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January 27, 2005



Chris, I thought you were in India on Tuesday, and heading to Bangalore. Are you doing a study on jet-lag?

Mark Wubben

Question is: do people with thousands of songs want an iPod shuffle or a 20/40/60 gB iPod?

Chris Anderson

Actually, I'm in Davos now, but I'm somewhat backlogged with my posts. I've still got a few more India essays to come. And then whatever strikes me here at the World Economic Forum.


Slightly off topic, but here's an example of how iTunes tries to sell ONLY tail while locking out popular items.

I bought Jimmy Eat World's "Last Christmas" as a single off the O.C. holiday soundtrack from iTunes in December. Now iTunes only allows a few songs from that compilation album to be sold as stand alone downloads. To get certain songs you have to buy the entire album.

Why the change? Did some agreement expire? Were certain downloads cannibalizing sales?

In the end, who cares why. All I see as a consumer is that the "spaghetti code" of legal issues and market segmentation that drives the music industry means lost sales and unhappy customers.


Chris, I didn't realize you were conducting "Long Tail workshops." Any chance we could persuade you to come to North Carolina to do a workshop with us at Lulu.com? We could bring in the Red Hat folks, too, if you were interested.


Millions of people listen to the radio, despite the fact that radio stations occasionally (or frequently) play songs that an individual does not like. Listening to a large selection of your music collection on shuffle is like having a radio station preloaded with music you probably already like - but if a song comes up that you don't like, you can actually *skip* it. And you can even fine-tune your radio station's playlist when you get the opportunity. For this reason, I don't see the Shuffle as having less impact than the iPod - the principles are generally the same, it's just somewhat less powerful.

Bob Mason

One could make the claim that iTunes acts as a value-added editor because it can autofill the Shuffle with songs with a higher rating. Thus the normal iPod is perfect for those who want to carry the entire The Long Tail with them, but the Shuffle is a useful and complementary device.


I just got mine yesterday!!

I agree that there are a lot of songs in my collection that I do not care about and I'd rather not hear them again. However, the iTunes/iPod combo can (will?) improve over time to learn what you liked vs. what you skipped over, and favor the tracks you like. They thus build personalised filters without users needing to program them explicitly (less work) and also create a user lock-in.

There are also two other elements of "addition by subtraction" - (a) I just can't get over how light it is (it feels lighter than the pack of chewing gum), and (b) they were able to bring the price point down to $150 for 1GB. Not bad!!

Rex Hammock

Chris, Begging to differ, the "tail" here is iTunes on ones desktop, not iPod Shuffle. The iPod Shuffle (and I've used one for a week, so I'm speaking from experience) may, to you, be just another mp3 player. But, in reality, it's another means for me and 10 million others to extend our enjoyment of the individual tunes in the long tail of our iTunes collection. For a lot of the same reasons you suggest the Shuffle will fail, I predicted the demise of the iPod Mini. I wouldn't bet against the iPod Shuffle: remember, iTunes is the special sauce of Apple's long tail strategy.


Musicmobs has an application called Mobster that uses collaborative filtering to show similar artists in your own library. It also allows you to make playlists out of the recommendations. I imagine that this would work good with the Shuffle, as you could say "I want to listen to stuff that sounds like the Pixies", then have Mobster make the playlist for you and sync to the Shuffle. Then it becomes something of a smart radio.


As a stand-alone execution, the Shuffle looks like a likely candidate for failure. But, the argument ignores some of the other factors that made the original iPod successful: software and culture. Without the iTunes software, the iPod would have met the same fate as the Pippin and Apple III. Without the cult(ure) of Mac and its emphasis on the value of the exclusivity/membership, the iPod would have been another overpriced Apple accessory.

Acknowledging Rex & Toby's points, I'll give Apple the benefit of the doubt and guess that they'll be extending iTunes to support the Shuffle (and others) in new ways. Plug in your Shuffle and Apple could give you the option of loading your player with a sort of Current Long Tail Community Playlist. Your library would need to contain those songs in the playlist, and anything missing from it could be offered/promoted to you in the iTunes interface. Apple can tweak the algorithm that builds the playlist to meet a desired sales/consumer tolerance threshold. I'm not as likely to buy 20 songs to fill gaps in a new and unknown playlist, but one or two from acts I'm unfamiliar with might be welcome. Pushing new content would keep with Apple's ad strategy of relinquishing control. Simply resorting your own forgotten or discarded tracks ignores the value of novelty and the law of diminishing returns. Apple would do well to take a cue from Mobster and the growing social tools. Imagine a service (or user hack) along that would plug into Del.icio.us, find read the music tag and return the newest playlist. The adoption rate would likely be lower than the Long Tail Playlist due to sheer expense, but the idea is that hopefully Apple and their user commuity haven't shown the limits of their creativity yet.

