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July 28, 2006

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Frank Deutschmann

Hmmm. So in the end, the debate reduces the Long Tail analysis to the summary: as incremental inventory costs go to zero, retailers should carry more inventory.

Well, um, yeah. (But while hoping against hope for those 'nichebusters', do beware of cannibalization and ensure that your bloated inventory doesn't prevent your customers from finding the hits they had previously bought....)

But this does leave unanswered the more interesting, more difficult question: when should we carry more inventory in a given category, versus when should we branch out into a totally different category and carry fewer hits there? Hmmm.......

Doug Karr

Chris,

Do you find it totally ironic that a journalist at a major newspaper might oppose the long tail theory? Newspaper circulation continues to shrink while blogs are expanding exponentially. Rather than depend on a few Editors for my news, I can seek out any one of a thousand experts to give me first-hand knowledge by visiting their blog. No offense to you but I'm sure that even Wired has noticed this. Stories that your journalists were once privy to are now available to anyone directly. The long tail of journalism seems to be blogging if you ask me.

Cheers,
Doug

PS: You may have mentioned this in your book but I'm only up to the SNL portion right now.

TC

I have your book here, and don't quite understand how you can say you don't talk in it about the "tail being bigger than the head." This is what you say on page 8.

"Maybe hits are the wrong way to look at the business. There are, after all, a lot more non-hits than hits, and now both are equally available. What if the non-hits -- from healthy niche products to outright misses -- all together added up to a market as big as, if not bigger than, the hits themselves? The answer to that was clear: It would radically transform some of the largest markets in the world."

Chris Anderson

TC,

I think I've been pretty clear about this. When I'm talking about current data and the observed effects right now, the size of the tail is given by the data on page 23 (21%-40% depending on the market). In those few instances where I'm talking about the future, such as the jacket quote and the speculative "What if..." passage on page 8, I don't give any date as to when that day might arrive. Indeed, I'm sure in some markets we'll never get there (remember: my thesis is only that the Tail is big and getting bigger). The only market in which I've made any specific prediction (and even then only on this blog) is in music, where an extrapolation of the growth trends on Rhapsody over the past years suggest we'll hit the 50% Tail mark within five years.

Please don't do what Gomes did and confuse my statements about the present, which are all backed with hard data, with my speculations about the future. We can measure the present, and my book is focused on doing just that. But the future is only a prediction (although I naturally think mine is at least a well-informed one).

Chris

tc

OK, but, I just went and re-read Gomes' column, and this is what he said about this subject.
"In the book's main sections, Mr. Anderson writes that as things move online, sales of misses will increase -- so much so that they can equal or exceed the sales of hits. The latter is the book's showstopper proposition; it's mentioned twice on the book's jacket."
Isn't he talking about the future, and not the present?

Chris Anderson

TC,

If only he'd been clear about that. Unfortunately he compared a future-tense prediction with current data, and then, compounding things, compared my prediction about tail size with *his* definition of "tail" (using percentage terms, which I'd already rejected). That's just wrong.

Chris

Frank Deutschmann

Let me get this straight: your whole book slyly discusses the future, and then you whine, "I wish he'd [Gomes] been clear about [the future tense aspect]."

Nice.

Why is it that in Old Media, what's said is concrete and reliable, while in New Media, what's said needs to have all sorts of clarifications and additional restrictions and narrowing conditions placed on it to be meaningful? (And then, in the end, we find that the New Media proclamation of a New World Order is really just some restatement of some obvious narrow concept....)

Now that the Long Tail has been gutted into the inventory balance of supermarkets, time to move on.

julian.bond

And because there is now economic life further down the curve, niche products can turn into nichebusters and travel up the curve more easily than in the past.

So the really interesting area is "The Fat Middle" (c. Julian Bond 2006). That's where all the volatility happens.

John Dodds

Yes the mouth-watering middle is the interesting place, but no it isn't fat. If it were, it would have been noticed before now.

Bob Bradley

Am enjoying recent spate of books that demonstrate how 'data'--traditionally viewed as cold, unfeeling, lifeless--is actually organic and alive and no longer the 'niche' province of wonks. This is a good thing. THE LONG TAIL and others in its 'family' are valuable beyond their individual topics and hypotheses. This literature extends a 'tail' of its own. I am interested in examining the trend of this particular tail and how it applies to education reform, specifically technology integration and civic engagement pedagogies such as service learning and social entrepreneurship. These 'modes' of learning create channels to disseminate 'modules' of curricula based on the spirit of inquiry and synthesis represented by the underlying message of books such as, THE LONG TAIL, THE TIPPING POINT, FREAKONOMICS, and more distant progenitors such as Thomas Stewart's work in Intellectual Capital. Field research in my area yields a following observation: inner city African American 6th graders display blinding facility with the mouse, yet need keyboarding reinforcement. Follow-up instruction will include drills to build that keyboarding ability. This ability will establish the code/text creation platform on which to build games their mouse-hands will play. The demanding nature of code-creation strenthens students' textual capacity (reading, writing, research), a matter of grave concern to educators. Am very interested in any and all comments on how to develop and deploy strategies for aligning education practice with this post-contemporary theory exhibited by THE LONG TAIL and other books like it. It's time to bust the niche of 'education' by developing a spirit of academic entrepreneurship. The 'long tail' of such a movement would work wonders on critical issues like student motivation, the 'x' factor that drives all outcomes. bob bradley, tennessee state university director of technology integration. e-mail: [email protected]

Matt

The Wall St Journal a Old Media Publication criticising a New Media Theory how typical and sad ....

