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August 15, 2005


Dan Hill

Not to mention that you can't have a decent metadata service without a proper meta-data model. That's not difficult to put together if you understand the basics of data modelling and the basics of music metadata, but when you're a habitual oligopolist like the record labels even that is too much innovation to expect...

Michael Papish

Another music recommendation/personalization company is us, MediaUnbound. We provide the recs and personalization features found on Napster and several other off- and on-line music services.

I'd like to think we've been as successful as movie rec providers, but check it out for yourself with this fun, little demo if you have some free time: http://demo.mediaunbound.com

On the issue of standardized metadata, this is one of the largest roadblocks slowing the online music industry. MediaUnbound spends a lot of time and resources just matching internal identifiers to the numerous versions used by our different clients.

For an example of how this problem hurts the music industry, check out the webcasting wars. Four years after determining rates for webcasting, SoundExchange (the entity tasked with distributing digital song performance royalties) and webcasters are still fighting over the format and delivery of metadata detailing the songs being broadcast. For added fun, the Copyright Office (whose expertise is Copyright, not technology) is in charge of promulgating the technical standards to be used in these data files. You can find the latest request for comments here: http://www.loc.gov/crb/fedreg/2005/70fr43364.html

If the parties had access to a standardized metadata DB, the whole process would be streamlined allowing for a larger number of "long-tail" artists to receive royalties. As it is, SoundExchange (in the process of doing their job) will be compiling a master DB from the data provided by webcasters. There is a proposal in front of the CO to compell SE to share this standardized metadata, but SE has opposed the idea.

Who cares about webcasting? As the first statutory license for digital music, it is a nice test case for the problems that will slow down (or destroy) efforts to create standardized licensing procedures. Without easy-to-use and easy-to-obtain licenses, it will be difficult to build the type of uber-music service you envision in the above post.

For an example of a well-built metadata catalog, see http://www.oclc.org, a cooperative of libraries which pool catalog information. The service allows libraries to reduce manual data-entry while operating on a standardized metadata system.

Choyon Manjrekar

Hi Chris, i'm relatively new to the long tail theory, but its intrigued me more as i've read about it. I recently made an observation, an anomaly of long tail logic so to speak, which I hope you can explain.
Netflix is a name that comes up a lot when discussing a succesful long tail model. I am a member of Blockbuster Online and have continued with my membership mainly because of the wide access I have to niche material like Mixed Martial Arts DVD's or the latest Adult Swim offering. However, I have noticed that newer releases which would fit into "niche" categories like the third season of Sealab 2021, the fourth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm or a Bill Hicks anthology are not available.
I have contacted the company who have replied saying that they would need to consider making each purchase.

Considering that Blockbuster competes with netflix, wouldn't it make sense to stock up on more niche items? Shouldn't they have wisened up to the long tail phenomenon by now? Why are we not seeing it in play then?

I think this raises another point, the fact that a long tail model requires a large investment for a business, whether to physically aquire their material or to secure copyrights as is the case with music.

I'm guessing that in Blockbuster's case, they function better on the 80/20 system by making their bread on mainstream releases instead of narrow marketable ones. Rather than bloat their catalog, they choose to work with a smaller selection.
Why haven't we seen Long Tail in effect here? Also, does it make sense to invest in inventory that might not be rented out as much (as is the case with blockbuster) when you can make a profit with what you have?

I hope to get your take on this.

chris anderson


I don't know why Blockbuster makes that decision, but I can guess at a few possible reasons. First, its brand is mainstream hits (there's a reason why they call it "Blockbuster"). People who are into more niche films would probably chose Netflix instead, which has made Long Tail inventory part of their brand (indeed, they have both those titles you mention). A second reason is that Blockbuster Online has less than a third as many customers as Netflix, so the odd of those niche movies finding an audience in the customer base are that much lower.

T J Neville

Re: Metadata.

