30th
Dec
2009

Publishing Prophet Chris Anderson

Posted by Admin

In October 2009 I was one of 50,000 people who made the pilgrimage to the book festival in Mouans-Sartoux, a small town in the foothills north of Cannes. Publishers from the region and elsewhere in France set up stands and showed off their titles. Writers, too, were there, waiting behind their little stacks, hoping to chat with a reader or sign a book. If we are about to enter a new era of electronic books and unlimited distribution, the festival was a reminder that most people are still living in a slower time of texture and paper.

So what is going to happen? The publishing industry is aswarm with utopian visions of an electronic, democratic future. Many find support in a theory developed by Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine, and described in his book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More The kernel of the idea can be said simply. In the past there were limited distribution channels (e.g., movie theaters or bookstores), meaning only a small number of products found buyers. But the Internet has created unlimited access to goods, making consumers aware of niche and obscure products and increasing demand for them. Using the terminology of the idea, demand is moving away from the head (the most popular products) to the long tail (everything else).

Your browser may not support display of this image. Both publishers and self-publishers have seen potential in Anderson’s idea. Publishers hope for new sales in their own long tail—backlist and previously out of print titles. Self-publishers believe the Internet will draw sales away from titles controlled by publishers and toward material self-published or simply uploaded on the Internet. Not without its detractors, the “long tail” is so part of the discourse of online marketing that some view it to be almost self-evident, though especially in publishing, it remains an idea waiting for full validation. After all, book sales are often still in stores, and people sometimes want real human interaction. Sometimes 50,000 people wander to a small town to find books.

Thomas Riggs

Thomas Riggs & Company

Missoula, Montana

From Thomas Riggs & Co. Blog: www.thomasriggs.net/blog

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