Distribution:Are We Getting Swept Up in ‘The Tail?’
If there’s ever a good time to talk about the state of book distribution, this would be it. Right now, everyone is abuzz about changes occurring within the system thanks in part to the July release of Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.” Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, declares the demise of common culture and cites occurrences called “long-tailed distributions,” or distributions to a greater number of smaller markets, rather than one, big mass market. According to Anderson, this helps distributors since they are no longer cut off by bottlenecks of distribution, such as limited shelf space, since more niche markets are developing. In essence, he says everything is becoming available to everyone. Book distribution is just as much within range of that growing, swaying tail as is distribution of any product. But what is its impact on book distribution, and what will its impact be in the future?
The ‘Long Tail’ Trend
According to Mark Suchomel, president, Independent Publishers Group (IPG), a book distributor for independent book publishers throughout the United States, we are getting swept up in “the long tail.” He says book sales are growing not because of the few best-sellers, but because of greater availability of different types of books. Gone are the days when people wanted what everyone else wanted.
“These days, distributors are faced with having to service individuals,” he says. “The more niche markets you can serve and the more specific titles you get to market, the more sales you have.”
The proof is in the pudding. IPG reports more sales of backlist books than ever before, and Suchomel is seeing big-box stores buy up more titles at lower quantities.
Another sure sign this movement is in full swing is the upsurge of online orders. Davida Breier, sales and marketing director for Biblio, a distribution company in Lanham, Md., says online sales for niche titles are something small publishers are definitely tapping into. “I know we have publishers who would likely have no chance of getting their books to market via traditional retail environments because of the specific nature of their titles, but they are thriving online,” she says.