Long Tail important thing. Thag must grok idea to make idea work. It say that markets conversations. Wait, no - that cluetrain. Long Tail claim there new marketplace at end of rainbow. Blog believe rainbow exist, but nobody else care.
Long ago, before Internet, Anderson man had long tail on body. Got tired of lug tail everywhere, so put online for auction. Caveman in Iowa bought cheap. Gomesaur came, want Anderson tail - but Anderson no have. Gomesaur attack Anderson, say Long Tail no exist.
Anderson kill Gomesaur with it own long tail. Gomesaur go extinct. Indiana Jones dig up long tail bone in next sequel. It make good movie.
The whole episode was an interesting and in many ways educational experience. The big lesson, as Rex Hammock points out, was the advantage of having a blog. The WSJ got the first word, but the conversation continued out here in the blogosphere, both in my comments and on other blogs thanks to the very classy decision of the WSJ editors to put a link to my response in a prominent box in Gomes' story. Gomes, not having his own blog (by WSJ policy perhaps), was forced to respond by asking blogger Nick Carr to post an email from him the next morning, which was too little, too late.
One of the main message from the blog commentary was that this was a debate on the margins of my thesis, missing the big point. After all, Gomes' three objections were: 1) the tail isn't yet bigger than the head, 2) the 98% rule isn't universal and 3) the tail, in percentage terms, still looks small. They respectively refer to 1) language only found in the jacket copy, not the book, 2) a passage only found in the introduction where I tell the history of how I began the process that led to the Long Tail observation and 3) something that isn't in the book at all, because I found it statistically meaningless.
My main point--that the Long Tail, both in terms of content and products available and the demand for them, is big and getting bigger--isn't really disputed by any of this and I was pleased to see how many people recognized this.
Erick Shonfeld from Business 2.0 (who coined the "nichebuster" phrase that I mention in the book), has a good day-after post that I think puts the whole thing in a clearer context:
[Gomes] takes issue with the suggestion that the long tail of goods and services made possible by the Internet will ever be bigger than the hits at the head of Anderson's now-famous power law curve. While that may be a popular misconception about the long tail argument, even Anderson says that is not the case and, in fact, long ago revised downward some of the startling data in his original Wired article. (For instance, instead of 57 percent of Amazon's sales coming from the long tail of books beyond the top 100,000 or so, it looks like it is really just about a quarter of its sales).
But the interesting question is not so much whether the tail is bigger than the head. It is not. The really interesting question is: How long can the tail get?
In other words, by eliminating the costs of inventory and allowing unlimited choice over the Internet, how niche can a product get and still be economic to produce and sell? The answer is you can now go a lot further down that curve.
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.
That is what the book is really about.
Well put. In the end, I think that despite my disappointment with Gomes' piece, the subsequent debate was interesting and constructive, both for my theory and as a case study in the increasing power of blogs as a counterbalance to mainstream media. And of course there is the fact that debate is a good way to get attention, for which I thank Gomes. As the salvos flew yesterday I got news that my book, which is currently #10 on the WSJ non-fiction bestseller list, will move to #3 next week. Now I'm getting email from other authors asking if I can get Gomes to attack them, too.