Go to the head of the distribution by explaining the tail

The book length version of The Long Tail has now been published. Based on Chris Anderson’s seminal Wired article, the book expands and elaborates on the article’s thesis that one consequence of network economics is to reset the balance in markets between hits and the rest of the distribution. Anderson also began a blog on the Long Tail as he conducted his research, which has become its own resource on the topic for those interested in it.

In most markets, sales/popularity follows a power curve with a tiny handful of items, “the hits,” garnering attention and sales. In physical markets, hits dominate and drive management attention and thinking. In markets that bypass the barriers of the physical, such as Amazon or iTunes, the dominance of hits shrinks. Sales from the tail of the distribution, in aggregate, come to rival sales from the head.

Where the initial Wired article identifies and labels the phenomenon, the book strives to work out the implications. While I think it occasionally oversteps the evidence, on balance it succeeds in opening up the concept and its consequences. I confess I was dubious, although unsurprised, to see Anderson take his long tail lens to Wikipedia. Yet, in the end, his analysis did shed substantive new light on a phenomenon that is more often used as poster child or whipping boy depending on the writer’s agenda.

If you have products, services, or ideas that would benefit from finding their market, the Long Tail is a concept you had best understand and The Long Tail is your best starting point. I’m sure it will end up in the head of the sales distribution to Anderson’s well-earned benefit. Be smart and make the effort to actually read it and think through its application to your circumstances so that you might benefit as well. 


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