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July 29, 2005


Terry Steichen

It seems to me that the "long tail" concept is intrinsically related to (1) a capability to economically inventory (store and retrieve) long-tail (that is, low-demand) items (which I'll label as LTI's, because I'm lazy), and (2) a capablity to economically market LTI's. For information-based items/products, the first (inventory) capability is largely addressed by deploying large amounts of cheap, online storage.

The second component (marketing) has two aspects: (2a) how to let potential customers know about the availability of LTI's that might be appealing to them, and (2b) how to let potential customers efficiently locate LTI's.

The challenge of creating product awareness in potential customers (component 2a above) is the classic one of balancing outreach activities (advertising, etc.) with expected return. The problem with LTI's is that the business any one of them can potentially generate is - by definition - small. So conventional advertising probably won't work very well.

Of course, if there are enough LTI's and if they can be aggregated into collections with potential appeal to large enough market segments, then conventional outreach techniques can be justified. The key challenge here is how to accomplish the aggregation, a challenge which quickly morphs into a classification task. If you can discerne the important characteristics of LTI's and use these characteristics to classify the LTI's, you can then group the LTI's by these characteristics, and create collections. If these collections are meaningful, large enough and match up with characteristics of specific market segments, marketing success can follow.

The second marketing component (component 2b above) is almost the converse. Given some initial interest (however generated), how does a potential customer quickly and easily locate LTI's that match their interest? Standard search mechanisms don't provide sufficient discrimination (or, to put it more technically, they don't provide sufficient precision and recall). Here again, the challenge becomes one of classification. If the LTI's can be classified in some meaningful way, the search mechanism can be made aware of this classification and provide a much more powerful tool for potential customers to use in locating the desired items.

Though frequently mentioned in conjunction with the "long tail" concept, recommendation systems don't, per se, provide a solution - rather they leave us with the same problem. If the items are in low-demand, where do you find enough people who've bought them? If you haven't classified the items properly, how do you know that they share characteristics with items that have been (one way or another) recommended to potential buyers?

In sum, successful implementation of "long tail" merchanizing rests mainly on successful classification of the items involved. Once that has been accomplished, all the other mechanisms (search, recommendation, niche collections, etc.) can work quite nicely.


is this a niche aggregator?


Azeem Azhar

Hey Chris,

As if to prove that everything that hasn't been invented has already been invented by the porn business, this thing that you call 'niche aggregators' is how the porno firms have been running their businesses for at least seven or eight years.

There are a few b2b suppliers of porn (e.g. holio) who allow you access to their 'long tail' of content and then it is up to you, the webmaster, to decided how and what to aggregate, how to market it, etc. This allows you to repurpose content as 'european leather fetishists' and 'hairy teens' without having to go out and take the photos.

The problem of marketing resides with the webmasters who understand their niches better than anyone.

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

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