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January 30, 2007

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Ian Betteridge

I think you miss out the other criticism, which can be summed up as "it was ever thus". The hits/niche dichotomy is nothing new, and the proportion of hits-to-niche hasn't changed much. What has changed is our ability to track sales data, much of which was hidden before.

Jeffrey Parsons

I think the problem stems from the perception that the Long Tail is "good" and the Short Head is "bad." People have allegiance to certain brands and feel compelled to defend them.

FICO

The only complaint I had was that even retailers focused on "hits" can do a lot more than "guess" - analytics in retail is increasingly sophisticated.
If you are interested, here's my article on system support for Long Tail businesses.
JT
www.edmblog.com

Mary Warner

You know what I find incredible? With the millions of individuals on this earth, with their millions of individual tastes, it's amazing that there are hits at all. What I want to know is what is the basis for this commonality in taste? What is that ineffable quality that defines a hit for the masses? My grandma has Alzheimer's and I've observed that even though she has lost a great deal of her memory, her aesthetic sensibility remains intact. Could this sensibility actually be instinctual? Could this aesthetice instinct (if that's what it is) be a determining factor between hits and the long tail? (Of course, I'm speaking of a quality that goes deeper than good promotion, ease of production, and expanded distribution.)

Jakob Nielsen

Great to see you rebut this bunch of stupidities and statistical fallacies.

Still, while basically agreeing with you, I have two modifications:

Mistake 1:
I don't think it's completely accurate to say that there won't be any megahits. They are probably going to be more rare than in the past, but the degree of hits follow some kind of random distribution, so every now and then you do get something that kicks the pendulum out further than its mean.

Example 1: Harry Potter.

Example 2: Google. Currently bigger than it "ought" to be according to the theory. See, for example, the second chart in my traffic log analysis, where Google sits as a dot quite far above the line defined by the Zipf distribution.

Most likely there will be a regression back to the mean and the power law will reassert itself over the long term. But in the short term (i.e., any individual year), there will sometimes be a megahit that's bigger than the curve predicts.

Mistake 3:
Yes, most people won't get rich from long tail content and services, but some will actually make decent money. It's often overlooked that niche content can be worth dramatically more than generic content, because it's more value-add to the customer. As a simple example, I will point to my training video on paper prototyping (a usability technique).

This film has sold about 2,000 copies, which surely qualifies it as very long tail. But we get to keep most of the $68 sales price (less tiny replication costs for the DVD, and a bit of fulfillment). In contrast, movie studios only make a few bucks per DVD sold of hit movies. We make more than $50 per DVD sold, or $100K for this film. (Plus, of course, what it'll sell in future years, since this is evergreen content.)

OK, $100K doesn't qualify as "getting rich," but it's enough to cover the production costs and leave a margin.

James Lewin

Jakob makes some good points.

Also, using Netflix as the example for Mistake 2 is unfortunate, since Netflix doesn't really sell movies, it sells the idea that you can get any movie you want, whenever you want it.

More important, though, is that rentals at Netflix don't reflect what customers want, but what's in Netflix's best interest to deliver.

People aren't renting more "long tail" films off of Netflix by choice. Netflix fulfills requests for relatively older, unpopular films much more quickly than requests for recent, popular films. This lets Netflix minimize their inventory and reduces their need to invest in expensive, new movies.

If you want to make a valid case of Netflix, you should be using the distribution of movie titles in Netflix customers' wishlists, rather than what the company fulfills.

Seth Finkelstein

Hmmm ... the pattern I see here is more like

"The Long Tail has riches, wealth, MONEY! It's a revolution in DEMOCRATIZATION, where PEOPLE-POWER fuels the system."

"Waitaminute. I'm not rich, nobody I know is making much money ..."

"HA! You didn't understand the theory. When I said *MONEY*, I really meant money for the big retailer. When I said *DEMOCRATIZATION*, I meant you're all little sharecroppers. When I said *PEOPLE-POWER*, I meant there's no profit without labor. So you haven't refuted anything."

This is called Slick Marketing. :-(

That is, with enough license, creative redefinition, and weaving back and forth between claims, you can do the trick of selling hype then retreating to triviality.

It's not all that amazing to say there's a potential for business in a low-margin high-volume model. That's Wal-Mart. Or even that there's a slight shift in distribution. But it's both not an easy business, since low-margin means not much margin of error, and the LongTailers (usually called something like "nonunion day labor") are almost always treated very poorly - which is hardly is something to cheer about unless you're in the BigHead of the business.

Reed Bailey

Considering the repetition and nature of these explanations, it seems long tail, power distribution, applies to the continuum of critical thinking and thought: A small population that thinks and a large population that does not (the knee jerk responses).

