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The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (2006)

by Chris Anderson

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3,528923,049 (3.87)27
What happens when the bottlenecks that stand between supply and demand in our culture go away and everything becomes available to everyone? "The Long Tail" is a powerful new force in our economy: the rise of the niche. As the cost of reaching consumers drops dramatically, our markets are shifting from a one-size-fits-all model of mass appeal to one of unlimited variety for unique tastes. From supermarket shelves to advertising agencies, the ability to offer vast choice is changing everything, and causing us to rethink where our markets lie and how to get to them. Unlimited selection is revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it, from DVDs at Netflix to songs on iTunes to advertising on Google. However, this is not just a virtue of online marketplaces; it is an example of an entirely new economic model for business, one that is just beginning to show its power. After a century of obsessing over the few products at the head of the demand curve, the new economics of distribution allow us to turn our focus to the many more products in the tail, which collectively can create a new market as big as the one we already know. The Long Tail is really about the economics of abundance. New efficiencies in distribution, manufacturing, and marketing are essentially resetting the definition of what's commercially viable across the board. If the 20th century was about hits, the 21st will be equally about niches.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
I'm a decade late, but I've finally read The Long Tail. The nice thing about having read this now is that it's clear just how true the vision of this book really is. From the entertainment media that Anderson analyzed to Kickstarter moving up the starting point of the long tail of physical goods from post-manufacture to pre-manufacture, we live in a world where niches are normal. This isn't to say that we've fully adapted to them or fully realized the opportunities, but being a long tail consumer is now mainstream.

Even though the ideas in this book are now common place, Anderson's book still provides a useful framework for thinking about the long tail. The first, and perhaps most important thing to remember is that the long tail is still the long tail. The still are hits. Even within niches there are hits and tails. However, what the long tail represents is moving from a world where access to content is cut off after the short head (e.g., because of limitations in physical shelf space) to where availability extends far beyond what use to be available.

Anderson models three factors as driving the shift to the long tail. The democratization of the tools of production allows many more people to create content. Talent is not limited to those who become popular, so some of this content will be quite good. Just as important, some of this content may be truly excellent but in a specialized area that doesn't have mainstream appeal. My personal favorite example is video blog style adaptations of classic literature -- something I love, but which would never get made if the only distribution channel were main stream media.

Because there is no so much content, aggregation and distribution mechanisms become vital to success. Aggregation of digital information takes the expected forms -- search engines both general and specialized -- but aggregation in the physical world also aids the long tail. E.g., centralizing goods in warehouses (or decentralizing through peer-to-peer selling) can give consumers more choice than just relying on what's available in local stores; a nation might have enough demand to make a product worth stocking where a city does not.

But so much content, is not useful if it cannot be easily found. Most of what is in the long tail is low quality, and much of it might be great but not what you are looking for. The long tail is only valuable if you can find what you want. Ranking and filtering provide this search functionality. Another important effect of ranking and filtering is to lead people down the tail. Most people don't start with niche tastes. These tastes develop over time as individuals build more expertise in that niche.

None of these ideas is particularly complex, but that is what gives them power. The long tail is interesting because it is, to some degree, inevitable in a world of dramatically increased availability.

One quibble I had with the book is Anderson's misinterpretation of Barry Schwartz's frame of satisficing and maximizing. Schwartz and Anderson likely do have fundamentally different views of the value of choice. Nonetheless, Anderson still misrepresents satisficing. He represents it as settling for the choices available. Schwartz's presentation of satisficing is more nuanced -- not, admittedly, because he thinks a flood of choice is good but because he acknowledges that it is inevitable. As Schwartz presents it, satisficing is not about settling but rather about being clear about what you want. If you're clear about what you want, you can change your mindset to be satisfied with once you've found options that fit your criteria even if you later learn of new options.

Overall though, this was worth the quick read. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
3.5 ( )
  deannachapman | Sep 15, 2021 |
When this was published it was a seminal book that defined the new business model for the internet. Since then, things have moved on, and some of the subjected predicted in the book never did come to pass.

In essence, the long Tail is the niche products and services that large stores and business cannot justify holding, when they only sell one or two a year. A small business could offer this prior to the internet coming along, but it was primarily mail order, or very specialised.

Along come the internet, and suddenly your customers could find you far easier than ever before, and you could justify stocking the item that sold one a month. With the advent of digital products, the sales capacity is infinite.

It is very well written, and i really enjoyed reading it. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
Makes me very uncomfortable regarding just how much writing I should be doing to keep up... ( )
  Loryndalar | Mar 19, 2020 |
I picked up a bunch of business books last weekend at the secondhand bookshop and have learnt a valuable lesson - whilst fiction books still remain relevant even if published 20, 50, 100 years ago, the same cannot be said for business books, particularly those orientated around digital businesses. Note to self - check the publication date next time!

This would have been a great read had I read it in 2006 when it first came out, but 13 years later it is outdated as technology has moved so quickly. To [[Chris Anderson]]'s credit he was pretty much on the ball in this book about the extent to which the internet would affect our shopping habits for music, television and movie media and general products. By 2006 many of these patterns had already started to emerge, but were nowhere near developed to the extent they are today. For example, he refers to Blockbuster in this book, which hadn't yet been completely killed off by the market shift towards Netflix.

It was still an interesting read, as the long tail (i.e. finding hugely successful markets at the niche end of shopping habits) is what's made zillions of dollars for Jeff Bezos and lots of smaller entrepreneurs. Very simply, although less people buy certain goods at the long end of the tail (on a graph of purchasing habits), when you aggregate the numbers of those people times the number of niche products they're interested in purchasing it creates a huge overall market, and online stores (which aren't limited by physical shop shelf space) have enabled businesses to capitalise on that.

Still some interesting points to take from the book at a general business level, but just too outdated for where we've moved on to (Instagram wasn't even a twinkle in someone's eye in 2006, and Etsy and YouTube were just getting going). I think there's a more up-to-date version of this book that would have been a better read.

2.5 stars - interesting and well written, but just dated. ( )
  AlisonY | Mar 23, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)

The real novelty of Anderson’s book is not his thesis but its representation in the form of a neat, readily graspable picture: the long-tail curve. For decades, economists and scientists have been using this graph, which is formally known as a power-law distribution, to describe things like the distribution of wealth or the relative size of cities. By applying the long tail to the online world, Anderson brings intellectual order to what often looks like pointless activity.
added by mikeg2 | editThe New Yorker, John Cassidy (Jul 10, 2006)
 
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What happens when the bottlenecks that stand between supply and demand in our culture go away and everything becomes available to everyone? "The Long Tail" is a powerful new force in our economy: the rise of the niche. As the cost of reaching consumers drops dramatically, our markets are shifting from a one-size-fits-all model of mass appeal to one of unlimited variety for unique tastes. From supermarket shelves to advertising agencies, the ability to offer vast choice is changing everything, and causing us to rethink where our markets lie and how to get to them. Unlimited selection is revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it, from DVDs at Netflix to songs on iTunes to advertising on Google. However, this is not just a virtue of online marketplaces; it is an example of an entirely new economic model for business, one that is just beginning to show its power. After a century of obsessing over the few products at the head of the demand curve, the new economics of distribution allow us to turn our focus to the many more products in the tail, which collectively can create a new market as big as the one we already know. The Long Tail is really about the economics of abundance. New efficiencies in distribution, manufacturing, and marketing are essentially resetting the definition of what's commercially viable across the board. If the 20th century was about hits, the 21st will be equally about niches.

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