The Long Tail – a look back

In 2006, Chris Anderson of Wired magazine expanded his 2004 magazine article into a best selling book, The Long Tail – why the future of business is selling less of more. The Long Tail is an economic theory based on the digital production and distribution of music and literature. Digital production has a lower cost and wider availability to producers allowing more people to create works of music or literature. Digital distribution through the internet is lower in cost and allows niche and unique works to reach a larger potential audience. With this model, small scale content creators can afford to produce a low number of products, even one or two, and still have a market to sell them into.

In his book Anderson uses the examples of music production and distribution as a model of change. The shelves at WalMart have limited choices due to the physical space available. As a result, only blockbusters or best sellers are available. This is referred to as the short head. Apple iTunes by using digital distribution made a wider variety of musical genres and artists available. Since physical space or even a physical product  is not involved, costs for distribution are driven down and are no longer a large percentage of the cost of goods sold. As a result there  are more artists to choose from and a wider variety of musical genres. Amazon applied the same Long Tail model to the distribution of books ultimately printing hard copies of niche topics only when orders were received. In his book, Anderson used music and literature as the main elements in the model but it can apply to many other things.

The Long Tail still remains as the foundation for the world of the web we currently live, work and play in. The Long Tail theory has transformed many of the traditional production and distribution models in the world around us. Traditional news media has gone through major convulsions as of late and every day brings new surprises. The music industry has undergone a severe and sometimes violent revolution which has still not reached an end. Marketing and advertising companies are constantly looking for the magic in web 2.0 and some are even succeeding. Broadcasting is embracing or rejecting the Long Tail model depending on corporate vision. This leaves room for growth in independent and niche video and web based radio content producers.

There has been many books written Web 2.0 since the Long Tail was first published but it still remains a fundamental in describing the changes we are currently living through.


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