The Lost Tail

The Lost Tail

The myth of the Long Tail is possibly fading away as the digital book market grows, and it’s operated by few mega e-retailers. Shall we rename it as the Lost Tail ?

In a limitless world of digital goods, powerful search engines, near-zero marginal cost of digital production, storage and distribution, niche products will get much more market relevance at expenses of the blockbusters. shall get much more market relevance. “Selling less of more” is part of what the “Long Tail” theory has been preaching.

Does it apply to the creative industries to? And How? Should digital book publishers reduce attention on blockbusters and increase focus on the Long Tail as the source of the most profitable growth? Is there a space for unlimited growth of niche ebooks? Who is going to consume a potentially unlimited supply of creative goods?

It’s about time to do a reality check and challenge an unproved but fascinating theory. In this white paper, The Lost Tail, we will show how we applied a novel econometric methodology – devised on purpose – to start tackling this challenge. The preliminary results, based on actual sales in Italy, shows that the Tail is becoming less relevant (not more) as the digital market grows. That’s why we call it The Lost Tail.

Interestingly this is also highly correlated with the growing concentration of the e-retail market. As the market share of the global players grows, the sales impact of small and independent retailers diminishes dramatically. A highly concentrated e-retail market appears to be less capable to foster and grow a long tail of digital books than it is a not concentrated e-retail market. In fact the overall ebook market has been growing very significantly, but the bestsellers have been taking a growing lion’s share.

The white paper, The Lost Tail, does not provide  final answers yet. This paper is more a methodology study to advance our fact-based knowledge. Any publisher or distributor with a large number of titles can easily replicate the proposed methodology with its own data and get some insights. Of course, not all markets nor all publishers are the same. There might very well be different, even opposite, results.

Final remark: a theory that sometimes work and sometimes does not, might need either a narrower scope or to be fixed/updated… You will be able to judge if there are reasons to be skeptical about this long-standing and very popular theory, at least as regards as digital creative goods, such as eBooks.

“Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths.” –Karl Popper

Download The Lost Tail White Paper