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April 11, 2005



Chris, I wonder if some of commercial radio's diminishing power is as much a result of its own self-created irrelevance as it is an indication of the shift from mass to niche markets. I remember growing up listening to stations that had DJs who actuallly picked the music they played, and would introduce things they liked that weren't already hits. It's where I turned to find out what was new and interesting in the music world. They were definitely mass media, but they weren't boring. That all seems to have changed as more stations were bought up by conglomerates, and playlists started being passed down from corporate headquarters. I stopped listening to commercial radio years ago, partly because I was tired of being bombarded with commercials and over-the-top Personality Jocks, but also because I wasn't discovering any new music there.

Here in Los Angeles there are a number of good non-commercial college and listener-supported stations that I listen to all the time. I don't think of them so much as niche market stations but more as throwbacks, in a way, to what radio was like when it was run by actual people. All the other choices that exist now, from satellite radio to the internet to Ipods, are filling a void that was left when radio abandoned it's own (mass) market.

Future Feeder

Thank you Chris, for keeping up a great blog! I think the trend can be summarized as a move to mass customizations in a broader view. As radio listeners move away from pre-programmed playlists to interactive web interfaces, people are able to 'discover' new artists through databases like Music-Map.com or even I-Tunes, which constantly suggests other artists that my be of interest. These interactive services are offering a chance to customize your style. From blogs, music, product design, to architecture, the massive quantities of consumption continue to rise, but like a root, niches are branching off at all different scales. To me it seems logical . When a room gets overcrowded, the natural tendency is to seek open space or the path less taken. So then my question is, where does the long tail end? Will the trend flatten to zero where pop culture no longer exists and everyone happily identifies with their niches?


There is some balancing in the way people master differently their time and preferences. If you have more choice you split your time in more smaller items. But what I see is that people come back to ore physical presence in the relation. May be electronic presence is weaker than before , or delayed by Tivo , but physical presence is more valued. Just look at how many pilgrims went to the burial of the Pope. None had such an audience ever before. But it is also true in smaller audiences. We 've never had so many amateur music groups trying to gather small audiences in their village or town. Fragmentation is the key but intensity in contact is anther one.


I think you're right, commercial radio is no longer the hit-maker it once was, but there is another contributory factor: a LOT more music is made today. And all of the old music is still available.

The last 20 or 30 songs I've bought were oldies that I picked up at the Apple Music Store. They were old stuff that I've intended to buy for years, but just never got around to.

It's bound to be harder to be a break-out hit when you have to compete with all of the music recorded for the last 50 years. Imagine how hard it will be when you have to compete with music recorded 200 years previously...


Did any of you catch the An Impending Period of Transitional Chaos for Media story that was on NPR on Saturday? It was done by Bob Garfield of On The Media and was very well done (IMO).

In it he talked about the advertising statistics of Network TV and their fall. As well as TiVO and proposed some ideas about where it is all heading such as micromarkets.

I couldn't help but feeling very excited if only because of the new freedoms that all these forms of content are experiencing and will continue to experience due to their lack of shackles in the "old model". Up to this point it was a distributors ball game, people with their finger on the spicket of information charging a fee for everyone else to get at it. This would almost seem fine except that the people who are actually creative were rarely the ones who reaped the rewards from such control. I'm just hoping that a newer, decentralized model will put power back into the hands of the creative drive the dollar squatters out.


Well one of the core points of the P2P wars is that the RIAA doesn't want to compete against the older stuff. In essence, they believe that they have the power to basically slice off the long tail, by limiting marketing to their chosen acts, that they can compress current sales into less boxes, making them more profit.

Which is pure ego and hubris, and in essence, is destroying them.

Jim Humphrys

While I accept the LT premise, I am not sure I would accept it as the primary issue behind only a few of the top 100 albums being produced in the last decade without further examination. The first thing that came to my mind was that many (most) of the albums were purchased by baby boomers.

Rob Hayward

When I was a kid in the UK there were 3 channels (I'm 43). Everybody at school talked about the main show of the night. Now I have Sky plus which is like TiVo, but with a complete menu of shows for the next week. Regular tv is more homogenous here in the UK and people talk about adverts, but I have to admit that I hardly ever watch the adverts that everyone talks about (just fast forward through them). The effect on advertising is interesting. It never ceases to amuse me when I am watching a programe that is aimed at a different section of the public and I happen to catch the advert that is not aimed at me. I think that this will become a thing of the past as adverts are targetted, more useful (to the public) and more effective.

Really enjoy the blog by the way.


and seeing as we can all create virtual water coolers for the sorts of people that we'd like to meet around the real one...

so this would signal the loss of standards by specific products (a given show, album, whatever) rather than by absolute quality. people have said that when there's more stuff out there, the requirement for that stuff to be worthwile increses. and if that reduces the existance of 'trends' rather than abstract quality, so much the better.

John Shea


Excellent article, provoking some insightful comments. Here's another look at radio from The Vat last month:

Pleasing Listeners Each and Every Day: The Cultural Irrelevance of Commercial Radio

Readers should be aware that the US radio market has a direct influence on overseas markets. In Australia, commercial FM airwaves are now full of "Jack". I understand this format was developed by and is owned by Robert Perry of http://www.jack.fm/.

