As usual for Mike Shatzkin, this is a dense read. But an interesting one all the same.
The somewhat tl;dr version is that, thanks to the rise of ebooks and PoD in particular (and big box bookstores before them), a new book title launched today has to compete in a market that’s greater by at least an order of magnitude compared to a book a decade or two or three ago. The point is that the main beneficiary of this Long Tail effect aren’t authors, they’re the aggregators; the Amazons (and Ingrams) of the world.
For authors, Shatzkin proposes that, increasingly, any advantage they can leverage to bring their works above the “flood” in the self-published market is going to become exponentially more important. Even if this is something as basic as being included in a catalogue of one of the Big n (however many of them there are at the current moment).
Basically, paradoxically, increased market saturation will result in a greater concentration of attention into fewer products. For the record, I think you can see evidence of this in other areas where disruptive long tail effects have already occurred. Music is the one everyone trots out, but see also (and perhaps more relevantly) the way print magazines and newspapers have been disrupted by their online equivalents. A decade ago, it was still possible to “get big” as an independent blogger. Nowadays, not so much; power has been re-concentrated into a handful of aggregate sites (the GigaOms and Daily Dots and Gawker subsites and whatever). Yes, there’s arguably more diversity now than there was in the heyday of print conglomeration… but that doesn’t mean it’s easier for an independent nobody to “get big” without first having an established platform to shout from.
On that note, back to Shatzkin for one final dig:
So far, the commercially successful self-published authors overwhelmingly, if not entirely, fall into two categories. There are authors who have reclaimed a backlist of previously published titles and self-published them. And there are authors of original genre fiction who write prolifically, putting many titles into the marketplace quickly. Successful self-publishing authors are often in both categories but very few are in neither.