It’s no secret that it’s now easier than ever before for a musician, writer, or any other creator of intellectual property, to publish their work independently and make money online in the same way corporate-sponsored ones can.
However, many of the artists quickly discover that simply creating their work and uploading it online for others to buy (such as through a venue like iTunes), isn’t a guaranteed path to success, for they could spend countless hours, days, weeks, months, or even years producing their work on their own, but find that they make sparse sales, if any at all, without the resources, connections, and exposure that a world renowned publisher or producer has (I use these words interchangeably because it applies to musicians, writers, etc. alike).
Though there are a few success stories, such as Michael Bunker (Henn, 2014), independent artists more often find themselves crashing back down to earth from their pipe dreams of lavish lucrative careers with limousines and screaming fans coming—once they’re smacked with the harshness of the free-market, without the knowledge of how to sell their work. Independent artists who publish their work seldom make minimum wage and are forced to either give up, or at least supplement their passion with another job of some sort (Anders, 2014).
The Long Tail vs. The Pareto Principle
For years now, there has been a conflict between what’s called: the Long Tail theory (written by Chris Anderson), versus what’s called: the Pareto principle (proposed by Joseph Juran).
The Long Tail theory suggests that the power of mainstream hits (in regards to movies, music, etc.) is waning before the collective power of niche markets that are now able to compete equally for consumers’ attention because of the Internet (Anderson, 2006). The Pareto principle dictates that 80% of a given store’s sales come from 20% of its inventory (Koch, 1998). These two economic theories clash because, under the Pareto principle, the power is only in the hands of the top-selling artists whose successes are made possible by the publishers and producers behind them who are able to market to the mainstream populace; however, the Long Tail theory implies that though the mainstream still exists, it’s no longer the driver of profit it once was and will continue to lose steam over time.
In 2009, researchers from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania published evidence suggesting that the Long Tail theory only applies to vendors hosting their wares in a digital vacuum, because it costs sites like Netflix or iTunes nothing to list more titles; whereas, it’s not that simple for other stores that have to pay the overhead costs and other expenses that their counterparts don’t have to (Wharton, 2009). This means that the division between the Long Tail theory and the Pareto principle is a sociological one, dependent upon the desires of the people which are stirred by their sense of awareness, because even though independent content technically has equal opportunity to compete for the attention of corporate content, it’s unrealistic to think that independent artists have the knowledge and resources to raise awareness of their work to the general public or develop and sustain marketing campaigns as powerful or as long as their corporate competitors do. If they did, then the Long Tail theory would apply to every business scenario, because every store would know that the cost of putting the independent artists wares on their shelves will eventually be paid back—but the reality just isn’t so.
I submit that the demand for any product is directly influenced by the exposure that product receives, which is directly proportional to the amount of working effort behind it. Whether or not sales for any given product sustains over time, or exceeds the amount of resources put into its marketing is another matter.
Essentially, the problem that exists for independent artists, authors, etc. is that they immediately start as long tail competitors at the bottom of the rankings of their respective market at zero sales. What’s keeping them weighted to the bottom is that they lack exposure for their intellectual property, and often don’t know how to properly market their work.
The obvious answer for that is to seek someone who can market their work and has the money to do so; therefore, the natural response is to enlist with a company by convincing them to invest in their work. This is what’s called a publisher to authors, or a music label to musicians. The only time a publisher or music label is ever needed is when the artist lacks the necessary resources or skills to market their work in the free-market themselves, otherwise, even if that resource isn’t actually money—but knowledge.
With enough knowledge, monetary resources become less relevant, because an artist or writer would have the savvy necessary to analyze market demand, how to reach their target audience and sell to them while congregating occurring customers online (usually through a medium like social media) on their own, trading time as their capital resource, instead of tangible money. This is called guerrilla marketing.
Though even given enough knowledge, people may know how to market themselves, but it doesn’t mean that they have the willpower or the trust in themselves to take the risk of employing marketing strategies properly, or that they’re willing to use/make the time necessary to market themselves when they could rely on a publisher to do it for them…or just hire a personal professional to assist them—henceforth, the rise in demand for Internet marketers, who become the natural rivals to corporate publishers, because the Internet marketers would vie for the artist’s employment, rather than the artist vying for the publishers’.
But most creators of intellectual property aren’t aware that they can just do that themselves, without needing to torture themselves going through rejection after rejection; instead, they can just find either an Internet marketer or an Internet marketing firm to represent them in the free-market the same exact way that they’d go about hiring a lawyer to represent them in court. They could simply pay the Internet marketer a flat or continuous fee (depending upon their goals), or perhaps by commission—and then that marketer could work their data science, graphic designing, e-mail marketing, telemarketing (for the sake of setting up public events), and content marketing magic; thereby leaving that artist free to keep 100% of their respective return, because they’d be their own investors (besides what small percentages the online venues take). This is a major advantage to the individual, because usually publishers/music labels take 80% or more of the proceeds, instead of giving it to the artist.
