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july 27, 2006:
the wall street journal: a critical voice on chris ander- son’s long tail theory and book

Today, the WSJ is covering Chris Anderson’s book, The LongTail. Quote: “By Mr. Anderson’s calculation, 25% of Amazon’s sales are from its tail, as they involve books you can’t find at a traditional retailer. But using another analysis of those numbers – an analysis that Mr. Anderson argues isn’t meaningful – you can show that 2.7% of Amazon’s titles produce a whopping 75% of its revenues. Not quite as impressive.”

a definition of the long tail in a digital entertainment ecosystem it becomes feasible that the total, combined number of sales of the less-popular products actually sur- passes the total number of sales of the top-level products.

My comment on this: I think the Long Tail idea is real, indeed, but maybe overly emphasized in the process of explanation – i.e., maybe it comes across a bit too idealized in Chris’ book, which otherwise I really enjoyed. In other words, for me, it’s not really a question of whether the concept is wrong or right; rather, it is a question of whether we are looking at hitcentric content businesses versus catalog/non-hit/niche-driven businesses. I believe that now, with the advent of a more connected, Net-centric content economy, both can work out great and make some serious money. However, hits within niches will emerge, as well, which eventually will bring us back to a “new head” within the tail itself. Sooner or later, we will have some ten million songs online, and yes, we will have bona-fide hits within all those niches, too. In any case, keep in mind that we may not even know who those new hit artists are unless we are in that same niche, too, and maybe those niche-hits will indeed make up 80% of that niche’s revenues (not just sales!) as well. Does that kill the idea? I would think not. As mass media collides with personal media, it won’t mean that mass media will cease to exist. Underline this with your magic markers: Mass media won’t end; it just won’t grow as much as it used to. The real opportunity for serious growth is in the niches. Mass media will take a bit of a paradigm-change induced beating, temporarily, but then quickly incorporate

mass media to personal media

personal and social media aspects, and many incumbents will use these new concepts in addition to what they already have – i.e., market share, trust, expertise...well, at least for the most part. ;-) Traditional radio, for example, will not just evaporate or even diminish significantly; rather, it simply won’t grow enough on its own. And that means that broadcasters will look elsewhere for growth, e.g., podcasting, digital radio, interactive/convergent radio, music commerce, community, and so on. To me, this is the true message behind Chris’ Long Tail pontifications: It’s about unlocking the “not-hits” stuff, about going deeper and going direct.