Aggregators and the long tail of content

New Kindle 3G

I have recently become the proud owner of a wireless Kindle 3G eBook reader. I have always been comfortable reading content on a screen, and getting an electronic reader makes sense. The ebook market is exploding, and with the popularisation of tablet devices I suspect that we are about to see a shift towards ebooks similar to the shift to digital photography. It is stupid to think that we will get rid of paper books altogether, but as new technologies allow us to get the same experience in digital format, then I cannot see why we should continue to destroy the environment so that we can sustain our paper fetish (I’m hoping some day we’ll get proper electronic paper).

Obviously, the thing about getting an ebook reader is that one needs to get content as well, so I have been using the Kindle store to download free books (Origin of the Species and Dracula, here I come). I also purchased books that I want to read eventually, but that I’m not interested in having in paper form. The Kindle also allows subscription to newspapers, magazines and blogs. I can understand why people would subscribe to magazines and newspapers, this is a valid business model that may save the publishing industry in the future. But I still do not get the blog subscription model. Who would subscribe to a blog using an aggregator device, when the original is offered for free through the Web? Which type of writer would offer their blog in such a way?

It turns out that yours truly is offering content in Amazon. Browsing the Kindle store, I was somewhat surprised to find that this blog is available for subscription for £0.99 a month. I never signed an agreement with Amazon, so how is this possible? In 2008 I was approached by a content aggregator company called Newstex, which bundles blogs and sells them to content-providers such as Lexis and Thomson. In exchange for the permission to use my content commercially, I would get some royalties at the end of the month. I never really thought much about it, I really never think of this blog in a commercial context, I am not in it for the money. However, bit by bit, the blog has been making a little bit of money, about $25 USD per year on average, just enough for me to buy a nice DVD, a game or a book. As I have not been paying attention to the detail, I had not realised that Newstex also sells content to Amazon. As of today, I have not received anything from Kindle subscriptions, and to be honest I do not intend to. However, this prompted me to look closely at my aggregated accounts, and so far this year I’ve made more than $50 USD in royalties! Now, that’s a DVD, a game and a book altogether. By the end of the year I might even afford a beer. However, I don’t think that the blog will gain a lot of subscriptions from Amazon. Take a look at the screenshot with which they are advertising it:

Dear Amazon, you may want to change the screenshot

What is interesting to me is just how the emergence of aggregators proves the existence of a long tail. I honestly had not really even thought about royalties arising from a free service, but there seems to be a market for aggregated content, otherwise I would not be getting some payment into my PayPal account. With an increase in ebook readers, the role of the intermediary will increase. What I usually criticise about the iTunes store is also the reason why it is so attractive to content owners. Just buy content in a bundle, and you get a cut. ‘The more people buy the content, the more you get.

I am off to email Amazon, maybe I can get a free subscription to my own blog.