Thoughts on The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Though I feel on top of many of the trends and directions espoused in Chris Anderson’s original article on The Long Tail in 2004, his blog of the same name, and the oft-cited Wikipedia article, I still was incredibly pleased with the book itself and the mental journey it took me on. Let me share with you just a few of the thoughts on that journey.

Anderson has filled this book with some solid data and examples of some of these trends and directions feeding The Long Tail. One that I particularly enjoyed was a discussion of the book business. It had some facts about how few books actually “make it” and are commercially viable…as well as a discussion of the self publishing business and how offerings like are changing the paradigm of self publishing and thus accelerating feeding The Long Tail.

Last night I was watching an MSNBC show hosted by Tim Russert. The guest was Bill Carter, the New York Times columnist and author of a new book about the television business entitled Desperate Networks. Besides being a delightful interviewee with numerous fun stories about the TV business, it was remarkable how illustrative of The Long Tail the interview was especially when he talked about how NBC, CBS and ABC’s 90+ market share in the 60’s — vs. today’s era of hundreds of channels and an internet now competing with video delivery — and how a 12% share for a show today is considered successful and a hit! The networks are really struggling to be and remain viable.

This morning’s New York Times had an interesting article about Bill Ford and his challenges at Ford Motor Company — echoed only by the woes of General Motors. Though Ford and GM are not nearly as competitive as other automotive companies globally, it’s as impossible for a car company as it is for a TV network to be as dominant as it once was as it is for a publisher, bookseller or any other formerly dominant producer.

In his book, Anderson talks about the need for “hits” in businesses…especially in the media business. The problem today is that the moment something is a hit…everyone copies it. New designs and any successes are knocked-off instantly since photos and writeups are received as quickly as the bits can traverse the internet. Anyone that shifts their industry paradigm with something innovative is copied within moments.

All of these thoughts led me to thinking about Apple and their penchant for secrecy — especially in a time when bloggers can slice, dice and analyze every move made, including those by the component manufacturer’s that will ultimately feed Apple as well as patent filings Apple makes. Though they’re slammed often for it, the brilliance of Apple’s secrecy, event marketing, and element of surprise in today’s marketplace can’t be underestimated. When Apple releases something new, odds are they’re already 50% of the way toward their next iteration of the product and by the time competitors copy the first release…they stun the market with version #2.

Finally, I realized that most people and organizations need hits…but they mainly need an increasing and acceleration of items that feed The Long Tail in their industry and cater to niches. Anderson makes it clear that the collective sales in The Long Tail will outweigh the hits. Publishers, VC’s, auto manufacturer’s and many others have catered to niches for years through knowing that “1 out of 10 is a hit and supports the rest.” It’s just that the number of niches, the never-ending life of these niches, and the opportunity to cater to them has shifted.

To use a wornout baseball metaphor, now is the time to figure out how to hit lots of line drives, get people on base and score some runs vs. swingin’ for the fences over and over trying to get that one, usually elusive home run.

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  1. Ja on July 18, 2006 at 2:39 am

    I think the network television stations did it to themselves really. They put suits in charge of creative descisions, used intrusive advertisement methods that have gotten worse, and refused to adapt to the implications and opportunities of the Internet until it was too late.

    I’m definitely getting the bit about everything being copied too quickly these days. The web is really the perfect example with all the content duplication going on all over the place. And yet we’re not happy, we want easier ways to aggregate more data. We’re solving the walled garden problem by reproducing everything everywhere and giving up on privately sharing content. Plus for every stupid useless webservice that pops up, three identical services pop up shortly.

    Finally, I believe Apple’s mystique is really more of a side-effect than a marketing strategy. Their resident minor diety, Steve Jobs, isn’t an enigma… he’s a control freak. They have a PR team to basically keep things from getting out about how outrageous this man is. Disclaimer: I have no issues with their products, I just have issues with the man at the top. I’m not a pc platform zealot in other words.

    I like the baseball metaphor. People are going to need to start learning the importance of that if they want to make it for any profitable length of time in and beyond today’s market.

    Very nice pictures you’ve had in your recent posts btw!



  2. steve on July 19, 2006 at 12:06 am

    hah, that very same baseball metaphors was used to illustrate the differences between japanese management and american management back in the 90s

  3. Ja on July 19, 2006 at 4:16 am

    If only people had learned more from the 90s. ;)

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.