Weekend Wisdom: Utilizing Your Backlist

By May 17, 2009 September 12th, 2014 No Comments
If you're an artist, it's important to understand how to properly utilize your backlist (photo credit: Alex).

If you’re an artist, it’s important to understand how to properly utilize your backlist (photo credit: Alex).

I’ve been writing PuppetVision for a few years now. When you visit the site or read it in an RSS reader you see 8-10 of the most recent posts I’ve made here. That’s PuppetVision’s frontlist. You have to dig a little deeper to find the rest of the 1,470 or so posts I’ve made over the years. Those areĀ PuppetVision’s backlist.

The power of a backlist is pretty incredible. I’m always amazed that consistently, month after month, no matter what I write about, by far the most popular page on PuppetVision is this post about Topo Gigio that took me just twenty minutes to write three years ago.

About two weeks ago I went to the TCAF festival in Toronto to see Scott McCloud, who had people lined up to see him largely because of a book he published over 15 years ago. I’ve heard Elton John say in interviews that while he loves having a number one hit, it’s his catalog (which is one helluva backlist) that makes him a living. Popular web sites like Google, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu and iTunes? They’re all about backlists.

It’s really the Long Tail that we’re talking about here and Seth Godin suggests a very simple method for taking advantage of it:

  1. Assemble a tribe, a group of true fans, followers, people who have given you permission. Give them all the frontlist they can handle. Make it easy for them to spread the word, to Digg you or bring a friend to your movie or buy your new book for their friends. They care, and they want to hear from you (if you create too much content for this crowd, then you’re publishing too much).
  2. Promote your backlist. Invest significant time and money to make your backlist available, to recirculate it, to have it adopted as a textbook in English class or featured on Netflix or part of a retrospective on TV. Take all that money you waste in frontlist marketing and spend it on the backlist instead.
  3. Repeat. Frontlist becomes backlist, backlist grows, fan base grows, it scales.

This may seem like obvious advice, but if that’s true then I wonder why don’t more people don’t follow it?

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