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« More on the mba book list | Main | Where is the rainbow? (long tail, part 2) »

Thinking about the Long Tail (part 1)

Chris Anderson wrote a brilliant article, and was clever enough to post it as a ChangeThis manifesto: ChangeThis :: The Long Tail.

I can't stop thinking about it, but in ways that are different than his original riff.

His point (for which he has data!) is that once we eliminate artificial bottlenecks like shelf space and the spectrum restrictions, the mass market effect drops off very quickly.

Give people 1,000 channels to watch, and they won't all watch the same thing.
Give people 1,000,000 books to read, and they won't all want to read a bestseller.

Yes, people read the DaVinci Code because everyone else is. Yes, people watch The Apprentice for the very same reason. But no, this effect isn't as pervasive as most of us would believe.

Joe Krause (co-founder of Excite) jumped on the bandwagon with this insightful post about what he saw there: Link: Bnoopy: The long tail of software. Millions of Markets of Dozens. His data shows that 3% of the searches were about the same handful of things... and that the other 97% were all spread out.

Apple's iTunes store has the same effect at work. They've sold more than a million different songs.

So, we see that:
1. hits aren't what they used to be. Hit TV shows, hit music, hit books--it's impossible to get the volume you could get 20 years ago in almost any field (even business to business stuff like consulting).

2. the choices are wider than ever before and the pickins for each producer are slimmer than ever.

Great. So what to do about this?

Well, unmentioned in these posts as far as I can tell is this:

It's cheaper than ever (by an order of magnitude) to make a product and bring it to market.

Which means your hits can be smaller.
Which means you can make more variety.

So, when Coke launches Water Salad beverage in Japan, it doesn't have to be a New Coke sized hit (or miss) in order to succeed. You can have a blog with 1,000 loyal readers and do just fine, thanks very much, on an ROI basis.

Our instinct is to push, to pull strings, to advertise, to hustle, to do whatever it takes to get to that top 3%. Hey, if you can write the Da Vinci Code, more power to you.

The better path, though, is to figure out how to be:
patient
persistent
and low cost

enough to be quite happy with a whole bunch of long tail scraps. A dollar here and a dollar there and soon, it all adds up.

This is my best advice if you have a radio station, a supermarket, an insurance agency or run Apple computer.

PS Danny Sullivan has a nice piece on this. Link: Search's Long Tail.

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» Getting up to speed on the 'long tail'... from Mastering the Web
The concept of the long tail seems to crop up more and more these days, and it's both exciting and intriguing enough to warrant a closer look. In a nutshell, the idea is this: people share some of the same tastes (bestselling movies [Read More]

» Getting To Yes With RSS from Twist Image Multimarketing Studio - Mitch Joel's Blog - Marketing and Communication Insights
I always get those "what is RSS?" questions. They are legitimate. Seth Godin breaks it out succinctly and perfectly, right here is his Blog posting, Again With RSS?, and in his follow up post, What Happens Next. Once I am... [Read More]

» Being smaller, managing cheaper from Blue Sky On Mars
Seth Godin writes about the Long Tail, and rather than focusing on the how interesting the phenomenon is, he sums up what it means to work within a world that is Long Tail-based, rather than mass market. Not every product... [Read More]

» Riding The Long Tail To The Bank from Burnin' All Illusions
Seth Godin points to a great article on "the long tail" by Wired editor-in-chief, Chris Anderson. The piece is available as a PDF from Change This, a site which Godin [Read More]

» The Long Tail from thoughts
It’s a phenomena that’s happening thanks to digital retail, where the shelf space can vastly exceed your local Wal-Mart, and even more with digital products, where shelf space is hardly an issue. It’s called the “Long Tail,” and it’s best... [Read More]

» Complaints and Long Tails from ICE- Improving Customer Experience
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» Linkage (cont...) from Synapse Chronicles
WorldChanging: Gorlov's Helical Turbine Interesting technology, but more interesting this statement: "There's also the question of what happens when major flows of water see a 35% reduction in energy. Gorlov suggests that 656 full-size turbines could ... [Read More]

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« More on the mba book list | Main | Where is the rainbow? (long tail, part 2) »