
  7. 7. Essential infoChris Anderson, author of The Long Tail: Why The Future of Businessis Selling Less of More:"The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than halfof Amazons book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles." Rules of the Long Tail according to Anderson:One: make everything availableTwo: cut the price in half, then lower it even moreThree: help them [consumers] find it
  8. 8. However... Andersons rule one: make everything available.Before you can do that, you need to have something to MAKE available!
  9. 9. Identifying YOUR nicheResearch/read available books and media on your topicthat are already on the market.For my book The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional KnitwearDesign, there were no other books on the business ofcreating and selling patterns for hand knitting.(Chances are good you probably arent as specialized. Doyour research!)
  10. 10. You take the good, you take the bad...Where are there deficiencies in the existing market?ARE there any books on your topic already?Whose books are ok, but not the greatest?What can you add to the conversation?
  11. 11. Content development YOU DONT HAVE TO START FROM SCRATCH!Dig through your files: old presentations, blog posts, one-off articles or pieces, even long emails are all content-fodder for a book.(For the purposes of our conversation, well assume youre creating abook/ebook, though it could also be an online class, app or any otherkind of published content thats for sale)
  12. 12. Format War II Remember who won the Great Music Format War? (MP3).Were still in the middle of a digital format war for booksand ebooks, and there isnt a clear winner yet.ePub (Apple iBookstore, etc).azw/.mobi (Amazon Kindle)and many many moreCount on making your book available in both majorformats, plus PDF.
  13. 13. ebook softwareAdobe InDesign tagging/export to ePubCalibre ( ( authoring softwareplain old HTML markupand many, many more (changing every day)If time is tight? Pay a specialist!( is one, and a good source ofinfo, too, though they were recently acquired byFirebrand)
  14. 14. Dont forget PDF!PDF remains the most readily-accessible format for mostconsumers, and doesnt rely on owning a particulardevice.PDF also offers the greatest possible control for layoutoptions, which is critical when producing somethinggraphically-intensive.(ebooks arent quite there yet in terms of layout control)
  15. 15. To DRM or not to DRM? No.
  16. 16. Really, what about DRM?If the point of the long tail is to make more items availableand sell them automatically (thus creating a consistentstream of revenue), do you really want to be doing techsupport when the DRM goes wonky?Save yourself the trouble!However, if you INSIST: has an option tostamp purchaser information into the header of purchasedfiles. Its less obnoxious than traditional DRM.
  17. 17. Sales optionsAutomated download systems (e-junkie, Payloadz, etc)Amazon Kindle Store (70% royalty if priced at $9.99 or less)Apple iBookstore (similar to Kindle, harder to get in)B&N Nook (probably the most popular ebook sales site)Dont neglect...Your own website (can embed cart from e-junkie or the like)Specialty sites: for knitting, its (2 million users!)What specialty sites exist in YOUR niche?
  18. 18. Developing a processContent development is a process.Sales development is a process.Andersons rule two: cut price in half, then lower it againLesson to learn: You may have to adjust prices based on sales outletExample: if you price over $9.99, you lower your Kindle sales royaltyfrom 70% to 30%).
  19. 19. Why less CAN be moreAmanda Hocking has sold well over 1.5 million books(and earned $2.5 million PLUS) selling her ebooks onKindle.She sells her books from 99 cents to $2.99 (first one inthe series is cheaper, a loss leader, and sequels = more)
  20. 20. Andersons rule three?Help consumers find your work.This means consistency inbranding (look, feel: TEMPLATE for ease of production)availability (multiple formats, where available)It also means staying in touch!Mailchimp or other mailing list software(why not embed a live link in the ebook?) Use groups feature to find out whatbooks/products of yours people have already & mail them when new/related itemscome out!)
  21. 21. Stay flexibleTrack what platform/site/etc does best for you andconcentrate your efforts, orMake sure every book you create is available on everyplatform (The spirit of the long tail would advise the latter. If opportunity cost is not too high, go for it!) I netted $200 on old patterns in one week by listing them on a new pattern sales site!
  22. 22. Actively promote1. Link to your sales page or other info in your emailfooter/website sidebar/Twitter about, wherever you can.2. Leading potential readers to your work is easy if you letthem know its there!3. Encourage fans to share with people they think wouldlike it (offer a free or cheap teaser, first chapter, etc).
  23. 23. Be the specialistMake sure relevant online communities know about yourwork through active participation, not spamming. One ofour bestselling books was top-selling for two reasons:1. It made Library Journals year-end Best Of listsbut more importantly...2. The author moderates a community group ONTHAT TOPIC and made sure everyone knew it wascoming out.
  24. 24. The long haul of the long tailThe nature of the long tail is such that sales may notimmediately take off.Give it time, and be patient.In the words of an infamous infomercial: SET IT AND FORGET IT.
  25. 25. Go on to new contentThe more books/content vehicles you have available, theeasier it will be to earn money in the long run.After youve set up one or more books, dont obsess overtheir sales numbers...move on and create more.Use sales numbers and feedback to dictate new content ifyou have too much to choose from: engage yourcommunity, ask questions, solicit participation. books good examples ofsoliciting material from community + repackaging.
  26. 26. You are awesome.You have awesome things to share with us.Make that happen!Dont settle for a 10% share of your own hard work whenyou have technology on your side.
  27. 27. Thank you! Find me online & let me know how it goes!Shannon Okey, publisher, Cooperative Press @knitgrrl (personal) @CoopPress (business)