Navigating through the Long Tail

Chris Anderson is the Editor and Chief of WIRED magazine. He wrote an article back in October 2004 where he talked about The Long Tail. In short it’s a term coined to describe the change in marketplace economics of scarcity to abundance. This past summer Anderson released a book by the same name and dived deeper into this new economic structure.

He should have just stayed with the article or made it a special edition of WIRED.

The Long Tail is informative. It gives good examples over and over and over again. The title might have even been called Why I love Google, Real Player, Netflix and for as much pub Anderson gives them. The examples  become drawn out and you find yourself saying "Alright, I get it already". Especially if you have been following this economic conversation of the last 18 months.

Being the Editor and Chief of WIRED means Anderson knows how to write and write well which is why I found it very disappointing that his book was, in a word, clunky. It always seemed like he was stretching things out to fill a page requirement. which I suppose lead to the drawn out examples.

The concept of The Long Tail is sound but some of it’s finer points are up for debate. In one is his chapter called THE INFINITE SCREEN,  he leads off talking about Google Video and how great the concept is and how it is the ultimate Long Tail marketplace for video. This is not the example I would have given to describe video on the web. The concept is good, but it is an oil spill. There is a reason Google just spent over a billion dollars to acquire YouTube because they were getting their butt’s kicked in the online video realm. The concept of Google Video is fine but the execution is poor which is why Google has been beaten in this area by others like YouTube and MSN.

He also makes massive assumptions and jumps to heavy handed conclusions that don’t always fit. The first being that the cost of shelf space for virtual business’s is virtually zero. True, however if you are to place products into that virtual space, that takes time and money just like everything else. Uploading anything, especially, video, takes time. Imputing data, filling orders, and housing massive amounts of information (even digital) costs money.

Anderson never accounts for time. The amount of time it takes to serve the niche. Software alone can not handle it all, at least not right now and at the rate things are going you’re going to spend half of your time upgrading hardware, software, and knowledge.

Another assumption is that Tail will make money. Will people buy stuff other than "hits" of course. But crap is still crap. I’m not saying that "hits" are "hits" because they are good but I have listen to enough music and watched enough bad independent movies to know that just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should.

Anderson’s main point this is book is that IT is changing. You need to change you economic way of thinking if you are to excel or even survive and he’s right. The economic world is shifting from a hit driven world to a niche driven world or from scarcity to abundance. I completely agree, it just could have been said better and in less words.


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