The Long Tail

Like Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, or Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail successfully takes a complicated social/economic issue and digests it into a concept that most people can grasp easily. In his text, Anderson explains how he coined the term “The Long Tail” to describe how huge numbers of niche products, when grouped together, can actually end up making up a substantial market that producers and consumers can both take advantage of. This huge market segment is now accessible because new digital services and technologies (like iTunes, Amazon, or eBay) have now made it possible for producers to offer a greatly expanded variety of products due to the low or non-existent cost of having to stock those products.

I found this reading valuable for several reasons. First, it reminded me of how the Internet, combined with new digital technologies, has begun to reshape traditional economic models. In The Long Tail, for example, Anderson describes the death of the 80/20 rule (the fact that 20 percent of products make up 80 percent of sales). To me, this revolutionary notion parallels the type of argument that Yochai Benkler makes in The Wealth of Networks. In that text, Benkler describes how the success of online collaboration among the masses (essentially hordes of people working for free) is forcing economists to rethink traditional rational actor economic models.

The Long Tail also appealed to the consumer in me. Looking back, it appears as though I’ve spent quite some time browsing niche market items within The Long Tail. My unique taste in music, for example, often takes me to eBay, where I almost always find people willing to sell me obscure CD’s from bands that broke up years ago. Don’t believe me? Try finding a B-side of a Billy Pilgrim CD single that was last released in 1994 at Target.

On podcasts:

Being the news junkie that I am, I have already subscribed to several news/public affairs programs. These include Meet the Press and and NPR’s On the Media. (Originally, I was subscribed to the video version of the Meet the Press podcast, but after becoming frustrated with long download times I decided that the audio-only version was sufficient enough.) I have also subscribed to several talk radio programs that I end up listening to on my iPod when I’m grocery shopping or when I’m commuting to work. These include the Big O and Dukes show (WJFK) and KCRW’s Design and Architecture podcast.

I also downloaded some “Ask a Ninja” video podcasts this week. I’ve always seen “Ask a Ninja” on iTunes “most popular” podcasts list. I’m sad to say that after watching a few episodes, I’m not very impressed. However, after downloading This American Life for the first time, I’m hooked. Ira Glass rocks.


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