Blockbuster or Niche or Both?
Yeah, I know, I’m supposedly not going to blog for a few days because I’m headed to the trade show. I was flipping through the latest New Yorker magazine (July 10 & 17) and I ran across a fascinating article by John Cassidy. It turns out the article was online. If you read—and re-read this article you will learn some interesting facts.
Let’s look at a couple of paragraphs from John Cassidy’s well-written article, “Even an industry as old-school as book publishing exhibits long-tail behavior. In 2004, Nielsen BookScan tracked the sales of 1.2 million books and found that nine hundred and fifty thousand of them sold fewer than ninety-nine copies. And yet these scattered individual purchases add up to a surprisingly large market, especially at online booksellers. At Amazon.com, for example, about a quarter of all book sales come from outside the site’s top-one-hundred-thousand best-sellers. “What’s truly amazing about the Long Tail is the sheer size of it,” Anderson writes. “Again, if you combine enough of the non-hits, you’ve actually established a market that rivals the hits.”” For me, those statistics are pretty interesting.
Now look at one of the conclusions that Cassidy draws in the article, “It’s the same for books and popular music: the more copies a thriller or a pop song sells, the more likely you are to pick it up to see what all the fuss is about. Even in the online era, to be human is to follow the herd. Far from undermining this “network effect,” the Internet strengthens it by providing instant communication and feedback. In a recent online study conducted by researchers at Columbia, participants were allowed to download free songs from a list of unsigned bands. When they were informed about the preferences of their peers, the popular songs got more popular—and the unpopular songs got more unpopular. Blockbusters and niche products will continue to coexist, because they’re flip sides of the same phenomenon, something economists call “increasing returns,” whereby the big get bigger and the rest fight for the scraps. A long-tail world doesn’t threaten the whales or the minnows; it threatens those who cater to the neglected middle, such as writers of “mid-list” fiction and producers of adult dramas.”
What will it mean for books in the days ahead? I don’t know but I found the conversation worth calling to your attention. I hope it helps.