The “long tail,” as it applies to the book industry, is described as a graph of the sales of books. If there are twenty-two books for sale, the one with the most sales would be on the left, with a tall bar. And then, stretching out to the right, each of the other books for sale would have their bars, shorter than the first, in a “long tail,” indicating fewer and fewer sales. This graph could describe the business pattern of, which survives on a few sales each of thousands and thousands of books. In the world of digital books, the seller will sell fewer and fewer copies of more and more books. While the publisher may survive in the digital world, a writer probably couldn’t. According to some commentators, the move to digital books means that the economic framework that supports writers is disintegrating. In the long tail, a writer cannot sell enough books to survive economically. Ewan Morrison, in his article “Are Books Dead, and Can Authors Survive?” published in The Guardian, points to the danger in the age of ebooks:  “Every industry that has become digital has seen a dramatic, and in many cases terminal, decrease in earnings for those who create “content.” Morrison says that “writing has already begun its slide towards becoming something produced and consumed for free.”

In what Morrison must know is a demand for Utopia, he says, “Authors must respect and demand the work of good editors and support the publishing industry, precisely by resisting the temptation to ‘go it alone’ in the long tail. In return, publishing houses must take the risk on the long term; supporting writers over years and books, it is only then that books of the standard we have seen in the last half-century can continue to come into being.”

But the cat is already out of the bag. Even if we wanted to, we cannot return to the world of print publishing that existed before epublishing and ebooks. The advance of technology is unstoppable, and there is the very very unprincipled behavior of the print publishing industry before ebooks. Years ago, my agent said of a manuscript I had submitted, “This is a wonderful book, but no publisher in New York will publish it.” What loyalties do I owe to that agent, and to the “publisher in New York” now that times are difficult?

While Morrison’s article in The Guardian raises truly interesting and important questions, we are past the time when his proposals have merit. What faces us now is the need to ascertain the questions we should be addressing now, living as we do, in the “long tail.” What will keep writers writing and readers reading?