Monday, July 17, 2006

The long tail

There is quite a buzz at the moment around Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail, which apparently argues that the Internet is giving a chance for those books that might not be mainstream to find an audience in terms of buyers and readers. He points out that those books that might only sell in dribs and drabs could over a course of time end up being stronger than short-boom selling blockbusters.

Certainly finding out of print titles has never been easier thanks to Abe and some of the antique book sites but just because you can buy them should you?

Mainstream culture, with its labels of bestseller, classic and the marketing budgets can influence what people read. But if you know anything about books and authors you know that some of the pulp biographies are not worth using as toilet paper and the trashy novels are going to provide the sort of experience a three minute pop song does. We all want to read work with depth but if you go off exploring down the long tail without any informed knowledge you could end up wasting a fair bit of time and money.

My view is that the Internet has opened up fantastic opportunities for book lovers looking to find obscure works but it has also opened up a world of peer review that sometimes influences choices in a bad way. It might seem like fence straddling but the best thing to do even at the end of the tail is to use your best judgment, buy with caution and always be prepared for a great surprise or flat disappointment.

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