canadian history – long live the long tail?

So I’ve just started Chris Anderson’s audiobook version of The Long Tail and am loving it. No surprise here since I’ve already heard him lecture on it and so knew what I was getting into. But what has really peaked my interest is how Canadian history – that subject that everyone thinks the public has little to no appetite for, may be a perfect long tail example.

For those not familiar with The Long Tail thesis, Wikipedia describes it as follows:

“…products that have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters. Anderson cites earlier research on the relationship between Amazon sales and Amazon sales ranking and found a large proportion of Amazon.com’s book sales come from obscure books that are not available in brick-and-mortar stores.”

In other words, although most large publishing houses only look to publish the book that will make the top 10 best seller list (the green part of the graph), there is a huge market for those books that will only sell one or two copies every three months (the yellow part of the graph), but will do so over and over again over for a long period of time. All that is necessary to make this viable is a cheap distribution channel.

The point here is that there is still demand for lots of old goods, it is just that the relative demand – compared to the current blockbusters – is so tiny that no one notices it. Which brings me to books on Canadian history.

Peter C. Newman is a national treasure. When was the last time you looked at that man’s astounding catalog of books?  (This is not even a full list!) But did you realize that 90% of his books are no longer in print? And yet, many are just as relevant, and well researched today as when they were published 20 or even 35 years ago. The good news is that the Long Tail suggests Peter Newman’s work is still in demand. Indeed Canadian history more generally may not be a best seller but a constant churning demand is out there. One that, if fed, could fuel still greater interest.

The bad news is that most of Newman’s works are not publicized, or even published, anymore. This is what Lessig calls orphaned works: pieces still under copyright, but not in print and essential unavailable. This means that the potentially enourmous, but slow moving demand of The Long Tail, is not being met.

While discussing this problem over scotch in the wee hours of this morning we agreed that it would be great if Canadians, in complete violation of copyright opted to dictate the oldest of Newman’s works into their computers and publish the voice recordings online as free audiobook versions of his work? This would certainly create a cheap distribution channel for his works.

Would this make them bestsellers? No, but it would make them cheap and easy to disseminate. It would definitely open up his work to a whole new audience: the ipod generation. Maybe Peter C. Newman would even give us his blessing…

8 thoughts on “canadian history – long live the long tail?

  1. Veronica

    Not sure I have the time, but if you ever implement this project, I’m pretty sure I have a boxful of out-of-print Peter C. Newman and Pierre Berton histories languishing in my parents’ basement. You could do it chapter by chapter like they do at http://www.librivox.org

    Reply
  2. Veronica

    Not sure I have the time, but if you ever implement this project, I’m pretty sure I have a boxful of out-of-print Peter C. Newman and Pierre Berton histories languishing in my parents’ basement. You could do it chapter by chapter like they do at http://www.librivox.org

    Reply
  3. Peter C. ewman

    Dear David Eaves: Your generous comments are gratefully received. It is certainly true that except for my last two books — the Secret Mulroney Tapes and my autobiography, Here Be Dragons, they are all out of print, while in most countries they would still be available. But it is not true that my books are not published any more (those two came out within the last 3 years and sold more than 100,000 copies) and I am at work on 3 others. In total my 24 books, only published in Canada, have sold more than 2 million copies: the HBC series alone sold 500,000. This is not to boast but to state facts. What you write is profoundly appreciated and is equally true for Pierre Berton and others;once a book leaves the best seller lists in Canada, it vanishes from stores and the national conscience. With my gratitude and best wishes, PETER

    Reply
  4. Peter C. ewman

    P.S. I note with dismay that on the linked list of my used books still available, my Establishment Man: A Portrait in Power, is selling for one cent, though I’m not sure how you actually proceed to buy something for a penny. This is truly weird, since that was the first and definitive biography of Conrad Black, who is the hottest story in the country, and remains a valuable guide to his character.

    Reply
  5. Peter C. ewman

    Dear David Eaves: Your generous comments are gratefully received. It is certainly true that except for my last two books — the Secret Mulroney Tapes and my autobiography, Here Be Dragons, they are all out of print, while in most countries they would still be available. But it is not true that my books are not published any more (those two came out within the last 3 years and sold more than 100,000 copies) and I am at work on 3 others. In total my 24 books, only published in Canada, have sold more than 2 million copies: the HBC series alone sold 500,000. This is not to boast but to state facts. What you write is profoundly appreciated and is equally true for Pierre Berton and others;once a book leaves the best seller lists in Canada, it vanishes from stores and the national conscience. With my gratitude and best wishes, PETER

    Reply
  6. Peter C. ewman

    P.S. I note with dismay that on the linked list of my used books still available, my Establishment Man: A Portrait in Power, is selling for one cent, though I’m not sure how you actually proceed to buy something for a penny. This is truly weird, since that was the first and definitive biography of Conrad Black, who is the hottest story in the country, and remains a valuable guide to his character.

    Reply
  7. ALo

    Good ideas Dave! I wonder if it’s worth connecting with some of the organizations that exist to promote Canadian History (Historica, Dominion Institute) to see if this may be something of interest to them? Historica has invested in a lot of multi-media programming to date (www.histori.ca).

    Alison

    Reply
  8. ALo

    Good ideas Dave! I wonder if it’s worth connecting with some of the organizations that exist to promote Canadian History (Historica, Dominion Institute) to see if this may be something of interest to them? Historica has invested in a lot of multi-media programming to date (http://www.histori.ca).Alison

    Reply

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