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« If you don't want to get email | Main | The Long Tail and the Dip »

There it is again

Chris Anderson of Wired had the insight and guts to discover one of the two most important natural laws of the Net, give it a name, explain it and teach it to the rest of us. The Long Tail is a natural law, the sort of thing that just keeps showing up. Every time I crunch a set of numbers, every time I examine something happening online, I see it again.

(The other one? Metcalfe's Law, which explains the network effect. It's sort of like the long tail, but flipped in the mirror. The more people who connect to a network, the more it's worth--squared. Facebook and fax machines are both network effect businesses).

A lot of people don't seem to understand a key implication of the long tail: Given the choice, it's better to make a hit.

If you have a choice of cutting a top 10 record or making a track of Jamaican polka music for iTunes, go for the hit.

If you have a choice between being on page 30 of the Google results for "Bolivian sushi" or the number one match for "buy life insurance", go for the latter. No brainer.

The problem, of course, is that you don't have a choice. You can give the hit a shot, but it's awfully crowded at that end of the curve.

The implications of the long tail have nothing to do with this false choice. What it explains in a powerful but subtle way is:

  1. Collecting many many products among the tail permits you to amalgamate a market that may be just as big or bigger than the short head. But you need a lot of them. Squidoo is my proof--a profitable site with no real short head. So are eBay and YouTube and dozens of other places. Which is going to be worth more in ten years: the leaky boat of a network TV franchise or the relentlessly growing collection of long tail video at YouTube?
  2. Within the long tail, there are micro long tails. The long tail permits entirely new micro-markets to emerge (exercise clothing, for example) and within that market there are hits and then the tail. It's sort of a fractal curve of new markets living within markets. (Simple example: Amazon enabled an entire eco-system of books on presentations and graphics to emerge).

Aside: In the last few weeks, I've gotten a ton of email about an article in the Harvard Business Review and a companion slash piece in Slate about the Tail. A professor tried to poke some holes, and in my opinion, missed the entire point. The long tail is so clearly a force that the real work is in refining the definitions and expectations of those that are affected by it.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference There it is again:

» Something I don't understand about The Long Tail from Technovia
Link: Seth's Blog: There it is again. A lot of people don't seem to understand a key implication of the long tail: Given the choice, it's better to make a hit. If you have a choice of cutting a top [Read More]

» There it is again _Seth\'s Blog | politikly.com from politikly.com | politics and world news
\r\nThe Long Tail is alive and growing!\r\nAside: In the last few weeks, I#39;ve gotten a ton o [Read More]

» Bolivian Sushi — Find it in the Long Tail from Nuts and Bolts of Brand
Its critical that you understand the dynamics of The Long Tail as introduced to us by Chris Anderson.  Seth points out if you have a choice between making a hit (a point in the head of the curve) or an alternate choice well out on... [Read More]

» The long tail and the big idea from MisEntropy
In a recent post, Seth Godin clarifies one of the most common misunderstandings about the long tail. He emphasises, "Given the choice, it's better to make a hit." But you don't have a say in making something a hit - you can only try. On the other hand ... [Read More]

» The Long Tail and the Big Idea from Marketing & Strategy Innovation Blog
by: Iqbal MohammedIn a recent post, Seth Godin clarifies one of the most common misunderstandings about the long tail. He emphasises, Given the choice, it's better to make a hit. But you don't have a say in making something a... [Read More]

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