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The Long Tail’s Undertow

Exactly a year ago, Wired got people talking about “the long tail,” which Chris Anderson described as “an entirely new model for the media and entertainment industries” that finds assets in “the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.” To wit:

“The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication: If the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are. In other words, the potential book market may be twice as big as it appears to be, if only we can get over the economics of scarcity. Venture capitalist and former music industry consultant Kevin Laws puts it this way: ‘The biggest money is in the smallest sales.’”

Anderson’s turning the original article into a book and sharing the process on his blog. But the outside world is catching on as well—note today’s story on TheStreet.com, in which Kevin Kelleher suggests we shouldn’t believe all the hype just yet. Does the impending IPO for Digital Music Group, “essentially a digital music wholesaler to online music stores,” demonstrate the need for “long tail” companies to think their business models out more thoroughly? Publishers and authors should certainly be taking these issues seriously as well—and feel free to share your thoughts with us.

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