Peter Lakanen

Chris, I think your post is bit too much like you've got a hammer and everything looks like a nail. I understand your point, but your idea about the long tail of one's music collection is a bit too meta-meta I think (and law of dimishing returns). I personally just delete music I don't like any more after I burn it to CD.

And Nathan, I agree with you about iTunes not allowing you to purchase any song. That is a trend that will only get worse, not better.

Glenn Fleishman

I can't tell if you've used the Shuffle or just read about it, so it might have an experential differential. I wasn't sure about it until I got a unit for review, and once I played with Autofill, I'm of a different mind than you.

Autofill in its very primitive version 1.0 lets you randomly select weighted by ratings that you've given your song. (Let's not explore the fact that you can't synchronize and upload your ratings across multiple computers, share them, import them and export them as XML, etc.)

Once you get a Shuffle, your next natural behavior is to start rating songs. Over a very short time Autofill becomes closer and closer to your actual taste instead of your entire library.

You also disregard the value of chance. My first autofill loaded a variety of fascinating choices including short segments from the audiobook of a Harry Potter title, songs from my wife's music collection I had never heard, and music I love that I'd forgotten about.

The Long Tail can involve your own personal backlist of interest and mood as well as the more global issue. That is, there's a long tail attached to me (memories, for starters) and a long tail attached to everything else, too.


As several people have pointed out, you can fill based on rating. Personally, I have an ipod mini, and when I first got it, I created a playlist of only unrated songs, listened through it, and rated them. (Which worked well since I already had formed opinions since before I got the mini). Now I've rated all the songs, I have a random playlist of 35 songs I haven't heard in 3 weeks and are rated 3 stars or greater, filtering out the crap, but playing something fresh all the time. If I get some new music, I mix these two playlists together, which works pretty well.

I don't know if the shuffle can rate songs, or if you can only do it in iTunes, but even if the latter, the theory still works. (I don't actually sit in front of my computer at home with iTunes all that much, but people with laptops would use it much more).

Skipping is also a useful source of metadata - if you don't like a song and skip it all the time, the times played count won't increase as much as other songs of the same rating, although you'll need a lot of plays for this data to be statistically sound.

Joshua Porter

How come nobody has mentioned the "party shuffle" feature in iTunes? It's a shuffle, of my long tail library, and it consistently produces music that I want to listen to. I don't think it is completely random, however, which would make it different than what you're describing Chris.

That said, is the iPod shuffle completely random? Does it play my Christmas music as much as Pearl Jam? I wonder...I don't have one, so I don't know.

What I do know is that party shuffle is a shuffle that works well.

Kevin Kelly

I'll bet against you, Chris, and for the shuffle. In part because the shuffle will continue to evolve: maybe they'll add a way to rate a song while it plays, a rating which will come back to your iTunes.

Listen, the average american listens to 21 hours of radio per week -- and as far as they are concerned its on random shuffle -- no control and they love it. The shuffle is just your personal radio station with your own personal long tail play list. What is not to like?

We just have to decide how many millions sold will be "failure."


"Question is: do people with thousands of songs want an iPod shuffle or a 20/40/60 gB iPod?"

That's easy: both!

Cmparing the Shuffle experience to other iPods is a mistake. The Shuffle's more like you're own personal radio station and last I checked, people listened to music radio in large numbers. In fact there's a host of different ways to fill up a Shuffle and I suspect a random selection from an entire library will not be the norm.


As a recent iPod Mini user, I've noticed that I simply *hate* to choose the next song. The bloody machine is hard to dig from under your clothes, and especially during winter time the UI is hard to handle. And since iTunes autoplaylists tend to produce relatively sane and nice lists, the screen is mostly just added convenience when choosing which playlist I want.

I think the Shuffle is a part of the left side of the equation - the mass part. Not everything can be personal.


Here's a twist: Shuffle owners will make up the tail and account for the majority of iPod usage.

Tim Walters

"[1] Some of those tracks are songs you don't care for on albums you otherwise like; others are albums you wish you hadn't bought or ripped in the first place. And yet others are songs that you've simply grown tired of. [2] In other words, the signal-to-noise ratio in your own collection can be nearly as variable as that in any commercial music service."

