Monday, July 14, 2008

Brian Newman with some interesting updates on the Long Tail

We talk a lot about the Long Tail in this house. If you can call it talking. It's a lot of debate and discourse, and wondering where the reality is. So I was glad to read this interesting update from the always smart and interesting Brian Newman.

Long tail not so debunked after-all

There’s been much ado about Anita Elberse’s article in the Harvard Business Review lately – where she seriously questions the validity of the long-tail theory. The press (and that includes bloggers, and me) love anything that runs contrary to a popular opinion in business and culture, and Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, has certainly been influential. Within days of the issue hitting the stands, I started receiving emails from people making sure I had read it – mainly because they know my organization has launched a project working somewhat off the long-tail theory. I nuance this with the “somewhat;” however, as I’ve never agreed with most of what the adherents of the long-tail seem to believe. Pretty much everyone in the film world who has read it, and I meet someone everyday who hasn’t, seems to think that it says that obscure, niche content can now make more sales. These people believe that by building a better web system, doing more niche marketing or whatever, that their small movies can now become much bigger. This is false, of course, but became a popular belief because, hell, every filmmaker is in need of some golden business rule that can help them sway investors that their little movie can someday be big. A few people have even accused me of thinking this in relation to Reframe. (Which has never been true.)

But what they all miss, and what Elberse’s article doesn’t really address, is that the real truth of the long-tail is simply that in a business environment that allows for more long-tail content and transactions, more value will accrue to those companies that exploit an aggregate of long-tail content. Not more than hit-makers, but more than they made before the web. No single niche title (yes, there are a few exceptions) will become much more popular, but if you aggregate many of them, you can add up those small sales to something approaching profitability. This isn’t refuted by Elberse, and I’m still pretty bullish on the aggregate model; in fact, even more so in relation to this new study. (more)

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