Mike Abundo

The answer is you can now go a lot further down that curve.

How far? Let's paraphrase an Army slogan: An Industry of One.

Paul Hebert

One of the things I think is missing in this discussion is that the "tail" is not simply (or only) an economic issue. The "value" of the tail is not the sum of it's economic value but the value of services/ideas each creates. In other words the way in which the individual niches is served creates different approaches, technologies, ideas - creating something not thought of before - ideas that can be applied further up the tail creating more value at the "head" as well.

Long-winded way of saying - "the future is at the fringe" and the fringe is in one of the niches. Looking for disruptive innovations? Looking for sustaining innovations? Look no further than the tail.

If nothing else, recognizing the tail exists and watching it, allows you to see what's next and apply it in the the "wider" niches closer to the head.

Doug

Funny how even arguments seemingly about entirely objective data can degenerate into subjective bickering. Witness the BLOG war set off by a WSJ journalist that has decided that Wired's Chris Anderson's "Long Tail" contentions are seriously flawed.

For my money, at one level this is merely another case of numbers lie and liars use numbers; but, on another, me thinks that, perhaps, that Mr Gomes protests too much. In other words, at least in light of Anderson's rejoinders, the Jounal's writer seems to be working awfully hard to discredit a cleaarly "disruptive" trend. Could it be that mainstream press wonks have a certain cross to bear, ox to gore, blog to flog...pick your old (or new wave) cliche....

http://silverbulleits.typepad.com/dcs/

_oh

My Comments on the Long Tail.

My old professor in college, used to comment on how few magazines there were in his days as a student. There were three books in the entire architecture school library.The glossy publications we know today helped to create the powerful names in the creative industries.

The image of the artist in the twentieth century has relied upon the notion of autographic art. The ideal of a romantic author is necessary to underpin creative jobs, as ‘copyright’ professions. Glossy architectural magazines are only employed to help propagate the myth. But many creative works are produced with some kind of plan, script or score, which is the opposite, to the notion of the single author. Many people can work together and augment the script.

Using digital technology, the cost of fixation and transmission of information has been reduced. People themselves can become ‘broadcasting facilities’. You can distribute the task of review over many individuals. The process of review is less formalised. It is almost 'out of control', to use the expression from Kevin Kelly's book.

Experts can be brought onboard for a couple of hours at a critical stage in a projects development. Data packets fly back and forth between dozens, hundreds and thousands of dispersed individuals. The ‘Forward key’ and the ‘Reply key’ in the email application are used to grow a gigantic network. The tendrils of this network seem to extend miles out into cyberspace. Like the image of the 17 mile long hering shole going to spawn.

With any large and distributed peer reviewing process, it is difficult to see individuals ‘making decisions‘. That is why a terrorist organisation is so difficult to predict, difficult to 'pin-point' after the acts. The digital blueprint is a patchwork of different fragments sewn together. Traditional law enforcement trains people to seek individuals, but the doesn't teach them to recognise a swarm effect.

In the future, payment for review of data will evolve with new concepts like Smart Money. This is the particular Long Tail, that I am interested in. Because it changes radically, the way in which design professions go about their business.

We are only beginning to see the emergence of new models though.
Like the idea of a montly rental for access to all works of music in the world. Imagine paying a montly rental for access to all the best design brains in the world? Smart money will have very little resemblance to the money we know today. When packets of digital data allow for a two-way transaction to occur. Sophisticated instruments for re-embursement of the designer or artist.

The believe in individual authorship is very misleading in today’s environment. But are there weaknesses with the concept of de-centralised information production? Frederick Brooks also wrote a book called ‘The Mythical Man Month’. In his famous book, Frederick first publicised the idea that adding more people to a project can make it progress even slower. Because the communications overhead between the individual members of the design team rises exponentially. Whereas the rise in work done is only linear.

Architects are needed more than ever, to define the components of the project which have conceptual integrity. To define a system of collaboration which uses clean interfaces between those components.I will give the last word to Tom Peters, an early commentator on the knowledge economy.

From his 1982 book, ‘In Search of Excellence‘.