John I.

The forces that shape our society are and have always been of economic nature (yeah...good old supply and demand). In this sense the Long Tail is - above all - a set of economic principles setting the stage for a new era.
As far as individuals are concerned there are - even today (in the beginning of the Long Tail era) - many many examples of people who actually made good money just by being original, having fun and share their experiences with others. Two examples come to my mind right now, the mentos-coke guys and, more recently, a guy that sold "himself" in e-bay (for around AU $7,500). I am sure that in this blog I will find many other examples (I haven't explored all of it yet :), and their number will only rise from now on...

But, I disagree with Mr. Seth Finkelstein and his Long Tail comment about the Long Tail theory in one fundamental point: calling the Long Tail theory and its related strong scientific argumentation "Slick Marketing" it is - I believe - a very "cheap" way to see it, especially when it refers to a notion that big (hey, its alerady here in these lines...can't you see it?)

Is everything that we do as individuals related to "How do I make money, How do I make money, How do I make money, etc...")?

I believe not.

p.s. How do I put links on the text? :-)

fee

I don't think it's completely accurate to say that there won't be any megahits. They are probably going to be more rare than in the past, but the degree of hits follow some kind of random distribution, so every now and then you do get something that kicks the pendulum out further than its mean.

Example 1: Harry Potter.

Example 2: Google. Currently bigger than it "ought" to be according to the theory. See, for example, the second chart in my traffic log analysis, where Google sits as a dot quite far above the line defined by the Zipf distribution.

Most likely there will be a regression back to the mean and the power law will reassert itself over the long term. But in the short term (i.e., any individual year), there will sometimes be a megahit that's bigger than the curve predicts

http://read-articles.blogspot.com/

Ed Shane

This column appears in February "Best In Texas" Music Magazine, the print companion to the online Texas Music Chart (a Long Tail filter). Hope I captured the spirit:

The buzz in the entertainment community during the past six months has been about the economic theory of “The Long Tail.”

You and I already know about the Long Tail.

Whether you’re a musician in the Texas and Red Dirt scene or a fan who follows the artists through publications like this one, you’re a vital part of the Long Tail.

The premise is that if platinum albums and mega-million-dollar movies are the “head” of the entertainment economy, then niche products are the “tail.” Because there are so many niches that can be accommodated today, the tail is long—thus, the phrase.

With today’s easily-accessible digital technology, everyone has the tools to record, publish, or produce, so the opportunities for individual success are greater, even without a mass appeal hit. Production, distribution, and marketing are now a very democratic, truly grass-roots process.

The book The Long Tail is by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief at Wired magazine. He surmises that the day of the blockbuster hit is behind us and the world of unlimited choice is the driver of the economy.

He describes the three forces of the Long Tail as: (1) Make it; (2) Get it out there;
and (3) Help me find it.

That’s exactly why I say you and I are already there.

Artists can make a good living without having to wait for a chance to play Texas Stadium, the Alamodome or even Billy Bob’s. There are plenty of venues where they can play the songs they – and their audiences – like.

And because we as consumers don’t have to wait for some corporate machine to approve our favorite music, we can pick it up when we want at merch tables or online. Or find our favorite singer-songwriters at intimate clubs as well as on huge stages.

That’s why Texas and Red Dirt music are so attractive to people outside Texas and Oklahoma. There’s a niche here, but take all the elements of the niche, and you’ve got enough of an audience to create a sales pattern as big as any blockbuster.

Welcome, world, to The Long Tail.

Here in Texas, we’ve been wagging that dog for some time now.

Ed Shane
Publisher

tomslee

I've been posting a nearly page-by-page critique of the book at my weblog. I'm sure I get some things wrong, but I don't think most of what I say falls under any of the items listed here. Anyone interested (self-promotion alert) can find the separate posts listed here: http://whimsley.typepad.com/whimsley/2007/03/the_long_tail_l.html.

Sanders

Gruezi, Super Site betreibt Ihr hier!!! Das kann sich wirklich sehen lassen...

Seo Design Solutions

You will always have jealous minds attempting to belittle your crowning achievements. Rather than just appreciate it for what it is, a brilliant summation in the evolution of buyer behavior, they would rather pick apart the pieces. Sad, I must admit. Chris, why do you even bother?

I am infatuated with the concept, the application (as our site has 4000 unique keywords) all because of an inspiration from one of your theories. This was a deliberate attempt, when we could have easily went for the "me too" keywords, but I am amazed every day to see how people find us online, when I check the stats"

I just wanted to say thanks...

gadgets

Great piece of writing - a lot of this info should just be used so that they become a bit more aware of what is and isn't acceptable, because some people have a way of being rude.

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Tidbits

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!