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March 17, 2005



Here are my thoughts after reading a little here and in Wired (I'm a statistician by training, though not currently by trade):

The Long Tail phenomenon you describe is primarily an economic phenomenon, but you're missing the social piece. Industries are hit-driven not simply for reasons of profit, but also because we are social creatures. We like hits, we want to be part of something, we want to cheer for the same teams.

So we can extend the tail further with technology, but the hit-driven mentality isn't simply economics, it's mob mentality. Our population is growing, and THAT's why more niches are appealing. Yes, technology is improving, but with 5 billion people, technology for producing long tails was going to have to happen. It's inevitable. We were always going to have to connect, or the world couldn't sustain 5 billion people for long.

Look at Anime in America. It's in every bookstore now, a very profitable niche consisting entirely of long-tail titles. There are maybe a handful of people in the mall interested in these titles at anytime. But, cheap to print, they can stock a huge selection for an indeterminately long time, because their other books devalue so quickly. It's a mini-boom headed for a mini-bust. It IS itself on the long tail. It gives the impression of being a new trend, but with fewer people going to the mall, fewer people buying books, especially young people that prefer videogames, it's really just a niche that has grown organically. Not a real trend, just a little population growth and exposure to Japanese culture via ps2.

With 5 billion and more everyday, there are more and more niches and there will never be less. So the Long Tail isn't really technology driven, it's just a common function of societies growing. Like the comment on the left about baby names.



Retailers like netflix, amazon, and our company DVD Station, monetize the "mob phenomenon" by utilizing search, sophisticated merchandising algorithms, product data, and large available selection. News events like the passing of Hunter Thompson or Ms. Ryders's shop-lifting trial drive temporary demand for works that had been relegated to the tail. The "water cooler" driven demand exists but the supply chain and merchandising of traditional retail stores completely miss this opportunity to profit from it.


Thanks for the link, Chris. I just wish you guys hadn't been cut short by the other talks that morning going over time.


Thanks for linking to my snarky comment about overexposure of the phrase "long tail". If it makes you feel better, I wrote that the day before your talk. Every ETech talk I saw referenced the idea of "long tail" at some point. It's a powerful, short, descriptive idea, so of course it's gonna get a little too much play. Maybe "long tail" is this year's "paradigm shift". Just "thinking outside the box".

Seriously, thanks for your talk at ETech!

Haig S.

Re: solomonrex's comment,

You are correct in the social aspect of hits. Humans herd or more popularly today, mob, into conforming tastes. That is the 'head' of the long-tail and it will never completely vanish due to this inherent human trait. However, your take on the long tail being just a phenomenon..a result of our growing population and not a lasting economic effect due to technology is wrong.

The part you missed is how new networked technologies (internet et al) and cheap storage combine to make stocking of virtually limitless merchandise and searching through such expansive selections economically feasible. Its the aggregate profits from these previously 'subeconomic' items that is driving this transformational trend of the marketplace. It's not just making previously small niches more availalbe to the masses, the important thing is making previously UNAVAILABLE niches economically viable to enter and remain in the marketplace.

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

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