Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Long Tail - Should we be exploiting it?

A couple of weeks ago at the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) annual meeting Harvard Business School Associate Professor Anita Elberse gave a presentation that muted some of Chris Anderson's theory on the long tail, see her presentation here. That prompted the Digital Media Group to think about our own plans regarding converting and marketing backlist titles.

In short, we agreed with the professor's assessment that consumers gravitate to bestsellers and "blockbusters," and that niche titles are precisely that, niche. Studies have shown that when consumers reach into the long tail to try something new or "undiscovered," more often than not they discover that there was a reason it didn't sell well to begin with.
On the flip side, it's been well documented that big box retailers have flourished not only for the low prices they provide, but for the variety of selection they offer. By extension, it makes sense that online aggregator's will flourish if they can provide more content to consumers. The physical store only has so much space to stock inventory, by contrast, the online retailer has infinite space; they can afford to stock the less wanted because the economics of virtual inventory allow them too.
We've been tracking our long tail sales this year and they've remained consistent month-to-month at about 10-20% of total sales for the month, see chart below.

So, the question remains, if content providers make backlist niche content available, should we have specific marketing plans and promotions to highlight that we've made that content available? In the long run, it probably doesn't make sense to do that. Just because its affordable to make that content available, doesn't mean we should focus on that content. We can't lose sight of the content that most consumers are asking for. In the near future, we'll have to discover a balance, for example, do we spend 80% of our time marketing the front list and 20% marketing the backlist niche? Maybe the percentage of sales will dictate that, i.e. if backlist niche sales make up 10% of our sales, we'll spend 10% of our time focusing on those titles. Maybe its event driven, i.e. elections, holidays, or other special events when we reach back into our catalog and spend a little time shedding light on the oldies but goodies. We're not sure yet, but we do know that we'll have to answer that question soon...

Some other interesting articles in the past week include:

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