Shattering The Prestige Effect
This essentially revolutionizes the publishing industry, because with the dawn of Internet marketing firms, that are contracted by individuals, suddenly the power of selection shifts away from the publishers and into the hands of the artist to select whom they think the best marketer to help them accomplish their goals would be. The classifications of quality Internet marketers would be divided by their education and experience and charge for the value of the knowledge they have. This encourages writers, musicians, etc. to completely stop even trying to gain the approval of publishers, music labels, etc. and truly empowers them in a way never before seen, despite the fact that some years ago printing your own book was stigmatized and was seen as a mark of failure (Henn et al., 2014). The stigma of failure cast upon independent artists while mainstream artists are hailed is what I personally call “the prestige effect”, an illusion made by the selective process by the publishers, which therein is becoming redundant and outdated.
The publishing industry’s best (and probably only) defense against this is to use the money they have to maintain the prestige effect, the illusion that artists who are mainstream top 20 sellers are actually better than niche artists, which is becoming harder and harder to do as more and more independent writers, musicians, etc. become bestsellers.
This doesn’t mean that publishers are your enemy; they are companies ran by people who have mouths to feed too. Writers should just understand that there’s nothing actually magical about being published; publishers are businesses that choose work based upon what they know will sell at the time in order meet their fiscal bottom lines, which means that if writers want to be published: they should focus on understanding the markets that they’re writing for, and what will sell now, even if what will sell now is not necessarily intellectually stimulating.
The Evolving Industry
A survey spanning across multiple social media groups with members accumulating collectively to over 18,000 people from random backgrounds and demographics, carried out by us here at StrataGem Internet Marketing, reveal that roughly 9 out of 10 people didn’t care whether or not a work was independently published—so long as it was considered to be of a professional quality.
The 10% that said they cared did so under the premise that independently published media isn’t credible and can be biased propaganda. The counterargument to those who answered in this way was that media can have a slant regardless of whether it’s independently published/produced or not.
Essentially, all that exists of the constituents that make up the publishing industry are the writers and artists who send their work to the publisher, who sends it to the printer, and then the distributor that puts copies of it into stores.
For Internet sales, it’s even simpler than that. A writer merely uploads their work to a hosting website (like amazon.com) and that’s it. They may utilize online distributors to save time, but that’s unnecessary.
The publisher does little more than send the copy to printers, and then makes sure it gets into stores. Websites like amazon.com, however, do this for you. It’s just up to the writer to convince stores that their book will sell if stocked (which is something corporate publishers have to do as well), because that costs the store money to do, meaning that it would behoove the store to stock its available space according to the Pareto principle in order to stay in business. If the demand is there for a title; they’re not going to care if the writer is independent, and neither will 90% of the market if the product is high quality.
This is where hiring a personal Internet marketer comes in. Individuals who realize the value of a personal Internet marketer are flocking to freelancing websites like upwork.com in order to find the best marketer for their budget, posting jobs and selecting the best candidate.
Independent artists, writers, and all kinds of creators of intellectual property are urged to wake up and realize that they have more options than the myriad of rejection letters they think they have to receive.
In conclusion, artists and writers should abandon last generation’s belief that the only way to make it big, or at least to make livable income, is to get signed by a publisher or music label; the bar for selling a product in the market is the same for both individuals and publishers alike—all they may need is to hire someone that specializes in marketing (if they don’t learn to market themselves), for the sake of leveling the playing field.
What, in your opinion, is the greatest advantage and the greatest challenge of independent publishing? Share your ideas in the comments below.
- Henn, S. (2014, July 25). Self-Published Authors Make A Living – And Sometimes A Fortune. Retrieved September 4, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/07/25/334484331/unknown-authors-make-a-living-self-publishing
- Anders, C. (2014, February 13). Most Amazon bestselling authors aren’t making minimum wage. Retrieved September 4, 2015, from http://io9.com/most-amazon-bestselling-authors-arent-making-minimum-w-1522482723
- Anderson, C. (2006). The long tail: Why the future of business is selling less of more. New York: Hyperion.
- Koch, R. (1998). The 80/20 principle: The secret of achieving more with less (Rev. ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey.
- Rethinking the Long Tail Theory: How to Define ‘Hits’ and ‘Niches’ – Knowledge@Wharton. (2009, September 16). Retrieved September 4, 2015, from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/rethinking-the-long-tail-theory-how-to-define-hits-and-niches/