Distribution & Niches

There's an article on Wired about a concept called The Long Tail. The notion is that there are now and will be many more sales of obscure material than "hit" material in any genre, due to the taste matching capabilities of sites like amazon.com, and recommendations coming from things like tribe.net and blogs.

Here's a particularly interesting quote: "Many of our assumptions about popular taste are actually artifacts of poor supply-and-demand matching - a market response to inefficient distribution." This is so true it makes me want to shout it, particularly at a few people I know who maintain that popularity equals quality, by reason of market choice. The market isn't choosing, because it hasn't got the full choice.

This is very much relevant to the niche markets of science fiction and fantasy, both in books and in other media. Firefly is a very fine example - the TV executives killed it without it even completing one season, and yet it's clear to anyone who looks into the matter that it's one of the most popular sci-fi series ever - so much so that there's a movie, Serenity coming up for release in September.

The more that niches can be found by people, the more the things in those niches will sell, and support a wide, deep market, not one jammed with Star Trek and Star Wars and nothing else. We'll see odd things like steampunk being available, not just a sort of half-developed concept.

But even as the creators of niche content move up in the world, and get distribution for their goods, there's a downside - the small distributors are going to get it in the teeth. There's no way your local comic shop can carry all the different comics that are out there, even now - they haven't the shelf space, and they can't carry the more obscure stuff because it doesn't pay them to do so.

I suspect, though, that there's a way out. As in any system, it lies in specialisation. If your comic shop now specialises in steampunk comics and paraphernalia, sure, you lose the X-Men market. But put up a website, advertise like mad, and soon enough, your specialisation will pay off. Your niche may be small, but the world's population is very large, and even the smallest niche has enough to support a shop or two if you can reach the whole world.

Posted by Drew Shiel at June 28, 2005 12:05 PM

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