Pop Cult Ground Zero: Bypassing Vertically Integrated Legacy Distribution Networks

An interesting Twitter thread by one Adam Mastroianni came across my DMs yesterday.


See if any of his insights sound familiar.

Mastroianni Oligopoly

Gee, I wonder who that oligopoly could be.

Mastroianni Music

Once again, I wonder …

Mastroianni Lit

The book market?


You had my curiosity. Now you have my attention.


Adam expands on his data in a post at his blog. Here’s a relevant excerpt:


Using LiteraryHub’s list of the top 10 bestselling books for every year from 1919 to 2017, I found that the oligopoly has come to book publishing as well. There are a couple ways we can look at this. First, we can look at the percentage of repeat authors in the top 10––that is, the number of books in the top 10 that were written by an author with another book in the top 10.

It used to be pretty rare for one author to have multiple books in the top 10 in the same year. Since 1990, it’s happened almost every year. No author ever had three top 10 books in one year until Danielle Steel did it 1998. In 2011, John Grisham, Kathryn Stockett, and Stieg Larsson all had two chart-topping books each.

We can also look at the percentage of authors in the top 10 were already famous––say, they had a top 10 book within the past 10 years. That has increased over time, too.


Mastroianni Top 10

In the 1950s, a little over half of the authors in the top 10 had been there before. These days, it’s closer to 75%.


Those observations about “book publishing” may seem rather banal, but they hold the key to explaining the entertainment consolidation phenomenon Adam noticed.


The first breadcrumb Adam left us was the book data source he used. A little digging revealed that Literary Hub themselves sourced their numbers from Publishers Weekly’s best sellers lists.


Care to guess which market sector PW samples its best sellers from?


If you’ve been following this blog since the indie boom days, you know the answer.


PW compiles its lists from brick-and-mortar bookstores. And that means their sample skews oldpub overwhelmingly.


Those data do show a trend that jibes with the consolidation Adam pointed out. But what if we had an alternate dataset from outside establishment media?


It just so happens I do – and from the year before Literary Hub’s list ends.


Author Earnings 500K


Earning half a mil per year puts an author well within the top 1% of earners nationwide. The above chart from Author Earnings, which sources its data straight from Amazon – which in turn accounts for 80% of all books sold in the Anglophone world – shows that not only is newpub less monolithic than oldpub, it’s the dominant market.


And this pattern scales up, too.



“Yes,” longtime Kairos readers will say, “We’ve known for years that oldpub survives on reprints of classics by long-dead authors and big movie and vidya tie-ins. What else is new?”


And I answer that it’s not a matter of novelty. It’s that Adam’s cross-industry data enable us to prove a grand unified Pop Cult-Ground Zero theory.


Newpub is the only entertainment market not beholden to the Pop Cult. Unlike indie film and music, it’s found a way to bypass vertically integrated legacy distribution networks.


If the trends Adam documented resulted from pure consumer demand, we’d expect to see the same tastes reflected in newpub sales numbers.


But we don’t.


Sure, the Pareto Principle applies, just as it does to any industry. But we don’t see anything like the lockstep IP recycling and winner-take-all dynamic that defines oldpub.


Which indicates that the creative stagnation in every other creative industry is due to active gatekeeping contra public interest.


And you can help independent artists circumvent the gatekeepers!


Learn more here:



Originally published here.

Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is a best selling science fiction author and a John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer finalist. His second book, Souldancer, won the first ever Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel., and its sequel, The Secret Kings, became a 2017 Dragon Award finalist for Best Science Fiction Novel. He's currently crowdfunding his latest work Combat Frame XSeed: CY 40 Second Coming on Indiegogo. Read more of his work at brianniemeier.com or pick up his books via Amazon.