Worries about standardizing metadata for music and video fade when broader trends in the evolution of media formats are taken into account – especially the century-long transition from static symbol-based (text, numbers, etc.) media formats to more dynamic (time-denominated) audio and audiovisual electronic products. How digital mediation is accelerating this transition is also a factor.

It’s likely that engaging acoustic (music) and audiovisual (films, TV, videogames) electronic formats share key common structural features, and that these commonalities are more pronounced as all formats are assembled on similar digital platforms. This is attributable, neuroscientists will tell you, to commonalities in how brains process time-denominated audio and audiovisual impression inputs (…as distinct from how they plow through static arrangements of text and numbers.)

It is also likely that automated algorithms will be developed that key on these commonalities, and that these will drive intelligent automation of program selection, scheduling & referral services, and maybe even content assembly. Polyphonic’s Hit Song Science algorithms for music are early examples – and are likely precursors of more robust derivations that glom onto comparable patterns in audiovisual products. Such algorithms could be personalized (…to take into account prior electronic experiences.) They could also be customized by content genre, demographics and other sub-groupings.

Finally, it’s a good bet that these algorithms will not depend heavily on tight standards for what we today think of as metadata, and will also run roughshod over litigious copyright owners. Can you imagine Larry Page sitting around saying he couldn’t develop his PageRank algorithm until detailed metadata standards for all web pages are enshrined?


Vil Vodka

has anyone introduced you to emusic.com?

All indie labels, most of the big indies in fact (Artemis, Epitaph Matador)
You can sort their charts by label, release date, composer, and "featured regions"


chris anderson


Unfortunately, I have tried eMusic and their lack of "head" content was disqualifying. I don't think of myself as having overly mainstream taste (mostly electronica) and I can't find *any* of my favorite bands there.

It's a shame, because as you point out they do have many of the info and interface features I'm looking for.


To me there is an interesting discrepancy in Amazon. They sell huge catalogs of both CDs and DVDs. They own the IMDB, which was extremely functional when they bought it. They also bought CDNOW, which had an easier interface to finding music than Amazon does, then they dismantled it. CDNOW's catalog was organized by genre and artist, not by "keyword" the way Amazon's is. Many performer's names were linked to pages containing that person's discography on CDNOW, all this similar to IMDB. I know this doesn't affect the main point directly (better way to find music) but its just to say that Amazon and the donwloaded music providers have a LONG LONG way to go since they dont' even provide the most basic functions from the IMDB. Once they get the basics down, like who was in what band when and who produced it in what studio for what label and make it all linked, then they can move on to "what bands were influenced by post-modern art in the mid-80's?" or "what US bands eschewed the seattle sound of the early 90's for the manchester sound?" They gotta crawl before they can walk.

Vil Vodka

Looking at emusic's top 100 albums, I see plenty of Head content as it pertains to Artists rather than titles.

Examples: Emusic has the Green Day catalog prior to their record deal with Reprise (off indie Lookout) as well as 50 Cent's first album prior to signing to Enimen's label. In addition, the Coldplay EP that was released prior to thei rmajor label debut is also on emusic. That right there is the biggest Rap and the two most succesful Alt- Rock artists of the last two years.
Add to that Gospel R&B legend Ray Chalres, Country legend Johnny cash, Crtically aclaimed indie rock bands The Decemberists and The Arcade Fire, breakthrough comedians Lewis Black and Dane Cook, rock legends The Kinks and CCR, folk icon Woody Guthrie, Modern rock radio mainstays Interpol, and past alt-rock favorites like Presidents of the United States, Pixies, and Bjork.


SOUND CONTROL. The only aspect of listening to my music on this phone that I dislike is the volume controls. I can’t easily reach into my pocket and discern which button is up and which is down, and I inevitably have to stop, get the phone out and look at the buttons. Given the amount of times you need to adjust volume - when cars accessories are/aren’t going by, with each new song, when you’re trying to avoid hearing the bums ask for change - this is an essential industrial design correction.

externe festplatte

That sentence isn’t totally clear. My understanding is the service is either download or streaming, or both. if that makes sense.

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

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