My original article and most of the examples I've focused on here are in the media and entertainment industries, mostly because that's where the most accessible examples are. Music, video, and books are fun, universally understood, and have the best statistical evidence of the Long Tail at work. There's just a ton of data there. Ten years of Amazon, five years of Netflix and Rhapsody and at least that long for all their kin have shown just how dramatic the effect of infinite shelf space can be in revealing the true shape of consumer demand.
But lest you think that's the extent of it, let me hasten to emphasize that the Long Tail goes far beyond media and entertainment. It extends from advertising to hard goods, from services and software to people.
Q: So why don't you write more about all that here?
A: I'm saving it for the book, which will be at least a third about the Long Tail in physical goods, services, advertising and so on.
A: It's a very reasonable deal I worked out with my publisher, Hyperion, which has been very open-minded about this experiment in book writing in public. Knowing that there will be a big chunk of fresh, and I hope equally interesting, research and analysis of the Long Tail in industries and markets where one might not thought it would be a force should be a good reason to buy the book, even for those who are already fluent entertainment longtailers.
Q: Fair enough. But are there any broad differences between
the media and entertainment industries and the others, such as physical
goods, that are worth keeping in mind?
A: Yes. As the graphic above (click on it for a readable version), which is taken from the original article, implies, there are two steps to the Long Tail. The first is digital catalogs of physical goods, such as those of Amazon or eBay. These have unlimited capacity and can offer search, recommendations, infinite information about products and flexible categorization. That improves the economics of retail dramatically compared to traditional stores, which allows them to carry far more products. This gets you half-way down the Tail
But to get all the way down the Tail you need digital catalogs of digital goods.
Think everything from iTunes to Google. This is where the economics are
best of all: near-zero marginal costs of manufacturing and
distribution. What that means is that you can basically stop
discriminating entirely, and give up trying to guess what people want.
Offer everything and let the marketplace decide what it wants. Chances
are you'll be surprised by what people gravitate to, not just in the
unexpected demand for niches but in the immense range of tastes. That's
the Long Tail.