Going through the Ingram (wholesaler) sales figures this week, I had to pause and scratch my head whenever I saw low numbers (under 200). Where is the profit in storing, shipping, and generally mediating the sale of 200 or fewer books?
Perhaps the Long Tail theory has something to do with this. The old efficiency was to transact vast numbers of sales in a few objects; Long Tail sees bigger money in doing small numbers of sales across a vast number of inventory items.
The corollary to Long Tail at the production end, seen from the viewpoint of the Civil War author who has been self-publishing, is Broad Base, i.e. to multiply channels, since each will sell only a few units. If Ingram or Baker and Taylor will take some copies, if some copies can be sold by Internet, at conventions or events, by mail order, etc., it may be possible to reproduce at least the level of results obtained by that author whose press is simply selling 200 copies of his book through wholesalers this year.
Broad Base should not be up to the author; we need a new kind of distribution specialist who can make microsales happen across many channels. And, of course, it has to pay.
Easy to say, hard to do.