“Most of the institutions that we spend time with are ensnared in massive reports that have been massaged by various staffs and sometimes, quite literally, hundreds of staffers. All the life is pressed out of the ideas; only an iota of personal accountability remains. Big companies seem to foster huge laboratory operations that produce papers and patents by the ton, but rarely new products. These companies are besieged by vast interlocking sets of committees and task forces that drive out creativity and block action. Work is governed by an absence of realism, spawned by staffs of people who haven’t made or sold, tried, tasted, or sometimes even seen the product, but instead, have learned about it from reading dry reports produced by other staffers.”

Brian O’ Hanlon.

mark

I think the true power of "the long tail" is its ability to capture the imagination of the public. Clearly the social revolution implied by the growth of the long tail (or at the very least, retailers' increased interest in and willingness to stock the "misses" in the tail of the power curve) has already begun. As someone who grew up in the midst of all these changes (I'm 24), my own mental and cultural life has been fundamentally changed and enriched by the instant availability of a seemingly never-ending back catalog of music, images, and texts thanks to google, amazon, emusic, et al.

mark

PS- Chris, isn't it time to change your Blog's masthead.

"A public diary now published and on the way to becoming a bestselling book," while awkward, would be more accurate at this point. I read it on my vacation by the way, and you deserve the success. Cheers

Albert Halprin

Actually the question of whether the tail is bigger than the head is not only easy to answer, it is not really too important. What is much more important (in ters of the impact on society and the economy) is the relative size and growth of profits from the tail. It's too bad that the debate has not been joined (and, perhaps, the data has not been collected, analyzed, or even generated) on this point

Michael D. Smith

I am one of the co-authors (along with Erik Brynjolfsson and Jeffrey Hu) an early study on this phenomenon at MIT, and a fan of Chris's research and writing. I completely agree with Albert: Let's not get so focused on which % is the right one that we forget about the big picture in terms of the economy and society.

It seems to me that we can be sure of the following things: (1) Amazon and other Internet retailers stock a whole lot more products than what you can find in brick-and-mortar stores, (2) sales of these products are high in online markets, (3) the impact of this increased product variety on both consumers and producers is substantial.

So whether it's x% or y%, we are still talking about an important phenomenon that is changing how products are produced, marketed, and consumed. That's the real story here.

Zach C.

Amusingly, I read and enjoyed the Cluetrain theory of publicity, and have seen it applied successfully and unsuccessfully (hint: business lunches and corporate-sponsored websites shouldn't be a place for midlife crises to be explored - but some of the people you talk to might be sympathetic).

Also the Contented Cows theory of management.

Now comes the Long Tail theory of marketing. Variety over impact, so long as that variety matches someone's need. Programmers successfully do Open Source this way: they have a need, and figure someone else will have the same need; if they tell the right people about it and let everyone work on the code, hopefully the solution to this need gains momentum and eventually reaches something like perfection. Plus, a lot of people have their needs met. Of course, the project could die an obscure death before even getting started due to mistakes like not telling the right people, or reinventing the square wheel.

But with so many different projects available, so many choices, there's bound to be something desireable in there. Look at SourceForge, after all. There are reasons why it's so large, but its very size is one of the big reasons why it's so popular.

_oh

That is a very good post Zach C.
I know it is probably much easier to discuss Amazon store, than terrorism, in a blog. But what your point implies directly - is that because so many sinister 'projects' might undergo the chop, call it a form of Darwinism, that what plans are eventually hatched - will almost definitely succeed, just as bug free as good open source software tends to be.
Now, compare that for a minute with our law enforcement and government protection organisations, which probably offer a more 'top-down' form of organisation, and you can bet your bottom dollar, that most 'suggestions' about counter-crime, counter anything, come mainly from the fat end of the curve, not the long end.

Brian O'Hanlon.

_oh

To give another quick example. John Thackara, in his book, In the Bubble speaks of the state run health care system being geared mainly for acute illness. That is, illness that is very serious, but plays itself out very quickly. But the majority of funds spent in the health care system, go not to 'acute', but rather, 'cronic' illnesses. That is, illnesses that go on for a long, long time. There is an imbalance here in the system. Mainly brought about, by special interest groups, who want to sell the expensive, high-profit hardware used to treat acute stuff, rather than deal with cronic more long term.

To bring that point, into my point about criminality prevention. As criminals use technology to race down the long tail, producing 'less-typical' kinds of crime, and more 'tailor-made' crimes. Should the crime prevention forces stick to tried and tested, or race down the long tail, after this new adversary?

Brian O' Hanlon.

GrowthIsOptional

To address one of the comments that blogging will eventually replace the newspaper: Huh??? Blogging is catching on and growing exponentially, yes, but it will never replace a newspaper. Blogging means searching the internet. It means time. It means getting the information you need from different sources. Newspaper means holding a large variety of information in your hand, in one place. The most you'll have to do is flipping the pages.

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Tidbits

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!