The problem with radio trying to emulate an iPod (apart from the obvious), is that it's *your* music library you're drawing upon, not someone else's. Quite laughable in the broadcast sense.

Also, have a look @ Chris Johnson's Evergreen Albums article, linked from our advocacy page.

Naba Barkakati

Chris, From your vantage point as the Editor-in-Chief of Wired, how do you think The Long Tail is going to impact your magazine and publishing in general. Are we going to see many niche publishers? Would consumers of information pay through some sort of billing system that's all done behind the scene with some sort of Web Services protocol? What to do you think?

Gary Hodges

If you look at the generations that grew up during the late 40's - the mid 70's; as a child you were "to be seen and not heard". This created a reaction, unconscious as it was, to watch TV and listen to the radio.

There we were "being seen and not heard", but we were getting messages from outside our own family. Since the 'intimacy' was being removed or hindered from developing. Where were we to get the 'messages' that might help us to understand what life was, where love was, why were here?

Yes, a lot of us attended church, as forced upon us it as it was. But, since we didn't want to be heard by our parents and whoever else, we found ways to understand that 'reality' wasn't what we saw (TV) or heard (Radio); it made us feel good, provided a warmth that the "nuclear" family had taken away. Here we had music that sang of love, that sang of what was real, we knew this deep in our soul and still do. Then the decline of TV watching occurred from the harsh realities of war on TV; Vietnam. Our fathers, brothers and sisters weren't coming home; further breaking down our sense of belonging. Divorce was rampant, physical abuse, that wasn't talked about or dealt with, etc., etc.. We became parents, we wanted our children to have the love we didn't in a family, we removed/discouraged TV watching. Unfortunately, this had the opposite affect of its intention...it further isolated our children.

Then the advent of the Internet came rushing in like a freight train out of control. The idea being here was a way for them to not only get information that seemed real or true, but it gave us an opportunity to relate to others 'anonymously'. An added benefit since we may not look like the "models" that mass media was slapping us in the face with. We could send messages. Does anyone know the original meaning of Angel (Angelia) from the Greeks; divine messenger. To think we might be able to reach out, in chat, and provide someone some comfort with our message, after we hit the enter key; a pretty powerful event. Whose to say that we are not a "divine messenger" at that moment, an angel?

Why not a decline in top rated TV shows, less watchers, less 'good entertainment', more was to be found in 'being' with people, so we ventured out, started all sorts of groups of encounter, reaching for a hand to lift us out of our depression of the soul. Then the music declined in quality, or at least the kind of music as children and teenagers we traditionally listened to; rock & roll, etc.. This was the music that saved us in the late 50's to the early 80's. That's 30 years, 3 generations...how can we get back to this make it anew? Maybe "American Idol" is a step in that direction?

Anyway, its not a new "water cooler" effect. Its the innate desire for truth, so we can make valid judgements or decisions about our own future, so we don't, hopefully don't, meet disaster of one form or degree or another; loss of a job, fall out of love, prevent the demise of a loved one and on and on.

We let go of letter writing, the most intimate and innocent methods of communication ever. This moved to email, anonymity in support of saying what we mean without fear of retribution. This is or was an extreme that we moved through very quickly. Then Web sites; where we could show everyone who "me" is (I did it too). Everything on the Internet moves, evolves faster than anyone can measure. This is the effect of 'freedom of thought, of mind, of heart and soul'. At the core is our soul and it will get what it wants whether we suppress 'it' or not, it will come forward and snatch 'it' and return to the shadow and revel for a while in 'it'. Meanwhile, the mind is still working....we create the "Blog". The Blog is another form of a Web site, but with a WHOLE lot less of a need to know the technical aspects of 'posting' or showing who we are. That is until CSS came along and HTML standards..and..and. Anyway, the point being is that when you throw in the complications, the dryness, it devours our original desire to communicate what we wanted to communicate, but the passion of our soul will find a way. There are those who have Blogs and those who respond to them. Who do you think is going to evolve quicker?

Only recently, have I seriously considered having a Blog, and it was solely because I wanted to have a nice clean presentation of my poetry, but not lose the fundamental way I wish to express it in the process. So, I struggle with making my own, testing Radio Userland, since I want to be a bit more original, then using a template and get lost in the myriad of information. Really, when it comes down to it we relish things that appear or sound good to us. So, if we can master 'presentation' and how it can be expressed without so much complication involved this will be the epitome or mankind, this is where we become equal, one...I'm looking forward to it.

John Thacker

As an aside, it's kind of annoying that you've branded the term "Long Tail" in the popular community, considering that the standard mathematical term for distributions like 1/x whose tails are infinite is "Heavy Tailed."

Tom Quick

'Likewise for music. By my count only ten of the top 100 best-selling albums were released in the last decade, and only four of those were in the last five years.'

This could be due to the longer time that older records have been available for. Also, some musicians will always be always be more popular than others. Is it not possible that the top of the tail will remain even in the face of mass differentiation? Never underestimate the power of collective reference. Keep up the great work!

Eric Schwartzman

When a business that never considered advertising in electronic media can create their own programming, package it up with their own ad, and distribute it via the Net and reach a premium audience of likely consumers for less than the price of a quarter page print ad, you you we are shifting from hits to niche.

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

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