Well, it depends who "you" are. If you're an aggregator, sure. But if you're like the majority of Long Tail microproducers, direct revenues can be harder to come by. I was reminded by this Valleywag post that one of the most common misunderstandings of the phenomena is that it somehow makes it easy for individuals to translate low popularity into riches. Here's the key part of the post:
I'm beginning to have my doubts about Chris Anderson's long tail, the proposition that cultural boutiques can make a living on the Internet. One disgruntled publisher complains she's owed less than the minimum Google can be bothered to pay her. And, as fast as she makes money, Google lifts the threshold. [She writes:] "When I started with Adsense in late 2004/ early 2005 the minimum was $25. Just when was about to hit the $25 minimum, they raised it to $50. Now that I have $45 in my account, the minimum is $100. Granted, I have a site with very low traffic, but how many website owners are getting screwed by Google? If the long-tail theory holds out, there could be millions of dollars of unpaid Google ads."
First, let's review what the theory actually says. The nutshell version of it is this two-parter: A) if you can dramatically lower the cost of production and distribution, you can offer far more variety. B) given more variety and the tools to easily organize it for individual taste, people will increasingly revel in their differences, rather than settling for their commonalities as in traditional blockbuster culture.
In Long Tail markets, hits lose their monopoly on culture as they share the stage with million of niche products. Minority taste rules.
There are three basic types of participants in Long Tail markets: consumers, aggregators and producers (note that it's possible to be all three; these aren't mutually incompatible). The main effects on each are:
- Consumers. Effect: Largely cultural. People have more choice, so individual taste increasingly satisfied even if the effect is an increasingly fragmented culture.
- Aggregators. Effect: Largely economic. It's never been easier to assemble vast variety and create tools for organizing it, from search to recommendations. Increased variety plus increased demand for variety equals opportunity. Also note that just as one size doesn't fit all for products, nor does it for aggregators. I think the winner-take-all examples of eBay, Amazon, iTunes and Google are a first-inning phenomena. Specialized niche aggregators (think: vertical search, such as the real estate service Zillow) are on the rise.
- Producers. Effect: Largely non-economic. I responded to a good Nick Carr post on this last year with the following: "For producers, Long Tail benefits are not primarily about direct revenues. Sure, Google Adsense on the average blog will generate risible returns, and the average band on MySpace probably won't sell enough CDs to pay back their recording costs, much less quit their day jobs. But the ability to unitize such microcelebrity can be significant elsewhere. A blog is a great personal branding vehicle, leading to anything from job offers to consulting gigs. And most band's MySpace pages are intended to bring fans to live shows, which are the market most bands care most about. When you look at the non-monetary economy of reputation, the Long Tail looks a lot more inviting for its inhabitants."
So to answer the publisher quoted by Valleywag, the Long Tail never promised you Adsense riches. If what you're doing has value, it does promise you more attention, reputation and readership. But converting that non-monetary currency to actual money is up to you, and there are as many ways to do that (from better job offers to consulting) as there are people who wish to try.
As for Google sitting on the float on millions of dollars of sub-threshold ad payments, well, Google is the canonical Long Tail aggregator. By capping minimum payments it's clearly found a way to improve the economics of serving the Long Tail of advertiser, advertisement and ad-driven publisher. If that's not what such Long Tail publishers want, that suggests that there's a nice opportunity for a competing ad network that can serve them better. One size doesn't fit all.