Big, unjustified jump between [1] and [2]. Percentages count here. I use my (40GB) iPod almost exclusively in shuffle mode (with no ratings--can't be bothered), and far from getting annoyed by songs I don't like, I'm nervous that I'm going to miss out on new stuff because I never bother to listen to the radio any more. It's a perfect blend of novelty and familiarity. Yes, I occasionally need to skip something, but far less often than I would if I had control over the radio.

If I had a Shuffle, I'd just dock it every night and get the same effect, at least until I went on a long road trip.

Brian Weaver

They'll just sell millions, but it won't be a success? If you sold millions of anything you would be a success by any measure.

TW. Andrews

It sounds as if it just needs a mechanism to choose "popular" songs from the hard drive, rather than just randomly select them. I guess this would require some capacity to measure how popular song on the hard drive are (maybe just a count of the number of times they've been played or copied), but it's not sooo complicated.


I have smartplaylists for my most often played songs and for songs with a rating of 3,4, or 5. that keeps the shuffle playing only songs i like.


I can't wait to get mine - it's perfect.

1) It weighs next to nothing.
2) I'm going to use it solely for exercise (see pt. 1), primarily cycling. It holds a whole lot more than my crappy little Lyra (I'm buying a 1 gig one) but is still inexpensive enough that if I spill and break it, oh well.
3) Random rocks.

The iPod hasn't been able to capture me until this product. Now I'll probably be so enraptured I save up and go and buy the full banana for other uses.

Oh, and for $150 I get all this AND can interface with iTunes? Sold. iTunes as the interface is the biggest draw. This'll be my 3rd mp3 player.


Jay Reding
It sounds as if it just needs a mechanism to choose "popular" songs from the hard drive, rather than just randomly select them. I guess this would require some capacity to measure how popular song on the hard drive are (maybe just a count of the number of times they've been played or copied), but it's not sooo complicated.

It's such a good idea that you can do it right now.

You can set a Smart Playlist of songs that you've either rated highly or played frequently and set the Shuffle to fill from that playlist. It's quite simple to do really.


You haven't really used iTunes, I guess. Here's all you have to do to make an iShuffle work with large music libraries. In iTunes:

1. Rate your songs

2. Create a smart playlist that:

a. Selects your top 4 & 5-star songs.

b. Ignores any genres you don't want to hear (audiobooks, for example)

c. Is set to randomly select 100 (for example) songs that fit the criteria in a & b

3. Set the iShuffle to use the new playlist

You're guaranteed to hear only songs you love and be surprised and pleased when they play. What's not to like?

TW. Andrews

You can set a Smart Playlist of songs that you've either rated highly or played frequently and set the Shuffle to fill from that playlist. It's quite simple to do really.


You haven't really used iTunes, I guess. Here's all you have to do to make an iShuffle work with large music libraries. In iTunes:

1. Rate your songs

2. Create a smart playlist that:

a. Selects your top 4 & 5-star songs.

b. Ignores any genres you don't want to hear (audiobooks, for example)

c. Is set to randomly select 100 (for example) songs that fit the criteria in a & b

3. Set the iShuffle to use the new playlist

Admittedly, I have't used iTunes, though that may change in the near future, but what I'm thinking of is something slightly different than getting a random selection of popular songs. I think it would be cooler for each song to have a selection weight assigned to it according to it's popularity, and then draw songs from the entire pool, but skew the chances of a given song being selected according to the popularity-weight.

That way you'd end up with a lot of songs that you like quite a bit, some songs that you think are solid but maybe aren't as good as your current favorites and a few songs which you haven't heard in a long time.

The overall variety would be better than if you just picked from your very favorites, but the chances of getting a bunch of songs you don't like that much would be quite small.

Kendall Gelner

Many others have noted that you can rate songs.

What I wanted to point out is that with 10 million iPod owners already (and unknowable number beyond that of iTunes only users, since it is free to download and use) not only can you rate songs, but that many people have indeed already rated and organized songs.

That is the tail, the deep base of people who are basically ready for the Shuffle after a long pieriod of developing large and deep musical libraries. Sure the Shuffle would not have succeeded had it come before iTunes and the iPod. But now the userbase has paved the way for something like the iPod Shuffle to exist at all, in a way no other player could pull off because they just do not have the same rich base of organized music to draw on.

What this predicts is that a lot of Shuffle buyers will be either people that use iTunes already or current iPod owners.

Apple has generally done a great job of producing products that leverage and rely on work people have already done in the past, to create new products you really couldn't see existing otherwise.


skew the chances of a given song being selected according to the popularity-weight

Yep, that's precisely how party shuffle works in iTunes. Sounds like you should give it a try.

