Saturday, July 08, 2006

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.

1 Comment:

At 10:49 PM, Blogger Pamela Cosel Left a note...

What an interesting article! In my small business of selling books via "Books Are Fun" book fairs (a Reader's Digest owned company), I have seen the very same effect, the so-called "long tail," in a similar way. It truly is a phenomenon in my business, one I have witnessed in the short four months I've been staging book fairs. Out of more than 560 titles I carry this season, eventually every one of them has sold at least one copy. Yes, certain titles are the bestsellers, the ones in huge demand. But there is indeed a buyer somewhere for every title, obscure as it is, though perhaps just one, two or three of them have sold. In the log run, it adds up to moving a lot of product. It's why I carry twice as many titles as most of the other BAF booksellers do -- it's my philosophy that someone somewhere is going to want the unknown, unheard-of title. The article you talk about supports this. Some book (as the online songs which Rhapsody sells) will fill a need and a want somebody has. Thanks for your post, Terry.


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