Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Long Tail Leaps from the Library onto Amazon

Last time I looked for books on Amazon, I was shocked, shocked to see the low prices on some of the used copies. Books priced under $1.00 in some cases. The sellers describe them as being in good condition, unmarked, except for library markings.

The Washington Post today offers what may be a clue. Fairfax County libraries are aggressively culling their stacks to make room for hot sellers. "Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings," gone. "The Education of Henry Adams," gone. Want Emily Dickinson's "Final Harvest," Gone.

How widespread is this?

Mickeleh's Take
: Providing free access to the canon of our literature used to be part of the mission of the public library. Instead of offering the long tail, the libraries seem to be embracing only the popular titles. Where's the long tail now? Back in commercial distribution at very low prices through used book sellers and accessible through Amazon. Not a bad solution in the short run. But If these low prices wind up clearing the market, then what happens to the ideal of making them available to the entire community? Maybe by then, they'll all be digitized, and accessible through free terminals at the public library.

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Anonymous said...

euthanasia for books?

John Storhm said...

Yes, you are correct, eventually many of these books will be available as digital downloads. The problem is that companies which produce digital downloads are also only looking at reproducing popular titles. What happens to the unpopular titles? What happens to the important books that only a minority in our society want to read? I am afraid that these books will ultimately vanish.