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The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More Hardcover – July 11, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Wired editor Anderson declares the death of "common culture"—and insists that it's for the best. Why don't we all watch the same TV shows, like we used to? Because not long ago, "we had fewer alternatives to compete for our screen attention," he writes. Smash hits have existed largely because of scarcity: with a finite number of bookstore shelves and theaters and Wal-Mart CD racks, "it's only sensible to fill them with the titles that will sell best." Today, Web sites and online retailers offer seemingly infinite inventory, and the result is the "shattering of the mainstream into a zillion different cultural shards." These "countless niches" are market opportunities for those who cast a wide net and de-emphasize the search for blockbusters. It's a provocative analysis and almost certainly on target—though Anderson's assurances that these principles are equally applicable outside the media and entertainment industries are not entirely convincing. The book overuses its examples from Google, Rhapsody, iTunes, Amazon, Netflix and eBay, and it doesn't help that most of the charts of "Long Tail" curves look the same. But Anderson manages to explain a murky trend in clear language, giving entrepreneurs and the rest of us plenty to think about. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson offers a visionary look at the future of business and common culture. The long-tail phenomenon, he argues, will "re-shape our understanding of what people actually want to watch" (or read, etc.). While Anderson presents a fascinating idea backed by thoughtful (if repetitive) analysis, many critics questioned just how greatly the niche market will rework our common popular culture. Anderson convinced most reviewers in his discussion of Internet media sales, but his KitchenAid and Lego examples fell flat. A few pointed out that online markets constitute just 10 percent of U.S. retail, and brick-and-mortar stores will never disappear. Anderson's thesis came under a separate attack by Lee Gomes in his Wall Street Journal column. Anderson had defined the "98 Percent Rule" in his book to mean that no matter how much inventory is made available online, 98 percent of the items will sell at least once. Yet Gomes cited statistics that could indicate that, as the Web and Web services become more mainstream, the 98 Percent Rule may no longer apply: "Ecast [a music-streaming company] told me that now, with a much bigger inventory than when Mr. Anderson spoke to them two years ago, the quarterly no-play rate has risen from 2% to 12%. March data for the 1.1 million songs of Rhapsody, another streamer, shows a 22% no-play rate; another 19% got just one or two plays." If Anderson overreaches in his thesis, he has nonetheless written "one of those business books that, ironically, deserves more than a niche readership" (Houston Chronicle).
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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However, you may wonder how a thing once defined as “geeky,” aka “going nowhere,” evolved in Darwinian fashion into an anthropomorphic feature so essential to mankind, it is now held on a par with walking “upright” or walking “on the moon.”
In this latest version of The Long Tail, Chris Anderson does an exceptional job explaining how the “endless shelf space” of the internet, when applied to commerce or culture, makes the niche marketing of almost any product, service or idea so efficient and effective its disruptive forces lay waste to many given economic ideas and generations of long held cultural norms.
Within a few chapters you understand why a “cloud” presence is often more valuable than a physical domain and in entertaining fashion why the conversation extends beyond economics in the very mosaic of life. In some ways The Long Tail has become a meme for the cultural “theory of everything” human.
While the book is brilliant on many levels, some themes are repeated beyond their capacity to provide new enlightenment or insight. This minor distraction is really a function of attempting to write history while still standing in the middle of an event, with every passing day there are new examples of how Long Tail economics and culture are reshaping the world.
In a world obsessed with the next big hit or the single shining light this book demonstrates that much success lies in satisfying the diversity of choice. Too often popular culture seduces into a popularity contest where there is only room for first place. Too often we fail to celebrate the diversity of interests that is humanity and fail to take business advantage of this.
The ability to reach smaller audiences has now been simplified with technology and the Internet. Now it is possible to services just about every market as quickly and easily as any traditional business model. This book opened my eyes up to the possibilities that I have been largely ignoring and has infused a desire to explore such opportunities with more rigour and discipline.
If you are looking to understand the business opportunity technology like the Internet can provide a business. If you are looking to understand how to succeed even within a restricted audience, then this book is something you should read. In reality, if you are in business then this is certainly a book that you should read as it may just change your idea of where you can be successful. I know it has for me.
In any case, in a fascinating passage, Anderson tries to make the case that there is a "long tail" for kitchen food processors! That's a pretty solid, durable, non-information product. He writes that KitchenAid only offers three colors in a given year, but many other colors are now available on Amazon or on the company's Web site. And those colors do sell to an extent, although white, black, and the colors available in stores predominate.
But what does this example really tell us? One of the basic ideas behind the "long tail," and part of what makes this an innovative business book, is the notion of "breaking the tyranny of the shelf." (Page 94). Whether expensive shelf space is outsourced to others or is simply not needed at all, a seller of books or music can avoid the expense and offer a wider array of products at essentially no carrying cost. But think of those turquoise and olive green mixers just sitting there, gathering dust and accounting for less than 1 percent of total KitchenAid sales. How long will KitchenAid keep them on its physical shelves?
Also, a current New Yorker article casts some doubt on what is becoming the conventional cheery understanding of Wikipedia, one of Anderson's favorite examples. Rather than a brilliant instance of the "wisdom of crowds," Wikipedia is portrayed as a chaotic, frat-boy culture that needs to impose dozens of rules to keep its acolytes in line. On Wikipedia, as in life, dedicated, thoughtful folks who write prudently and well tend to produce great, up-to-date stuff, and people with an ax to grind tend to produce tendentious nonsense.