Jul 13, 2006

The Long Tail

In July of 2004, your humble harman wrote a rudimentary thought basically conveying that the era of megastars in the music industry was over and we were moving in the direction of niche markets and small pockets of fame and success. It was in reaction to a report that top 10 hit single sales were down:

(July 25, 2004)
I'm working on a study that will prove:
1) not that top 10 hit single sales are down, but that people are both much more wise than they have been and much more sick of consolidated radio than they have been...
2)top 10 hits are just fine, but that the declining sales of those top 10 hits have not been b/c kids have downloaded the songs instead of bought them, but b/c the kids have a varied interest in music these days and the sales of all the songs the kids used to put into top 10 hits are now spread out among many many artists.
3) the kids were able to find out about these other artists b/c of the internet, so we probably shouldn't stop the internet.

It turns out Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired, was thinking a most similar thing, a thing he calls the Long Tail. Mr. Anderson did some research and analysis of the cultural situation and came up with a veritable catchphrase and a published book:

People are going deep into the catalog, down the long, long list of available titles, far past what's available at Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, and Barnes & Noble. And the more they find, the more they like. As they wander further from the beaten path, they discover their taste is not as mainstream as they thought (or as they had been led to believe by marketing, a lack of alternatives, and a hit-driven culture).... An analysis of the sales data and trends from these services and others like them shows that the emerging digital entertainment economy is going to be radically different from today's mass market. If the 20th- century entertainment industry was about hits, the 21st will be equally about misses.

For too long we've been suffering the tyranny of lowest-common-denominator fare, subjected to brain-dead summer blockbusters and manufactured pop. Why? Economics. Many of our assumptions about popular taste are actually artifacts of poor supply-and-demand matching - a market response to inefficient distribution.

I'll be interested in the reaction to The Long Tail book, and I sure do wish I had pushed to study my idea through the coffers. Gotta love lessons in seizing the day! I was just so busy filing phone bills and walking the dog... Now where is that USDA class on economic 'speriment design?

Speaking of the Department of Agriculture and its marriage to the myriad array of class offerings that have little to do with agriculture, I heard the department began these classes when the US was becoming more industrialized and farmers needed new valuable skills to supplement their incomes as the economy moved away from harvesting.

The Long Tail refers not only to the flat area of the demand curve, but also to a type of Thai boat and a big lobster.

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