In yesterday’s post, and in previous musings about the need to have extremely focused marketing, I have touched on the idea that it’s not necessary to have widespread appeal to be successful. I am certainly not the first to come up with the idea that in a Web 2.0 world, where anyone can find anything, specialization will beat generalization most of the time. Chris Anderson even wrote a book about it: The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.
The idea is that of all the plethora of products out there, only the most popular used to thrive – those in the head. Consider the example of books. There are millions of books written each year. In the past, only a small percentage of those ever got printed – the rest were rejected by publishers. And only a fraction of those that were printed became “successes” by the usual definition of the word. So Charles Dickens and Alex Haley and Carl Sagan became famous; while the learned author of How to Milk a Yak – The Beginner’s Guide never saw her great work published.
But the thing is, there are people who actually care about yak milking and would love to read anything they can get their hands on about the topic. Not many, but still. And now that the Web makes it easy for those llama-lactic people to connect with each other, that book can and will find an audience.
To give some real-world validity to the concept, only half of Amazon.com’s revenue comes from titles that would formerly have been considered “successful,” defined in this case by those you’d find in a bricks and mortar Chapters store. The rest of their income comes from books that generate only a handful of sales (sometimes only one!) each year. But because they don’t have to pay for inventory or rent, that’s OK.