Revisiting the Long Tail Theory as Applied to Ebooks

This post by Marcello Vena originally appeared on Publishing Perspectives on 1/8/15.

The myth of the Long Tail for ebooks may be fading away as the digital book market grows, and it is operated by few mega e-retailers.

In a limitless world of digital goods, powerful search and recommendation engines, near-zero marginal cost of digital production, storage and distribution, niche products shall get much more market relevance. “Selling less of more” is part of what the “Long Tail” theory has been preaching.

Does it apply to the creative industries too? And how? Should digital book publishers reduce attention on blockbusters and increase focus on the Long Tail as the source of the most profitable growth? Is there a space for unlimited growth of niche ebooks? Who is going to consume a potentially unlimited supply of creative goods?


Long Tale Theory is a Decade Old

It is interesting to note that the Long Tail theory was first published — by Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson — 10 years ago (October 2004), a few years after the dot-com bubble, when Internet was still in its infancy (it was 11 years old then). Amazon had not yet launched the Kindle (that came at the end of 2007) and the ebook market was still waiting to ignite. The digital music scene was nascent, as Apple launched its iTunes Store only in April 2003, and that was the single most important booster to the digital music market in the years following. When the Long Tail theory was first popularized by Anderson, detailed sales data regarding the digital music in USA was not available yet. It was not until 2005 that Nielsen Soundscan made first sales data available and only at end of that year did Billboard start to take into account paid downloads in the music charts in US. In fact, the first edition of the book (published in 2006) does present some examples of digital music sale, but it doesn’t address the digital market as a whole. No data from iTunes or the entire market (Nielsen Soundscan) was incorporated.


Read the full post on Publishing Perspectives.