Please note this is first in a series.
As most of you know, I work for an online publisher/retailer (albeit, for music publishing) and we sell several million dollars of downloadable content every year. Some of this is extremely popular, and some of it has a very small, but very devoted fanbase.
Our top 20 sellers make up less than 10 percent of our sales. Most of our sales comes are of products that are quite far down the long tail (if you don’t know what that is, go read The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson). They are far down the tail in a combination of actual sales numbers on our site, as well as through general public knowledge.
The stuff we’ve done with some of the independent music artists has been much more valuable than what we’ve done with major ones. In fact, this year’s Song of the Year award (based primarily on sales) is for a song by someone who is considered an indie artist (I can’t name names yet, since it has not been officially announced). No major music publisher created official sheet music for it, and we did – because we knew the market and knew how to promote it to those who would enjoy it.
Yes, there are plenty of artist who submit to us who would like to have their music published on Musicnotes that we don’t publish, due to the fact they do not have a marketing plan of their own, and we don’t have the resources to market everything ourselves – but there are also a lot of independent artists that we work with that have built up a strong cult following.
So what I’m saying is this: when it comes to the music industry, being on a label doesn’t matter all that much anymore. What matters is that you create a quality product, you make it available, you market it, and you find someone to be your champion (or rely on viral marketing). It can work quite well, and by going the independent route you will reap huge benefits as far as royalties go (should you succeed).
The book industry will undoubtedly follow in the footsteps of the music (and film industry, at this point). I really hope you understand this – as it will be in your best interest to “get it” whether you get a deal with a major publisher or not. Keep an eye out for yourself, or find someone who really is working in your interest. Try to avoid signing away exclusive rights, and believe in the power of a quality work (and then market the hell out of it).
I am only speaking from experience, as the direct of marketing for one of the “Hot 100” Internet Retail sites for 2009.
My writing skills are not part of this argument (that’s for all of you to decide) – but my knowledge of the publishing and intellectual property world definitely are.
I hope you all find this helpful.