A long time ago Jill and I started our own publishing company. It was something I had wanted to do for quite a while.
Because I had spent quite a bit of time developing direct mail and other direct-sales campaigns, I thought I could sell books, too.
We had some successes, and some failures. Distribution was difficult since at the time there was no Amazon, no print on demand, no internet. It was a time when every dollar we spent on promotion had to show a direct result in sales and profits, and we had a warehouse full of books already bought and paid for.
Despite the ups and downs and nonstop promotion, the company eventually went out of business. Many of our books sold, but it seemed like we just couldn’t publish them fast enough to accumulate enough profits to keep the company going.
This whole experience taught me the value of a publisher’s backlist.
Book Publishing is a Backlist Business
Publishers who have been in business for a while have an incredible asset, one that keeps their businesses running profitably—even if it’s hardly noticed by many people—year after year. It’s the backlist.
The backlist is made up of all the books published over the years that found a permanent audience, even if it’s a small one. There’s a bit of magic to this, because the best backlist books have a permanent spot on bookstores shelves. Whenever the store runs out of them, the same book gets re-ordered.
That’s publishing gold, as far as bookstores sales are concerned.
Some of these may be older books, some may be classics, but they all sell year after year. Many of them have repaid the investment the publisher made in them years ago, and now return steady profits.
Of course, in my case, I didn’t have a backlist. And without one of our new books taking off and pulling the entire company along, we would have had to stay in business a lot longer to develop a backlist that would have supported our book publishing program.
It’s Not So Different in Blogging
So what’s the equivalent of a “social media backlist”? One thing it might be is a blog’s article archives.
Although blog articles don’t have to prove themselves in the market the same way a book does, they have some of the same characteristics of great backlist books. Some kinds of articles that fall into this category include:
- Foundation content—articles that explain basic concepts will be in demand as long as those concepts are relevant to your readers
- Evergreen articles—software changes constantly, but general principles rarely change, and people always want to understand them
- Process overviews—quick-reference summaries of basic processes in your field are great to orient new readers to your topic
- Resource directories—readers will always need tips on where to find tools, vendors, and other necessities
- Best practices—whittling down the number of choices beginners face to just a few appropriate options will be helpful to many people
I’m sure you can think of other examples in your own field.
What’s important is that as you accumulate these kinds of blog articles, your blog will become more and more attractive to search engines looking to answer questions.
That’s why I see your blog’s article archive as a kind of backlist.
- It establishes you in the marketplace of ideas in your specific topic.
- It brings you traffic in the form of new readers for years.
- And it does it all pretty much “under the radar”.
Building a Blog for the Long Term
I wish I had understood this better all those years ago. Of the dozen or so books we published back then, only 3 became real backlist books. It just wasn’t enough to survive.
But you have the advantage of hindsight: if you’re building a blog to support your publishing goals, or as the center of what you hope to make into a sustainable business, think about your backlist.
Action Task: Sit down and create a list of articles that meet some of the criteria in the list above. Answer basic questions, give definitions for common terms in your field, explain processes. Remember that most of your readers are likely to be new to your field and need help.
That’s why they’re doing internet searches, right?
Even though you may be writing about the newest developments, make room in your publishing calendar for these backlist posts. If you follow through on this, you’ll end up with a more robust readership, more authority in your field, and the basis for an ongoing enterprise.
Have you ever thought about writing “backlist”-type articles? Does this make sense to you? Let me know in the comments.