The Lost Tail: The Myth of Book Publishing’s Long Tail

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

UPDATE: The Lost Tail: The Myth of Book Publishing’s Long Tail is no longer available as a free download.

The myth of the Long Tail is possibly fading away as the digital book market grows, and it’s operated by few mega e-retailers.

In a limitless world of digital goods, without inventory costs, huge search engines, near-zero marginal cost of digital production and distribution, niche products will get much more market relevance at expenses of the blockbusters. This is part of what the “Long Tail” theory (or myth if you like) has been preaching.

Does it apply to the creative industries? Will book publishers be able to reduce attention on blockbusters and increase focus on the Long Tail?

It’s about time to do a reality check and challenge an unproved but fascinating theory. In this white paper, The Lost Tail: The Myth of the Long Tail, we will show how we applied a novel econometric methodology – devised on purpose – to start tackling this challenge. The preliminary results, based on our actual sales in Italy, shows that the Tail is becoming less relevant (not more) as the digital market grows.

Interestingly this is also highly correlated with the growing concentration of the e-retail market. As the market share of the global players grows, the sales impact of small and independent retailers diminishes dramatically. A highly concentrated e-retail market appears to be less capable to foster and grow a long tail of digital books than it is a not concentrated e-retail market. In fact the overall ebook market has been growing very significantly, but the bestsellers have been taking a growing lion’s share.

There aren’t ultimate answers yet, though. This is more a methodology paper to advance in this challenging quest. Any publisher can easily replicate this approach with its own data and get some insights. Of course, not all markets nor all publishers are the same. There might very well be different, even opposite, results.

However a theory that sometimes work and sometimes does not, is problematic… You will see why there are reasons to be skeptical about this long-standing myth.

“Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths.” –Karl Popper

7 thoughts on “The Lost Tail: The Myth of Book Publishing’s Long Tail

  1. Bob Mayer

    This is the dirty secret not many want to acknowledge. As the market grows more saturated, readers have more choices. Authors without a following are going to find themselves further marginalized.

  2. John Shableski

    Probably the one constant is that authors need to become involved in their own marketing when ever and where ever possible. As it was with hard copy it shall be with digital: people will only buy products/books they have heard about. If you don’t spend time and energy on marketing and publicity, your book(s) will never sell.

  3. Antonio Amsategui

    Long Tail in the offer side and Long Tail in the demand side can’t match each other: stronger hands in the offer side rule marketing and promotion issues more efficiently than any indie author, and those who enchanted self-publishing authors don’t invest in promotion nothing but almost peanuts.

    On the other hand, there is some lack of filtering work accepting new titles, and a clear lack of modesty by authors’ side offering their works to readers too.

    In my opinion, any title earning below cost production can be considere properly as a title in the market. It’s moreover like a software in beta version: something in a sand box being tested.

  4. Jenn dePaula

    Many authors don’t realize (or just choose to ignore) the responsibility for building their audience and engaging with them is on their shoulders. Signing a publishing deal isn’t the magic pill that will take that responsibility away. But it’s more than just increasing the number of “likes” and “followers” – it’s making that human connection. It’s quite the opposite of traditional marketing…

  5. Antonio AB

    According with your point of view, Jenn: Does it worth to insist in socialize readings along different platforms as usually blog gurus insist in recomending to reach a visible stand for each book title? … And … Do that gurus evetually wonder what exactly means try to ‘reach a visible stand’ for EACH book tittle in terms of time to invest for readers to get a well inform knowledge, before decide what to buy? … In my opinion, comments from readers have less role to play to increase sales, than a well design cover in the appropiate window, digital of brick made.

    Honestly, does any customer spend as much time as to revise almost five comments for each target-title before to decide which one acquired? … And, who is going to read as much comments despite author’s girl/boy friend? … Relatives? … Mothers, maybe!



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