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…