The discussion about Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail has been absolutely fascinating.
The book makes the claim that in markets where physical inventory is not an issue and transaction costs are minimal, goods that are not top-sellers can be a very significant portion of sales, when taken in aggregate. So, for instance, the bottom half of songs on iTunes in popularity will make up a significant portion of sales … sales that simply would not occur in a bricks-and-mortar industry where carrying costs and inventory are very, very real concerns.
In other words, some markets are moving away from being completely hit-based – only popular stuff makes money, relatively unpopular stuff disappears – towards being more craft-based – more sellers of more stuff, each in small quantity individually but in aggregate forming a large market.
The Wall Street Journal’ Lee Gomes has essentially attempted to quash the meme, saying that the Pareto Principal and the hit machine that modern consumer culture has built are both alive and well in new media.
It would be wonderful if the world as Mr. Anderson describes it were true: one where “healthy niche products” and even “outright misses” collectively could stand their ground with the culture’s increasingly soulless “hits.”
But while every singer-songwriter dreams from his bedroom of making a living off iTunes, few actually do, mostly because so many others have the very same idea. And to the extent that Apple is making money off iTunes, thanks go to Nelly Furtado and other hitmakers. Indeed, you can make the case that the Internet is amplifying the role of hits, even in relation to misses, not diminishing them.
In turn, Chris Anderson has written a rebuttal, which asserts that, unfortunately, Lee Gomes doesn’t know math.
I have no doubt that there are many parts of my analysis and data that could be improved. Unfortunately, Gomes, in his haste to find them, stumbles over statistics and more, and in the end simply makes a muddle of what might have been an interesting debate over the magnitude of the Long Tail effect.
But I think the best perspective on the whole affair is Robert Scoble’s. And, in fact, he’s pretty well positioned to have it … due to previously being in the really, really short (but fat) part of the tail at Microsoft, and now being at the very, very, very long end of the tail at Podtech.
Scoble does a great analysis and then synthesis on the debate and comes up with this: the long tail can be viewed as an enormous farm club for mainstream media.
(That’s obviously not ALL it is – I’m 100% certain that Robert would say that as well. It’s first and foremost a means of self-expression and communication for millions and millions of people.)
But the point he makes is valid: a talented podcaster can make it on radio – terrestrial or satellite. A talented videoblogger can make it on TV – cable, satellite, or terrestrial. The same goes for a talented blogger.
That’s not to say that MSM has figured everything out – far from it. And it’s not to say that radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines aren’t in big, big trouble unless they can find models that make sense in the networked, digital world.
But it is to say that talent will rise to the top, and that revenue will come to those who want it, and are good enough to warrant it.
Which is about the smartest thing I’ve heard on the long tail in a while.
[tags] robert scoble, long tail, chris anderson, WSJ, daniel gomes, MSM, media, blogging, podcasting, videocasting, radio, newspapers, magazines, Sirius, john koetsier [/tags]