The Long Tail

The October issue of Wired has an
oustanding article called, “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson (it isn’t
available online yet). It is about the economics of “misses” rather
than “hits”. It talks about how much money there is to be made in niche
markets and cites Amazon and Netflix is prime examples. “The average
Blockbuster carries fewer than 3,000 DVDs. Yet a fifth of Netflix
rentals are outside its top 3,000 titles.” Rhapsody, an online
subscription music service is also given as an example. Every title in
Rhapsody’s top 100,000, 200,000, 300,000, and 400,000 gets downloaded
at least once a month. The article argues that because these retailers
are not constrained by physical space, they can offer unlimited
selection. This means their offering can be tailored to the likes and
dislikes of every consumer and we get to explore our true tastes rather
than having them fed to us by marketing machines.

People are going deep into the catalog,
down the long, long list of available titles, far past what’s available
at Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, and Barnes & Noble. And the
more they find, the more they like. As they wander further from the
beaten path, they discover their taste is not as mainstream as they
thought (or as they had been led to believe by marketing, a lack of
alternatives, and a hit-driven culture)…For too long we’ve been
suffering the tyranny of lowest-common-denominator fare, subjected to
brain-dead summer blockbusters and manufactured pop.

As online collections become more vast, and delivery becomes less of a
problem, I’m reminded of a Stephen Wright joke which goes something
like, I have a large sea shell collection which I keep scattered on the beaches all over the world.
At some point, my CD collection is really composed of slices of the
World’s CD collection. I’ll pay to access it as much as I want. My
iRiver becomes an edge-of-network server, cacheing what I listen to
most frequently for easy access.