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January 02, 2007


Paul Hebert

And #9 is a compilation (aggregation) of hits - so it's really a representation of the tail in itself.

david francis

i tend to agree with your analysis, but i feel that another factor may be in play here (with music specifically).

Perhaps in general there are only so many ways modern music can be composed, performed and marketed/exposed originally enough that actually makes it a new hit that "everyone" likes - in the lowest common denominator sense. It is harder and harder to create an original hit song because everything has been "done" already - people have heard it before. so yes, people's tastes are changing, getting more specific, but also the sphere of what makes something original/creative is also shrinking, and the two feed off each other to create a longer long tail.



The RIAA link leads to an empty database search page.

Chris Anderson


For some reason the search criteria aren't recorded as part of the URL. To repeat the search just set the dates from Jan to Dec for each year and the format to "Album". I've updated the post to make this clearer.



I really think radio has a lot to do with this. I live in the Dallas area now, but the last 4 years I lived in South Florida, traveled to California, Kentucky, etc... each state I live or visit I try to get a sampling of the radio.

1) Most station are clear channel
2) Most clear channel stations are exactly the same
3) Genre representation has fallen through the floor.

In about 4 states I can get 1 pop station, a mix station (80's, 90's and today,) lots of latin, lots of country (well not in florida.) Occasionally I can get a modern rock station. That's a small smattering of modern music, especially considering each of the stations have a very small playlist compared to just a few years back.

So I bought XM. It's a lot better, a whole lot better. I've found new music, it's influenced me to buy albums, but I know very few other people with XM or Sirius.

Honestly, iTunes helps me find music far better than today's radio does, and that's where I buy all of it. I've bought more music in the past year than I have in the past 4 previous, but if I was just listening to the radio I never would have.


To add my thoughts to David Frances. I agree that a lot of pop is a rehash - of themes, chordal structure, beats etc. - which is why it’s losing its allure, and why a lot of the interesting stuff will happen in the long tail. I am not sure that I agree with: “the sphere of what makes something original/creative is also shrinking”. But perhaps that is for a different discussion.

I do agree, however that new kinds of originality that will appeal to a wide variety of consumers won’t fit into the hit formula. I think originality has always been easier to achieve in the long tail, but 2 things are influencing the increasing trend down the long tail and affecting 'hit' sales (in terms of this particular argument). The first is that the "lowest common denominator" has always been pretty boring but it was well marketed and ubiquitously available, and secondly, the alternative wasn't accessible enough (and quite frankly - 'normal' enough, and therefore within the comfort zones of punters) to 'show up' the shallowness of the listening / viewing experience of much of pop. However, as new channels 'normalise' different kinds of music because they become 'long tail hits' and much more widely accessible I think people will be much more fussy about what they listen to. I just have to think of My Chemical Romance on myspace. I totally relate to Alex's comment about iTunes helping him find new music and therefore increase what he spends on music. I found that commercial radio put a real damper on my music passion, whereas the internet (internet radio, iTunes, emusic etc.) helped to resuscitate the dying passion. It was a revelation to discover so much cool stuff on the net (new and old). I think its becoming a lot more ‘normal’ (and therefore comfortable) for consumers to use the internet filters that Chris describes in his book without having to rely on the advertising designed by ‘taste-makers’ to influence taste and spending – and determine whats ‘cool’. In fact, the mega-advertising campaigns for a select number of artists are becoming at best, quaint, at worst tedious, when compared to the interactive online experience.


While there's no doubt that record companies are doing a worse job of selling music over the last 7 or 8 years, there's also another element that I can never quite believe people are willing to ignore or dismiss as unimportant.

In 1999, Napster was just starting, and in 2000 music downloading via it was absolutely exploding.

You could rewrite this story using the same facts available, and come up with the subject "Music copying over the Internet cuts number of hit albums to 25% of previous levels".

Jay Frank

You are sounding the death knell of the blockbuster just a tad too early. As noted above, the RIAA Gold/Platinum search database has some issues. In fact, the 285 figure only goes thru the end of July 2006. The data from August thru December is not yet in their online database. Granted, this does not hold out hope that numbers are improving and are likely stuck at the placement it was at in the early nineties, but it will certainly not be as bad as 1983.

Also, the Top 10 of the year didn't include last week's sales which historically do add a significant number of units sold. The actual Top 10 is:

1) High School Musical - 3,719,000
2) Rascal Flatts - 3,480,000
3) Carrie Underwood - 3,016,000
4) Nickelback - 2,688,000
5) Justin Timberlake - 2,377,000
6) James Blunt - 2,137,000
7) Beyonce - 2,010,000
8) Hannah Montana - 1,988,000
9) Dixie Chicks - 1,856,000
10) Hinder - 1,817,000

Chris Anderson


Great catch. I've corrected the post.


Matthew Hurst


I think it is important to separate the issues of hits from distribution and accounting. Imagine two worlds. In one, there are 10 hits - songs/movies/whatever that everyone raves about and are very popular. In the other there are 1, 000s of smaller successes. Now, you are assuming that in the first world there is a difference between those hits being accounted for by sales of CDs and if those hits were obtained and enjoyed in some other way. I think you need to define a hit in terms of how popular it was and how many people experienced it. Perhaps your chart just measures the number of stolen albums and has nothing to do with the number of hits, or the popularity of the content.

Peter Kohan

I think Chris's general thesis here is on point: "gold is the new platinum" in the record industry; it is tougher and tougher to sell music to the masses through the existing record business model. However, using "albums" as a standard is not as relevant as it has been in past years. While the album is still a dominant format, many labels earn a major percentage of revenue from an artist on income derived from digital or mobile arenas. Hip-hop had a major sales decline in terms of album sales, but if you look at ringtone sales it is still the dominant format.



1 thing that constantly gets left out of the downward sales discussion -- THE PRICES AT WHICH THESE ALBUMS ARE SOLD. The consumer now expects to pay less than $10 (the savvy ones also want several extra tracks at release) for front line CD's. $9.72 at Wal mart is the order of the day. Saw a HIT title for $7.98 over the Holidays.


And a few more:

RIAA information is terminally late. Use Soundscan.

While the album is still a dominant format, many labels earn a major percentage of revenue from an artist on income derived from digital or mobile arenas. -- I would love for this to be true and it may be some day but right now it is not.

Gold is the new platinum... I saw another one today. FLAT IS THE NEW UP!


Nothing is wrong with rap everybody has their own type of music they listen to. It doesnt give u the right to talk bad about it if u dont like a certain type of music dont listen to it but dont down other artist who are putting their hearts and souls into their music.They are blessed with a talent obviously or they wouldnt b where they r today. These r all #1 albums they just didnt sell as well as other #1 albums.#1 is #1. doesnt matter what type of music it is rap alternative r&b rock or whatever..

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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!