Anderson, Chris. (2006). the long tail: why the future of business is selling less of more. New York, Hyperion.
The Long Tail is a nonfiction business book about the change in market from one of scarcity to one of abundance and the power of “the reputation economy”. As the editor in chief of Wired magazine, Mr. Anderson has the advantage of pre-production awareness and evaluation of many digital and web based technologies. Combine this with his prior experience as a writer for The Economist, his book offers unique perspectives on current business trends. Having made excellent use of this knowledge he experimented with the Wisdom of the Crowds by blogging portions of the book for review and commentary while writing it. The blog proves an excellent post-reading reference tool.
Though his target audience is undefined, his book has enjoyed widespread popular appeal. Unlike many other economics books, Mr. Anderson’s book is not a dry read. The first portion of his book prepares the completely green reader with the necessary historical foundation to enjoy the book. He introduces established economic concepts with clear, non-scientific examples. Building on these ideas, he introduces variances attributable to the Web, digital technologies and cultural trends complete with statistical charts, thus updating collegiate economic theory.
The middle chapters of his book focus on the producers of goods, intermediary businesses that organize our market choices (aggregators) and the new filtering tools that help the consumer narrow the field of options in this new abundant economy of choice. With these new online distributors and search tools, the consumer is able to access a wider variety of offerings. Combine this with virtual shelves not requiring analog stocking methods and costs, the distributor has financial incentive to offer more than just the most popular items. His examples come primarily from the personal entertainment fields, books, and audio and video recordings, those most affected or changed by digitization and the web.
He then dedicates the later portion of his book to the new market description, “we are entering an era of unprecedented choice” and the resulting cultural shifts. The societal implications of existing in this period of abundance when combined with virtual recommendations for nearly anything can be overwhelming. Thus as we see product aggregators, sorters and sifters we also see the emergence and development of niche special interest groups. Once we relied on the consumer opinion of the neighbor next door, whom our long relationship has confirmed their good reputation and taste. Today we have a virtual social network from which to draw recommendations based on association, expanding the reputation economy. The reputation economy existed in an analog version previously, cataloged in personal Rolodex on individuals desks, the coin of the realm upon which our own business reputation was built. In the future, we need not see a face, need not keep an address book. All this is online and refreshable at anytime.
You may, as I did question the veracity of many of Mr. Anderson’s assertions. I found myself exploring my doubts by researching further, both on his LongTail.com blog site and through digital articles through a library database. For example, niche markets. The book claims accurately that the aggregator (distributor) has a new profit area, which offers broader niche products to the consumer. I have experienced this myself through purchasing books and renting movie DVDs online. He has seemingly omitted an element in his book. Niche markets have always existed, but due to limitations of cost they were either only available to the local market or the elite class. Is not an online distribution channel still a form of elite distribution? Despite the fact the home computer market continues to expand, its user class and wealth demographics are still narrow and well above the middle line. One must have discretionary funds to own or rent time on a computer to explore the web and the technical knowledge to shop online. One could argue that while the computer may have brought these opportunities down a financial notch from the wealthy to the technologically savvy portion of the middle class, it is still far from well distributed further down the consumer wealth levels.
Mr. Anderson repeated many of his concepts and examples throughout the book. This was also a previously published criticism of the book (see the Beginners Guide to Criticizing the Long Tail). Given the amount of change the book covers and the variety of angles the book attempts to include, it is only sensible to revisit the same examples. Rather than being tedious, it is like exploring the many faucets of an organic gem.
The more I delved, the less I was inclined to voice my doubts or find criticism. Rather, I have decided to add Mr. Anderson’s theories to my own personal data banks of credible concepts, those where only time will tell as to their exactitude. That said, The Long Tail has encouraged broader exploration and gives one new perspectives on existing and future business phenomena.
Those interested in being at the forefront of business trends should read this book and continue on to visit the website for discussion. You may or may not agree with the ideas introduced in The Long Tail. However, it will give you much to ponder and a new perspective on the impacts of living in an economy of seemingly endless abundance of choice. Personally, I cannot wait for application of the long tail to women’s clothing!
My questions in closing:
- “The cost of reaching niches falling dramatically”. With search technologies now charging for keywords, to enable vendor to rise to top of search results and mass market vendors having more $$ to spend, is this really true?
- Filters, niche markets and the rise (again) of the middle man aggregate/facilitator. Alibris, then Amazon and EBay have seemingly become the online traders for smaller vendors of nearly everything. Have ideas for any alternative solutions to matching niche with buyer come to your mind during your research?
- What does it take to change a manuscript into print in-demand format? On this subject of books and the long tail, as many things move from analog to bites (cheaper to store and sell), which do you think will win out in the end? Print in demand or digital download to read books? As shown with the music and movie market, it seems that digital book downloads should be right in there, and it does not appear to be. Could this be tied in with your discussion “Shorter, Faster, Smaller” on diversity of attention spans? Maybe we should go back to selling chapters of books, like mini-episodes clips of tv, perhaps even read them rather than print them…I note the NY Times is publishing chapters of short stories by well known authors in the weekly NY Times Magazine.