A colleague rightly chides me for muddying the waters over the whole future of the hit thing.
First, I complain that the number one misinterpretation of the Long Tail is that hits are dead. As I explained in this post ("Hits aren't dead. Hits aren't dead. Hits..."):
What is dead is the monopoly of the hit. For too long hits or products intended to be hits have had the stage to themselves, because only hit-centric companies had access to the retail channel and the retail channel only had room for best-sellers. But now blockbusters must share the stage with a million niche products, and this will lead to a very different marketplace.
Then last week, in my update on the latest music sales, I start the post by saying "...it's time to start updating the death-of-the-blockbuster stats." So which is it, Chris? Are hits dead or not?
Well, first, I'm going to claim a little literary licence with that whole "death" thing. I call that rhetorical device "endism" and I half-heartedly defend it here. It's exaggeration, of course, but with a point.
But there's actually a real distinction I'm drawing between hits and blockbusters. The reason I get so annoyed when people misread The Long Tail to think that I'm arguing that hits are dead is that the canonical powerlaw that defines the Long Tail requires hits. That curve is the shape of radical inequality, where a few things sell a lot and a lot of things sell a little. The right side of the curve--the long tail--can't exist without the left side of the curve--the short head--which is made up of hits.
But as markets vastly increase their available variety and the tools for consumers to find it, demand shifts down the tail, from hits to niche products. You still have radical inequality between the two, but it's not as pronounced as it is in traditional limited-choice markets. So the hits get a little less "hit-ey"--their sales decline a bit, as the aggregate sales of millions of niche products increases. In short, blockbusters turn into regular old hits.
So that's the distinction I'm making. Blockbusters--megahits--are dying in industries such as music (where the line of the moment is that "gold is the new platinum"), but hits will be with us forever.
You can visualize it like this: