On Marketplace, I’m quoted first as saying that we all want instant gratification from our purchases (of course the book kiosk then is not as good as getting a text on a good electronic reader if one were to ever exist) and I say that the 2 million books available to OnDemandBooks (all from the public domain) are not enough.
Is a collection of 2 million titles really too few?
As you might have guessed, there was more to the conversation than met the ear. What you heard was skillfully taken from about 30 minutes of nuanced conversation. No nuance in a piece that short. No blame for that. What I said is that ODB’s kiosk holding those particular titles wouldn’t be competing so much with a publisher like Knopf or Doubleday or Crown, but with Dover’s dollar books and Penguin Classics.
I love the public domain books, mostly from the golden age of writing in the 19th century, as much as anyone. But I also know that the book market is highly skewed toward titles from within the last 75 years and within that highly skewed toward the most recent titles — those of the last few years.
Like it or not, that’s how we read. The book may be a Civil War book, but we’re more likely to buy the latest E. L. Doctorow (out this past year) or the slightly older Charles Fraiser (already in paper and already reissued with a movie tie-in cover) than to buy say Grant’s Memoirs (and this is an exceptional book). Now think of the titles in the public domain that you would never buy if any occur to you.
The “long tail” power of Amazon is that you can get all three books there and more. You can get the books that refer to those books and those which those books refer to themselves. You can build a library if you desire that is fairly deep, if narrow, very quickly and with collective expertise.
Availability is a major part of satisfying the market. Customer support during and after purchase are also major. Whether provided by smart staff or by smart computer programs. Support makes the sales and the second sales.