Will the Book Industry Long-Tail Mirror the Music Industry?

Think we’re going to all make money on sales of one and two books of thousands of titles? The PersonaNonData blog recently pointed to research debunking the “Long-Tail” hypothesis.  They refer to a study of music downloads that showed that of the 13 million songs available on line, 10 million were never downloaded–even once.

This has important implications for publishers in light of the ongoing scramble to put back into print long dead titles that Google is scanning via the library scanning project:

“The Long Tail of digital music commerce had an incredibly lengthy yet dormant tail–more than seventy-five percent of the total inventory of tracks hadn’t found a single buyer. This dormant tail, pinhead pattern appeared across a number of digital music providers, in the markets for singles, albums, as well as streams–the three markets for legally consuming music online.” –From Economic Insight, Issue 14, PRS for Music

People have limited time for searching so rely on trusted sources for downloading suggestions. And they don’t want to buy a dissatisfying song due to a poorly informed decision. This only reinforces what the net was supposed to end–the most popular songs and artists, as judged for the most part by music companies and your friends, get downloaded the most. The popular gets more popular.

So what does this mean for Google and the publishers’ scramble to scan back into print as much as possible? If no one is going to buy any of this material, why do it? I think it is still essential for one reason. If publishers don’t scan books that the online aggregators want to offer the net-public, they lose control of the content. The good thing is, Google, Microsoft, and the others are scanning the content for free, as the publishers could never afford to do it themselves.

I think there is an opportunity to take advantage of this, but the big question is, will it make a difference? It goes to the perennial problem in marketing of discoverability. How do you rise above the noise and get people to “talk” about your book instead of another publisher’s book, especially if it’s been out of print for 30, 40, or 50 years?