In Telling 'Tails' in Gothenburg: Who Has Time For Publishing's Long One? Porter Anderson discusses something many didn't consider when long-tail theory was first thrown out for discussion: Will people buy books they know they don't have time to read?
The idea behind the theory was that with most products (say books) a few items produce most of the sales. (Look at the left side of the graph on your right.) Most items (like books) don't generate a lot of sales. They end up in the long, tail-like section of the graph at your right. However, if you consider all the items (like individual book titles) in that long tail, you're talking a lot of items. If you could find a way to sell a few of all those items in the long tail, you'd be talking a lot of items. Or, to put it in booky terms, even if you don't sell a lot of books for each individual title in that long tail, if you continue to sell them, you're still selling a lot of books.
However, when you're talking books, if you consider all the books in that long tail, you're also talking a lot of items to have to read. Anderson quotes publishing executive Marcello Vena as saying, "More than plain
money, the available reading time is the single most relevant resource
that affects book consumption...It cannot be overstressed that while the
supply of digital books is
unlimited…the demand is not, because it is constrained by time."
Anderson also talks about how in days of not-so-old even a book by a name writer from a big publisher "had a matter of mere weeks to find traction in the marketplace before losing its spot on a bookshop’s front table." But e-book authors' work "can live in shimmering cyber-beauty everlasting , the ebook-eternal, text without end, amen and amen." Sounds good doesn't it? But as Anderson says, it could be "decades before anybody can get around to reading your book. If anyone
ever does. Granted, it will be there waiting, as new as the moment you
pushed the “publish button.” But so will everybody else’s books."
Very interesting article, particularly if you enjoy being depressed.