Monday, January 11, 2010

The Mass Market and the Long Tail

A superb article in the Economist about how well the predictions of The Long Tail have worked out. The bottom-line seems to be that the niche market has grown and the market has grown more diverse, but the big blockbusters have actually increased their market-share.
In short, just because people have more choice does not mean they will opt for more obscure entertainments. That is especially clear in the book trade. A study of the Australian market by Nielsen, a research firm, found that the number of titles bought each year (measured by ISBNs) has risen dramatically, from about 275,000 in 2004 to almost 450,000 in 2007. Niche titles selling fewer than 1,000 copies each accounted for nearly all the growth in variety. Yet their market share fell. In Britain, sales of the ten bestselling books increased from 3.4m to 6m between 1998 and 2008.
Although you might expect people who seek out obscure products to derive more pleasure from their discoveries than those who simply trudge off to see the occasional blockbuster, the opposite is true
apparently because
In “Formal Theories of Mass Behaviour”, William McPhee noted that a disproportionate share of the audience for a hit was made up of people who consumed few products of that type. (Many other studies have since reached the same conclusion.) A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read “The Lost Symbol”, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it.

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