Forget squeezing megabucks from a few megahits at the top of the sales charts. That’s so yesterday. The future of entertainment, says Wired Magazine, is in reaping sales from the millions of niche markets. For instance, Amazon.com has spawned the resurrection of many long-forgotten books. The bestseller “Into Thin Air,” for example, ignited sales of another mountain-climbing adventure called “Touching the Void,” which was nearly out of print. How? Amazon.com recommendations. Amazon software suggested that readers who liked “Into Thin Air” would also like “Touching the Void.” People took the suggestion, agreed wholeheartedly, wrote rhapsodic reviews. More sales, more algorithm-fueled recommendations, and the positive feedback loop kicked in. Now the 15 year-old book outsells “Into Thin Air” more than two to one. This is just one example of an emerging new economic model for media and entertainment. Unlimited selection plus real-time buying information are revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it, in service after service, from books to DVDs to songs. Consumers are going deep into the catalog, far past what’s available at Blockbuster, Tower Records, and Borders. And the more they find, the more they like. An analysis of sales data and trends shows that tomorrow’s digital entertainment economy will be radically different from today’s mass market. If 20th-century entertainment depended on hits, the 21st will be equally about misses. Amazon, iTunes and Netflix have all discovered that “misses” usually make money, too. And because there are so many more of them, that money can add up quickly to a huge new market. 

Wired Oct 2004