Posts Tagged ‘the long tail’

Some Things I Learned From Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail”

June 11, 2009

Picture 26I finished up Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More and a few of its insights have stuck with me. It’s one of those cultural trends-analysis books that actually makes me feel good about the direction the world is heading. 

It’s all about the rise of niche markets. With the lessening of the barriers of distribution and to information, basically a company can sell anything and the customers will find it. As customers, we don’t have to subsist on “blockbusters” (the short tail), but can pursue our more arcane interests. And companies can survive (and even thrive) on providing for these interests.

Picture 29Short tail on the left, long on the right…and it goes right forever.

Anderson was approached by the CEO of an audio jukebox company. These jukeboxes are loaded with 10,000 songs. The CEO asked Anderson what percent of those songs sold at least once per quarter.  Anderson thinks of the 80/20 rule (where 20% of the products offered accounts for 80% of the sales) and says 50% because he knows he’s dealing with the different digital world. The answer: 98%. 98% is the new 80/20.

Which really surprised me. Are people really going for the deep cuts on Like a Prayer? “Promise to Try,” anyone?

As a result, this is changing the types of business starting up, and the goals they’re setting for themselves. The music industry, despite what its more bloated and luddite CEOs say, does not need to rely on putting out bland “hits.”

For example, the Rock*A*Teens were this band from Atlanta in the early 90’s that I heard about, but never listened to. (I think I confused them with Atari Teenage Riot, which I knew I didn’t like.) I now have a membership to eMusic, a great online music subscription service that specializes in indie rock.  The Rock*A*Teens kept getting recommended to me for my taste in jangly, ecstatic, lo-fi, sweeping garage rock. I gave it a listened, and now I’m obsessed. Baby, A Little Rain Must Fall is A*mazing and I’m on my way to getting their entire discography.

Picture 27One of the many treasures in the long tail.

Would I ever find this album in a record store?  An album from an obscure and defunct 90’s indie band? Highly unlikely. Anderson notes how a record store needs to sell at lease 4 copies of a CD a year just to make it worthwhile to carry. Otherwise, it’s far more lucrative to give that space over to Lady GaGa remixes or yet another repackaging of a Beatles album.

And much less, would I ever think to pick it up? Even more unlikely, given the weird association I made between them and that Atari band, and since I ‘d probably be drawn to the new releases in the store, anyways. 

However, with eMusic, where it’s online and the tracks are digital, it’s not much for them to offer it while making it extremely accessible to me. They can offer such obscure albums because they aren’t challenged by space or distance. And they can even draw attention to it with recommendations.

(Bonus, I just checked their Wikipedia entry while writing this and discovered that the R*A*T’s frontman Chris Lopez is currently in the band Tenement Halls, also on eMusic and it sounds just as promising as his previous band … I just downloaded their 2005 album and count me a fan of these guys, too. Oh, the discoveries and bounties in the long tail!)

Long live the long tail.