The Long Tail

In Literature & the Arts by gravierhouseLeave a Comment

Chris Anderson must have a great press agent. There were reviews of his book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, in the Economist, the New Yorker, Newsweek and BusinessWeek, all at the same time.

From the perspective of a store like Wal-Mart, the music industry stops at less than 60,000 tracks. However, for online retailers like Rhapsody the market is seemingly never-ending. Not only is every one of Rhapsody’s top 60,000 tracks streamed at least once each month, but the same thing is true for its top 100,000, top 200,000, and top 400,000 – even its top 600,000, top 900,000, and beyond. As fast as Rhapsody adds tracks to its library, those songs find an audience, even if it’s just a handful of people every month, somewhere in the world.

This is the Long Tail.

Once you’ve seen the long tail, you start seeing them everywhere. Netflix, a DVD-rental company that allows its customers to order films online and receive them in the mail, has a library of more than sixty thousand titles. At Blockbuster stores, ninety percent of the movies rented are new releases; at Netflix, about seventy percent are from the back catalogue, and many of them are documentaries, art-house movies, and other little-known films that might never have had a theatrical release. “The lesson is that what we thought was a naturally sharp drop-off in demand for movies after a certain point was actually just an artifact of the traditional costs of offering them,” Anderson notes. “Netflix changed the economics of offering niches, and, in doing so, reshaped our understanding about what people actually want to watch.”

Interestingly, George Will, at the same time, notes a similar pattern in politics. “Politically, there are not two Americas, the Red states and the Blue states” he posits. “There are countless constituencies to be courted with niche marketing.”

“In a closely divided nation, with a small and shrinking number of truly unaffiliated voters, supremacy goes to the party with the best database and most nimble microtargeters.”

 

[See John Cassidy, “Going Long” The New Yorker, July 10, 2006, p.98; George Will, “An Analysis of Roveology” Newsweek, July 17, 2006, p.70.]

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