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July 25, 2005


Ray Lawton

What's interesting to note that Walmart has grown to this percentage of music sales precisely because of the long tail. Before, if you wanted a jazz CD, you'd go to your local "record store" and hope they have it in stock. Now, you buy it online, no hassles. If you want Britney Spears, you know you can get it across the street at Walmart, so oddly enough the long tail seems to reinforce the potency of short tail merchants.

Bryan William Jones

Wow. That explains who is purchasing Britney Spears and American Idol albums. I never understood what mechanism was propping up those sales. Granted, there has always been a market for the mass appeal "pop", but this is a new low in musical diversity. By their actions, Wal-Mart has ensconced these "performers" and inadvertently or not tried to put a nail in the coffin of anything remotely off the main stream. Somewhere in the back of my mind a 1950s Sci-Fi movie (or Outer Limits episode) is rattling around my brain whose premise was identifying individuals as outliers and removing them from society. Or maybe that was McCarthyism.....

All I have to say is "Thank you Long Tail Economics!, iTunes and the indie record labels."

P.S. You are not the only person in America who has never been to a Wal-Mart.


Doesn't Wal-Mart use CDs and DVDs as loss-leaders, primarily used just to get people into the store to buy other stuff? Which means they don't have that much incentive to boost music sales by widening their selection.

Thomas Hawk

Why pay Wal Mart when you can just swap 250 gig drives in the mail with people who have amazing musical taste and pick up ohhhh something like 25,000 much more interesting songs at a pop?

Chris Stiles

Of course - if all stores were Walmart's then it would quickly put paid to all that development of talent - subsidized by larger artists - that the major labels claim that they do.


of course this also demonstrates the pressure that record producers and marketing agents are under to get thier recordings into that 5000 cd inventory. and it also shows the power that walmart can weild in affecting what can be contained on those recordings that they will sell.


Isn't it just a matter of time before WalMart and others join the tails together by providing a kiosk in the store that allows you to burn any CD you want while you shop? You could buy a whole album, or create your own. Call it iMart, or Walster, or ?!

matt eckler

as if they were reading my mind about the power of walmart. a column about a newspaper who is now forbidden from selling thier daily paper because one article was critical of walmart. although they would have reconsidered had the paper fired the writer. geesh...



Calling Wal-Mart a "new low in musical diversity" is a bit silly. That's like saying Safeway represents a new low in toy diversity because they only have a small rack of toys in their grocery stores.

Wal-Mart has no obligation to promote musical diversity whatsoever. As a retailer, they only want to sell items that people buy. Despite the fact that they have enormous stores, they still have only limited shelf space for music. So in Long Tail terms, Wal-Mart is a lousy aggregator/filter.

Besides, they know who their customers are - music aficionados are not shopping for music at Wal-Mart and likely wouldn't even if the product was there.

John "Z-Bo" Zabroski

I think there is a developing pattern in many of these commentaries that might simplify the Wal-Mart Shelf Effect. I hope this is a distillation of the market processes seen here, but apologize if it comes across as flippant.

For the actors in the role of the Producers in a "Long Tail Economy," distribution shortages are the new supply shortage. The role enforcers of the Producers are ultimately the Aggregators. The Aggregators' role enforcers might be presented as such: the Filters whose consumer research comes (primarily) from narrowcasting and also Anti-Filters whose consumer research comes (primarily) from broadcasting. If an Aggregator uses a Producer's product as a loss-leader, then that might be simultaneous role enforcing from the Filters and Anti-Filters.

Producers, Aggregators and Filters are of course common terms on this web blog. I used Chris Anderson's definitions of each as a guideline for the above distillation of the market processes. Keep in mind my comments are a distilled and heavily saturated monotone. The purpose behind this is oversimplification of a generalization. It is overly simple because it is a general statement that I believe applies generally. Any exceptions are exceptional; they are exceptional because their rarity reinforces the generalization.

John Thacker

Mr. Lawton is quite correct. Wal-Mart has a smaller diversity of titles precisely because of the Internet and the Long Tail. If you want something niche at all, it just makes sense to buy it online (even including online at Wal-Mart). It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to stock titles that aren't going to move at a brick and mortar store. Even the best independent record stores are never going to be able to have the breadth and depth of titles of something online.

When it makes sense to buy everything niche online-- where you know they'll have it, naturally the only things that get stocked at retail locations are the things which sell well enough to justify it.

People shouldn't get caught up in praising the Long Tail merely because it's quirky or rare or whatever. Very often highly successful things are successful for a reason; they're good at what they do and appeal to a large audience. I strongly think that the Long Tail is good, because I want everyone to have access to whatever they want and what pleases them the most. But I see no reason to denigrate someone merely because their tastes are similar to many other people.

John "Z-Bo" Zabroski

@John Thacker

There definitely is an argument but is it necessarily proven correct? Beware of taking an idea and making it into conventional wisdom. It's very easy to combine truth and conventional wisdom even when they need to be seperated, which goes against the need for asperity: Truth should be truth because it has harder endurance specifications than mere conventional wisdom.

I believe Ray Lawton's comments may be proven correct in certain cases, but doubt it has universal applicability or even enough generalization to account as a principle of causation. There is a 'Corridor of Viability' for the behavioral patterns of consumers, and that corridor includes non-sensical reasons and combined reasons (reasons that make sense and do not make sense). The interesting thing is that the 'Corridor of Viability' can be influenced via filtering.

Where you suggest that you "want everyone to have access to whatever they want and what pleases them the most" you also raise a moral issue: That there is "no reason to denigrate someone merely because their tastes are similar to many other people." I find this to be interesting, there is not much talk about the ethics of the Long Tail since the themes presented center on how good the Long Tail is for the consumer. I encourage you to continue being cautionary and not to immediately 'flow with the cascade' of user comments which act as a small series of waterfalls. It would be beneficial to everyone for you to raise as many ethical issues as possible.

Dan Hill

Another example is Home Depot. When I remodeled my bathrooms last year I visited a Home Depot for the first time (it's 90 miles away) and was overwhelmed by the variety.

I visited again today and was struck by the realisation of how little they really had. Some of everything but within any category very little variety. More than half of the items I ended up using on my bathrooms were not avialable there. It's even worse by value - of the $5,000 I spent on materials they got about $800.

Fortunately we have Amazon to provide the music long tail to Wal Mart's short head (or Wal Mart's online music store). The question is whether Home Depot will realise the market they are missing and make their web site a serious long tail supplement to their physical stores, or will they unknowingly surrender this market to someone else?

Marketing Headhunter

Splendid post. Somehow, I can't help but think that Walmart and the music industry deserve each other. BTW, I really, really, really, really, hope that your forthcoming book is sold in Walmart. Wouldn't that be funny??

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Where's that money, you stupid, silly old fool? Where's the money?! Do you realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal and prison! That's what it means. One of us is going to jail! Well, it's not gonna be me!

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

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