Slippery Pete

Regarding comments on the iPod shuffle. Perhaps if one's music collection contains embarrassing purchases from the distant pass and other undesirable music - perhaps the owner should delete them. Or just not load them onto his or her iPod. Just a thought.

Also, I clicked through to this site from elsewhere and have no previous experience with it. I see references to "long tail" (sometimes capitalized). This apparently refers to something, but there's no explanation anywhere I can find that explains it. If this site is geared for insiders, that's cool, but if not, you might consider explaining what this is all about.


An Apple hardware post and not one, not one single link to Daring Fireball anywhere in the post, trackbacks, or comments? How can that be?


"Maybe if you have old stuff you don't like, you should just delete it." "You can set your own playlists and put them into the Shuffle." "Just use iTunes and define your preferences properly." That sounds like me taking control of the situation and putting in lots of work, and I thought that the gimmick behind the Shuffle was that you didn't need to do that.

As an earlier poster pointed out, if you already have a big library of stuff you like and an iTunes that's well trained, then the Shuffle looks great because you know that any pseudo-random selection of stuff is going to be things you'd have picked on your own. On the other hand, someone whose music collection is still on CD is not going to look on the Shuffle as such a great idea, because all it's going to do is dump a bunch of junk on him that he doesn't want, and he can't even see what it is that he's listening to.

Louis Rossetto

It may be a "value subtracted" iPod, but it's definitely a "value-added" USB 2.0 memory device. Plus, isn't this "value-subtracted" stuff the same thing they said about the iPod Mini -- and it was a huge success. Apple is going to sell a shitload of these things. Correction, is already selling a shitload because you can't buy them at the stores, they are sold out and the stores are taking "reservations."


Well, the moral majority can't be wrong so we should all just shut up, eh?

The iPod is $300, and the iPod Mini is $250. The Shuffle is $100. I'd want a Shuffle based on that alone; I can make my own playlists and keep a scrap of paper around to tell me what's on the damn thing, since I'm used to Walkmans & such that don't have now-playing displays. But maybe I'd be just as happy to get a $120 Shuffle that had an actual screen on it.

As far as I can tell, an iPod Mini is just that--the same thing as an iPod, in a smaller package with less memory. They didn't fundamentally change the user interface the way that they did with the Shuffle. I'm really left wondering why I should buy a Shuffle as opposed to some other cheap mp3 player...

hatless in hattiesburg

So basically you blame the technology for your poor music buying habits, and you trust critics more than your own ears? I prefer variety in my music listening, thanks...

Aodhan Hoffman

I really look forward to the SHuffle more than any other mp3 mobile. It's light as a feather with almost no volume so it's unencumbering. It has a simple interface so I don't have to look at it to do what I want. It stores enough songs to keep me satisfied as I walk, hike, or work out, but not so much that I have to keep separate collections on it.

Regarding selection, since I /already/ keep play lists that store different kinds of music, which I play through randomly, downloading a random sample of those play lists is a /marvelous/ idea.

There are a lot of things I /don't/ want to come across randomly. THose tracks don't make my play lists. It's as simple as that. Anyone whose been using WinAmp back in 98 knows that.


that ain't no case. boy oh boy what a waste of a read.

Frank Hogg

I have an iBead which has all the things you say the Shuffle lacks. It's a PITA to use, doesn't work with iTunes, but it's light and only a tad bigger but I ordered a Shuffle because it will work with Itunes and I'll use that to make my playlists.

But the real and main reason... It's only $99. That's throw away money, money you don't have to ponder spending. When you get over 199.95 you ponder it. At $99 it's impulse. The Shuffle will break all kinds of sales records IMHO

Nathan Bush

I think Chris Anderson's criticism of the ipod shuffle is justified, just based on my own preferred methods of listening. i've got a lot of albums i've never heard on my computer. i like to upload them and then go through them throughout the day as i walk around. but then when i get home i always have to try to remember which songs i liked and didnt. i think they need a feature where you can clear up space as you go, deleting songs directly throug the ipod. say you put, whatever, the 240 songs on the gb shuffle. then say you get through a hundred songs that week and like a third of them and delete as you go. then at the end of the week you've got enough free space for a few more albums to go through, plus your favorites of what you've heard so far.


hatless: who are you responding to?

>But the real and main reason... It's only $99.

Exactly. People who want an MP3 player will look at the Shuffle because it's cheap and buy it because it has the Apple name (despite the fact that so few people use Apples in their daily life, everyone still recognizes the brand.)

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.

Order the hardcover now!