I'm on the fifth and final book of Juliet E. McKenna's Tales of Einarinn series. It's been a wonderful journey, and one I would have missed if the author hadn't decided to resurrect her novels from the graveyard of out-of-print paper books.
After deciding to chuck Amazon out of my life and throw in my lot with these independent, DRM-free, devil-may-care types, I started searching in earnest for online bookshops that would satisfy my requirements. One of the first shops I came across was Wizard's Tower (the shop itself is now closed due to the recent EU VAT law). With fewer books for sale than the corporate warehouses, the picks were more curated than simply stocked, and were a glimpse into the realms of fantasy, science fiction and other genres that was miles away from the bestseller-clone, algorithm-driven listings a reader might come across these days.
I found books that I really wanted to read.
One of the first I grabbed was The Thief's Gamble by Juliet E. McKenna. I was intrigued by the promise of a living fantasy world, instead of the usual "I was there three thousand years ago, Gandalf. And look, we're still using swords!" A world where characters have lives, likes and concerns. Where technologies and discoveries change over time. Epic fantasy that covers the passage of time in a meaningful way.
The Long Tail
The Thief's Gamble was originally published in 1999. I'd just started my first career job then, and the web was new... ish. I was browsing with Netscape Navigator and downloading e-books hadn't even been invented. I wasn't likely to come across Juliet's work while growing up in rural South Wales or the North of England, where I was earning my keep. At that time, discovering new authors was determined either by my local library's minuscule, dog-eared selection or what Dillons stocked before they became Waterstones.
Luckily, in 2013, I started my DRM-free search and found out exactly what I'd been missing. This time, Juliet's novels weren't in dead-tree format. The process of digitising her back catalogue breathed new life into a series that traditional bookshops and publishers had moved away from. You'd have to ask the author to see if it was a worthwhile endeavour, but for readers at least, it's all good.
Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, has always promoted the idea of the immortal e-book. While high-street bookshops will rotate their stock and eventually remove older titles (physically destroying them in the process), e-books can have a never-ending shelf life.
As authors begin to take ownership of reverted book-rights and start to consider how to introduce new readers to their works, they are realising an opportunity to refresh, consolidate and enhance their titles with additional material or supporting resources. Look at Melville House's Hybrid Books or McKenna's own maps, gazetteer, information on runes, and elemental and aetheric magic systems. :) These author-created resources lead new readers on to more current works, such as McKenna's series' that are being sold by Solaris in its Rebellion Bookshop.
As readers, we have new opportunities to discover works that would have passed us by in their original formats. The long tail isn't just a sales graph for authors, but an illustration of how readers benefit from the immortal preservation and appreciation of a great book.