Lost Symbol: Easily Found
The November 28th Economist
has an interesting article about how the market for media is bifurcating into one of blockbusters and niche markets, with the fairly successful book, film, band, or other means of entertainment, falling into obscurity. You can read the whole article here
, but these are the words I found most interesting from a publishing perspective:
A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read "The Lost Symbol," by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it.
This explains why bestselling books, or blockbuster films, occasionally seem to grow not just more quickly than products which are merely very popular, but also in a wholly different way. As a media product moves from the pool of frequent consumers into the ocean of occasional consumers, the prevailing attitude to it—what Hollywood folk call word of mouth—can become less critical. The hit is carried along by a wave of ill-informed goodwill.
I fear, of course, that the readers of Lantern's books are woefully knowledgeable and disturbingly well-read. Nevertheless, we can only hope that we publish a book that somehow speaks to those who know nothing. Of course, it wasn't meant to be this way. The small, independent outlet was meant to be able to find its market and, because of production and distribution savings, make a mint. However, continues the magazine:
[J]ust because people have more choice does not mean they will opt for more obscure entertainments. That is especially clear in the book trade. A study of the Australian market by Nielsen, a research firm, found that the number of titles bought each year (measured by ISBNs) has risen dramatically from about 275,000 in 2004 to almost 450,000 in 2007. Niche titles selling fewer than 1,000 copies each accounted for nearly all the growth in variety. Yet their market share fell. In Britain, sales of the ten bestselling books increased from 3.4m to 6m between 1998 and 2008.
The bestsellers are gaining in part because of the change in the retail marketplace that affects other media too. High-street bookshops, which carry a reasonable selection of what publishers call "mid-list" and "back-list" titles—that is, modestly popular and somewhat out-of-date books—are struggling. Borders UK, owner of a British chain, is reportedly seeking a buyer for its stores. Such shops are being displaced by online retailers, which offer vast selections of obscure titles, and also by supermarkets, which sell a tiny selection of hugely popular books.