The modes of delivery for the book publishing industry are splintering. While brick-and-mortar bookstore sales still comprise the greatest share of sales nationwide, new lines of distribution are coming online quickly: Internet book sales in the past ten years have skyrocketed. Electronic book sales are also growing quickly: Amazon now has 130,000 titles available electronically, and 12 percent of those represent e-book sales. Jason Epstein’s Espresso Book Machine is already making appearances in venues around the country.
This diversification of distribution, coupled with the Internet’s capability of identifying products of special interest for readers, constitutes what Chris Anderson calls The Long Tail: a new market model in which erstwhile physical barriers for customers to obtain niche products have been removed. In his book, Anderson demonstrates how these new technologies have created a climate in which customers increasingly eschew the “hit” in favor of more personal, narrow interests, resulting in endlessly varied product lines.
Instead of pursuing only stultifying, mass-appeal projects that seek to exploit (the declining) homogeneity of culture, editors should be thinking about ways to take advantage of new avenues of distribution, and how this might inform editorial decisions. They should be focused not only on diversifying their lists, but also on ways these technologies can make niche books profitable.
Publishing is in need of a swifter, lighter, and more flexible production model. By integrating standard offset printing, Print on Demand, and electronic books, publishers avail themselves of a hybrid solution which will enable them to meet consumers' needs far more quickly. And by making "everything" available, they will likewise enable themselves to meet consumers' needs more completely.
McWilliams, John, "Diversifying Book Production for the Long Tail Age" (2009). Master of Science in Publishing. Paper 6.