Friday, January 14, 2005

The Long Tail

Over the past few days I have begun to see references to The Long Tail -- without quite knowing what it was. Today, Publishers Lunch gives me an explanation.

The Long Tail is the title of a blog by the editor of Wired, Chris Anderson. It describes itself as a public diary on the way to a book. Apparently Anderson's work in progress began as an article in Wired in October, was sold as a book proposal to Hyperion in December, and is continuing, sort of, on the blog.

Anderson offers us several definitions of the long tail, and some of his readers offer more. But here's one that I like: 'The Long Tail is about the economics of abundance -- what happens when the bottlenecks that stand between supply and demand in our culture start to disappear and everything becomes available to everyone.'

I like that definition because it hints at the possibility that the current plague of the book world -- the winner-take-all mechanism -- might one day disappear. To the great advantage of most writers if not publishers and booksellers.

The idea, basically, is that online retailing is allowing customers to explore their own tastes in ways hitherto not available. And what they find, as they continue to explore, is that they actually enjoy all kinds of weird stuff which they hardly knew existed -- because it isn't available on main-channel TV stations or supermarket bookshelves. This leads on to the idea that the sum of expenditure on all these little niche markets (i.e. the long tail) can equal or exceed the value of the heavily hyped blockbusters. And this holds good in all sorts of areas: TV, video, books, et cetera.

It's an interesting idea, and Anderson's blog is well worth a read. As editor of Wired he seems to be mightily well connected, with access to high-powered people from whom he can get supporting data. There are also lots of links to other stuff in the same line.

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