I thought it would be interesting to go back to Rhapsody, the commercial music service that had been my canonical Long Tail example, and see how its statistics had changed in the year since I last looked at the data. It was. All the trends we saw a year ago are now even more pronounced.
Rhapsody's usage has nearly tripled over that period and its inventory has grown from 700,000 to 1m tracks. At the same time, its Short Tail (offline) counterpart, Wal-Mart, which accounts for a quarter of US music sales (by far the largest source) has reduced the shelf space it gives to CDs to make more room for DVDs. So the Short Tail has gotten shorter, and the Long Tail has gotten longer.
A year ago we estimated that the average Wal-Mart carried 5,000 CDs, for a total of around 60,000 tracks. Now our latest count shows just 4,200 CDs, for a total of about 50,000 tracks (nearly a third of them Latina music), compared to Rhapsody's 1m. Note that Amazon lists at least 800,000 CDs, so Wal-Mart carries just 0.5% of the music inventory available, a figure that continues to shrink.
The result of these two trends--online expanding, offline
contracting--is that the market is shifting even more towards niches.
Last year music that wasn't available at Wal-Mart accounted for 23% of
Rhapsody's business. Now that's 28%. Some of this is due to the
statistical effect of Wal-Mart carrying fewer CDs and the vertical line
below shifting to the left, but even at last year's level Rhapsody is
seeing demand shift gradually towards the niches (its 50% line, where
half the demand is ahead and half is below, has shifted from rank
12,000 to 12,500). Last year's demand curve is shown as the dotted blue
line inside the current demand curve.
The data, in somewhat prettied-up form, follows: