As I was reading Chapter 4 of Here Comes Everybody, I was struck at how Shirky’s description of the power law applies to authors who self-publish—since there is NO barrier now to do so:
Any system described by a power law, where mean, median, and mode are so different, has several curious effects. The first is that, by definition, most participants are below average. … The other surprise of such systems is that as they get larger, the imbalance between few and the many gets larger, not smaller. As we get more weblogs, or more MySpace pages, or more YouTube videos, the gap between the material that gets the most attention and merely average attention will grow, as will the gap between average and median. … You cannot understand Wikipedia (or indeed any large social system) by looking at any one user or even a small group and assuming they are representative of the whole. … We’re used to being able to extract useful averages from small samples and to reason about the whole system based on those averages. … Instead, you have to change your focus, to concentrate not on the individual users but on the behavior of the collective. … The power law helps explain the difference between the many small but tightly integrated clusters of friends using weblogs and the handful of the most famous and best-trafficked weblogs.
And—I’d say—the most famous and best-selling independently published books (think: J.A. Konrath).
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses (How to Publish Your Book), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.