One of the problems with having coined a phrase that has become something of a cliche is that it invites criticism and backlash. There have been dozens of articles or blog posts that questions some part of the thesis or the data that underlies it (along with the many that support it, of course). Sometimes the writers make good points, but more often their arguments are based on misreadings of the book, statistical errors or simple listing of anecdotes or specific examples that don't fit the theory, rather than any systematic analysis.
This is not to say that there aren't many things I don't cover in the book but should have, and a few things I did cover but shouldn't have *cough* Google Video *cough*. I've touched on some of the more interesting errors and omissions here on the blog, including in the FAQ here.
As for plain old takedown attempts, I think I've heard them all several times now, and it's getting tiresome to respond to each one. So I thought that I'd just list some of the most common mistakes here, so people might at least make more interesting ones in the future.
The Top Five Mistakes of Long Tail Criticism
- "X was a hit! See? Hits aren't dead. Hah!" I never said they were. Hits are as much a part of a powerlaw distribution as are niches. It's the monopoly of the hit that's dead. I do, in fairness, declare the "death of the blockbuster" from time to time, and weasel out of the conflict by defining blockbusters as "megahits" of the sort we won't be seeing much of anymore. This is Literary License.
- "I've done an analysis of this dataset and, in percentage terms, it shows that sales are become more concentrated in the head, not less. Hah!" This is the Percentage Mistake. Many people make it, and it's an easy trap to fall into since we're not used to inventories that grow by a factor of ten or more in five years. Netflix, for instance, has grown from 4,000 titles to more than 70,000 titles since 2000. Over the same period the rentals of the top 100 films has dropped from 27% of the total to 17% (Ilya is directionally right on this part, at least), so in real terms demand is spread over more titles. But since those 100 titles now represent a smaller percentage of a much larger inventory (from 2.5% to 0.1%), it looks like the market is indeed more concentrated on the hits, even though such percentage analysis is meaningless in the real world where absolute numbers are everything. This is simply a statistical error. Please don't make it.
- "I'm in the Long Tail and I'm not rich yet--the theory clearly doesn't work. Hah!" The big money in the Long Tail is in aggregation, as shown by the likes of eBay or iTunes. For the individual producer who's way down there in the weeds, the forces that created the Long Tail market in the first place--democratized access to market and powerful filters that can drive demand to niches--certainly help, but even doubling a small number still leaves a pretty small number. Good thing there are all those non-monetary rewards, such as attention and reputation, huh? How to convert them to real money is up to you. Have you considered playing a concert?
- "You said that 57% of Amazon sales are Long Tail. No way. Hah!" I know. That part of the analysis in the 2004 article, which was based on some MIT work, appears to have undercounted the top-sellers. Forensic economics isn't perfect. We've subsequently done a lot more work and revised that to 25%, which is the figure used in the book and all other writings for the past two-plus years. Please use the more recent figures. [Update: Hi Valleywag readers! This was very publicly corrected more than two years ago, and the data in the book is accurate. Old news, nothing to see here unless you haven't been paying attention for a loooong time.]
- "You call Blockbuster and Barnes & Noble the Short Head. But what about Blockbuster.com and BN.com? They've got every bit as big an inventory as Netflix and Amazon. Hah!" Sigh. Please understand the definitions. Short Head = inventory in the typical store of the largest bricks and mortar retailer in a market. Long Tail = everything else. Is that so hard?