The long tail, curtailed? - Macleans.ca
 

The long tail, curtailed?


 

Chris Anderson’s Long Tail thesis, it appears, is bunk. The basic problem is that the “big head of novelty” is growing so fast that there’s no serious market in long-dormant long tail items:

If we do a search on those sites and narrow it down to the last 24 hours; we get a enormous amount of new URLs:

– 45,800 for the New York Times (out of 12m total URLs)

  • 37,400 for The Guardian (out of 20m)
  • 21,900 for Le Monde (out of 1.05m)
  • 69,300 for Aftonbladet.se — #1 site in Sweden — (out of 1.2m)

Of course, this includes all types of URLs, from new articles to the smallest items added (comments, blogs entries, graphs, automatically generated stuff…) But it has been estimated that just one week of the New York Times is equivalent to the amount of information an 18th Century human being would absorb during his/her entire life.

link


 
Filed under:

The long tail, curtailed?

  1. Errr, you've shown us that there is a fast-growing "big head of novelty," but you haven't demonstrated at all that there is "no serious market in long-dormant long-tail items."

    Those two things aren't mutually exclusive – – it isn't a zero-sum game.

    I do think there are some flaws in the Long Tail thesis, but you haven't identified one. Unless I'm missing something.

    • Andrew didn't really quote enough of the linked article to support its argument. The gist of it is: "The point is the Long Tail doesn't work as far as revenue generation is considered," and they quote a study that shows that even Netflix, Anderson's "poster-child," is selling an increasing proportion of the head rather than the tail.

      I agree however: none of this proves that there is no market for the long tail. All it proves is that there's *more* money to be made (so far) from the head if you're Hollywood or the mainstream media. The article also skirts gingerly around the music industry, which is the real poster child for the long tail:

      "In the 80's, an artist had to sell 15 million albums to be N°1 in the US market. In 2005, that number fell to 4.5m and in 2008, the N°1 on the US charts sold only 2.7m albums. Does it mean unknown artists emerged in the meantime, thanks no newly accessible catalogs? Perhaps. But over the last ten years, the music industry lost 40% to 50% of its revenue."

      Even if the "industry" has lost half of its revenue (and I dispute that number — perhaps the major labels have lost that, but indie labels are doing just fine), 2.7 is a lot less than half of 15.

  2. "amount of information an 18th Century human being would absorb during his/her entire life."

    I have long wondered when the cut off point occurred for a polymath to basically know everything humans had learned. I figure up to around 1800 a renaissance man would know everything there was to know but then information and learning exploded and it was no longer possible to for one person to be conversant on the sum of human knowledge.

  3. "amount of information an 18th Century human being would absorb during his/her entire life."

    I have long wondered when the cut off point occurred for a polymath to basically know everything humans had learned. I figure up to around 1800 a renaissance man would know everything there was to know but then information and learning exploded and it was no longer possible to for one person to be conversant on the sum of human knowledge.

    I don't really have any thoughts on the Long Tail except that surely the internet has allowed people to buy things not widely available to them before internet came along.

  4. I'm not sure that movies or music make for a good test subject, because of the role of piracy. However, it is not hard to find industries where a long-tail kind of phenomena does seem to be playing out. That said, the way that many artists have responded to piracy is long-tail-ish. That is to say, revenues are derived from touring rather than selling CD's. How do you get lots of people to come to your concerts? Broadly speaking, by cultivating and playing to a niche market of insane fans.

    Alternately, the kind of bland family television shows that were popular in the 80's have started to die off as DVD sales become an important source of revenues in the television market. Having a small, but rabid, fan-base has proven to be enough to keep some shows alive. If Arrested Development or Firefly had come out in 2006, they might well still be on the air.

    I also posit that there are some even stronger cases outside of movies/music/tv. Craft breweries have doubled their market share in the past 4 years (though the macrobreweries have smartly tried to co-opt the movement, eg. Michelob's horrid attempt at mimicking a craft brewery). The selection of teas at the supermarket today is also a far cry from that of ten years ago (Red Rose or Red Rose, hmmm…).

    Business paradigms that have gone in the opposite direction exist too of course. Yellow tail strikes me as a good example. Wine is traditionally a product that follows long tail principles pretty closely. Vinyards produce small volumes of wine – a highly differentiated product to begin with, sold at a high price, to satisfy a small niche. Yellow tail's business model involved creating a generic and recognizable label for wine, selling it cheap, and in high volume. Yellow Tail (or Jacob's Creek) has done well, but Australia hasn't. In wines there are national as well as corporate brands. For instance there is always going to by a mystique about French wines. From a national brand perspective, going generic caused sales to crash because it diminished people's perceptions of the quality of Australian wines. As Australian wine ceased to be a niche product, it crashed.

    That said, I think the presence of a long tail effect really depends more upon the industry than it does about anything else.