I have taken my time with this book as I try to marry the concepts thrown, with our local or rather African settings. It however does make a good read with the author – Chris Anderson, arguing that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough. Anderson cites earlier research by Erik Brynjolfsson, Yu (Jeffrey) Hu, and Michael D. Smith, that showed that a significant portion of Amazon.com’s sales come from obscure books that are not available in brick-and-mortar stores. The Long Tail is a potential market and, as the examples illustrate, the distribution and sales channel opportunities created by the Internet often enable businesses to tap into that market successfully.
The Substance of the Long Tail
A quarter of the way into his book The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand, Anderson explains, “The theory of the Long Tail can be boiled down to this: Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a huge number of niches in the tail.”
- More stuff is being produced. Technology and the internet make it cheaper and easier to record and distribute your own songs, publish your own writings and so on. This lengthens the tail.
- There is better access to niches, again thanks to the reach and economies on the net. This fattens the tail.
- Search and recommendations connect supply and demand. This drives business from hits to niches.
All this is good stuff.
- Variety (there are many different sorts of things)
- Inequality (some have more of some quality than others)
- Network effects such as word of mouth and reputation, which tend to amplify differences in quality.”
These conditions are important, for reasons I’ll come back to. Why do they breed Long Tails? “The characteristic steep falloff shape of a popularity powerlaw comes from the effect of powerful word-of-mouth feedback loops that amplify consumer preference, making the reputation-rich even richer and the reputation-poor relatively poorer. Success breeds success,” writes
Word-of-mouth, filters and network effects
If word-of-mouth feedback is what creates the steep fall-off shape, should the internet’s amplification and speeding up of word-of-mouth make the fall-off steeper? Why shouldn’t the amplification mean there is worse access to, or worse awareness of, the reputation-poor niches? Does the amplification apply unevenly, or does the third force (filters and recommendations to connect supply and demand) counteract it?
I wonder if perhaps what
Independence and the wisdom of crowds
In general, the book seems muddled in its treatment of the role that individual, independent opinions play in creating filters, and in the circumstances under which it’s helpful to aggregate or average these opinions.