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The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More Paperback – July 8, 2008
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
In the October 2004 issue of Wired magazine, Chris Anderson published an article in which he shared these observations: "(1) the tail of available variety is far longer than we realize; (2) it's now within reach economically; (3) all those niches, when aggregated, can make up a significant market - seemed indisputable, especially backed up with heretofore unseen data." That is even truer today than it was when The Long Tail was first published years ago. The era that Anderson characterizes as "a market of multitudes" continues to grow in terms of both its nature and extent. In this book, Anderson takes his reader on a guided tour of this market as he explains what the probable impact the new market will have and what will be required to prosper in it.
According to Anderson, those who read the article saw the Long Tail everywhere, from politics to public relations, and from sheet music to college sports. "What people intuitively grasped was that new efficiencies in distribution, manufacturing, and marketing were changing the definition of what was commercially viable across the board. The best way to describe these forces is that they are turning unprofitable customers, products, and markets into profitable ones." Therefore, the story of the Long Tail is really about the economics of abundance: "what happens when the bottlenecks that stand between supply and demand in our culture start to disappear and everything becomes available to everyone."
If I understand Anderson's most important points (and I may not), they include these:
1. Make as much as possible available to as many people as possible.
2. Help them to locate what they need, quickly and easily.
3. Offer maximum inventory only online.
4. Customize supply chain in terms of niche markets
5. Maximize its efficiencies and economies (especially inventory control, order processing, and distribution,)
5. Be customer-driven in terms of "crowdsourcing"
6. Have strategy that separates content into its component parts (i.e. "microchunking")
7. Have a pricing strategy that is "elastic" (i.e. based on the ROI of fulfillment per product per niche).
8. Have an open source business model for information sharing.
9. In markets where scarcity exists, "guesstimate" costs, margins, sales, profits, etc.
10.Where there is abundant competition, let those markets "sort it all out."
These and other points can guide and inform decision makers as they struggle to compete profitably during the era of "long-tailed distributions," when culture is unfiltered by economic scarcity and high technology is turning mass markets into millions of niches. Anderson provides invaluable advice with regard to how minimize the cost of reaching, penetrating, and then developing a multiple of niche markets. The paradigm has shifted from selling more in fewer markets to selling less in more markets but also, key point, selling as much as possible within as many segments as possible -- and prudent -- within those markets.
With regard to the new chapter, Anderson devotes much of his attention to online marketing and suggests that critical issues to address include these:
Who's influential "in our space (and how we know)"
Who/what influences them
How to get Digged
Using beta-test invite lists
The art of begging for links
"Link bait" (e.g. stunts, contests, gimmicks, memes)
How to view the Web? "Forget it as a marketplace of products, and instead think of it as a marketplace of opinion. It's the great leveler of marketing. It allows for niche products to get global attention. Most products will be sold offline, as they always were. But in years to come, more and more products will be marketed online, taking advantage of Web methods to fine-slice consumer groups and influence word of mouth more effectively than ever before in history. Not all industries lend themselves to an infinite variety of products, but all industries have an infinite variety of customers. Finally we can treat them like the individuals they are. It's the sunset of the thirty-second spot."
There are several reasons why Anderson believed there is a need for a revised and updated edition. Here are two. Because the earlier version became a bestseller, it attracted lots of attention, generating an abundance of discussion of his core concepts. Also, the process of adopting his ideas (many of which at first seemed counterintuitive, if not precious and naive) was complicated by the globalization of culture. Focus shifted to distributed audiences around the world. Anderson was asked for additional examples of Long Tail effects outside the digital realms of media and entertainment. He certainly could not cover all of the extensions in fashion, travel, organic and "artisanal" food, and even alcohol as indicated by -- to cite one example -- Anheuser-Busch's embrace of niche beers, the establishment of Long Tail Libations, and the increased number of beers from 26 brands in 1997 to 80 in 2007. Given the fact that change continues to be the only constant in the global business world, think of this revised and updated edition as only the latest update on some Long Tail developments thus far.
Presumably the tail will continue to lengthen in months and years to come.
Chris Anderson has done a very good job of showing us the new "economics of abundance," or the connection of supply and demand thru technology and the Internet.
Question: What happens when everything in the world becomes available to everyone?
Answer: A market that never dies... markets for every niche, and vice-versa.
The Long Tail.
Using corporate examples like Google, eBay, iTunes and Netflix, Anderson lends an interesting perspective on how these companies have grabbed the Long Tail theory (consciously or unconsciously) and used it as the foundation for their staggering success. For customers of these companies, being online means unlimited "shelf space" - access to hundreds of thousands of bits of information, products and services they'd never been exposed to otherwise.
But how does the ordinary businessperson experience the success of the eBays of the world? Here, Anderson falls short. He states his "secret" to The Long Tail:
1. Make everything available
2. Help me find it
It's the "help me find it" part that Anderson ignores. In fact, it's the end of the book... you're left hanging, thinking, "So how in hell am I supposed to help people find me?"
Taken for what it is - a good presentation of a present-day theory (and one that was adequately covered in the original article in Wired magazine), the book is fine. But to really understand what it takes to make the Long Tail theory work for you, you must get a copy of "Waiting for Your Cat to Bark." It's in-depth coverage on not only how our economy works today, but understanding how people buy, how to understand what they're looking for and what you need to do to create persuasion magic not only on your website but in all your marketing materials.
This is not a time for "build it and they will come." Understanding an economy is only the first step. The real question is - what are you going to do about it to make yourself an integral part of the Long Tail?
It's too bad "The Long Tail" and "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark" can't be sold in a box set - they were made for each other.