The Long Tail

21 Feb

Click on almost any internet homepage nowadays and you’ll see a number of lists: most viewed articles of the day, top box office hits, highest downloaded songs, best selling books. Almost everywhere you look, our world is filled with “hits.” I mean, every time I go onto iTunes or Amazon.com the first thing I do is check the top charts or the best sellers lists. Don’t you? So it’s no wonder that many industries have invested almost all their business into providing the top sellers.

But with the availability of the internet and new media and the ability to hold thousands, sometimes millions of products on their “virtual shelves,” it seems like the economic future for the media and entertainment industries lies in the idea of the “Long Tail.” This term, popularized by Chris Anderson in a 2004 issue of Wired Magazine, refers to the idea that the future of the entertainment industry lies in the millions of smaller, underground forms of digital entertainment.

For example, with books, TV, movies, and music all at our fingertips now, people have begun to explore much more into the lesser-known forms of entertainment. On Amazon.com, user reviews and recommendations have opened up a whole new world of to customers that they would have never known about before, making them feel like they have the inside scoop on some secret treasure of entertainment.

Just a few months ago I was downloading some Florence + The Machine when iTunes recommended that I might also like Mumford & Sons. I had never heard of them before but I took iTunes’ word for it, downloaded some songs, and loved it. Then a few weeks later they were performing at the Grammy’s and they had the number one selling album on iTunes. I felt like a true music guru. That’s the power of the Long Tail. By having lesser-known bands in their catalogue and pairing them with more mainstream bands, they create an endless line of profit.

It’s not enough just to carry the hits anymore. As Anderson puts it, “Combine enough non-hits on the Long Tail and you’ve got a market bigger than the hits.” All the most successful online sites have taken this idea into account and are reaping the benefits of it. Netflix, Amazon, and Rhapsody all carry hundreds of thousands of titles outside of the top sellers, and although the lesser-known titles do not have as big an audience, they all find an audience nonetheless. This culmination of profits for the non-hits actually ends up being more than the profits from the hits. So maybe its time for those companies with limited catalogues (like Barnes & Noble and Blockbuster) to take a page out of Netflix or Amazon’s book and lengthen their tails a little bit.

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2 Responses to “The Long Tail”

  1. jfern101 February 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    I like that you not only made the long tail into something everyday people our age can connect to and understand, but I also liked that you provided so many hyperlinks to help us understand better.

  2. acqueen2012 February 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    I also like your use of hyperlinks and current examples! I’ve had similar experiences on iTunes where they recommend new music for me, but often it’s music that is still pretty mainstream and that I have already heard of before. I haven’t had an experience that goes along with the ideas in The Long Tail where consumers are led to less mainstream books or music through mainstream media, like what happened with you and Florence + the Machine/Mumford and Sons. Anderson’s idea about non-hits versus hits is so true though, if you think about it…most people just never do because they are so consumed with downloading the latest hits!

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