Sunday, July 16, 2006

imho The Long Tail


Found content:

My take:

Visually, the “long tail” graph resembles a fading signal, asymptotically tapering into nothingness, but still faintly perceptible against the background din of the cosmos.

Essentially, these articles state that the long tail of niche market segments--aggregated through Amazon, eBay, iTunes, etc.--is wagging the big dog of Internet commerce. Per Wikipedia:

  • The long tail is the colloquial name for a long-known feature of statistical distributions (Zipf, Power laws, Pareto distributions and/or general Lévy distributions ). The feature is also known as ‘heavy tails’, ‘power-law tails’ or ‘Pareto tails’….In these distributions a high-frequency or high-amplitude population is followed by a low-frequency or low-amplitude population which gradually ‘tails off’. In many cases the infrequent or low-amplitude events—the long tail, represented here by the yellow portion of the graph—can cumulatively outnumber or outweigh the initial portion of the graph, such that in aggregate they comprise the majority.”

In economic terms, e-commerce vendors can profit from serving all niche markets if:

  • the aggregate demand for all niche-appeal items is persistent, ubiquitous, and substantial
  • the marginal cost of producing, marketing, stocking, selling, and distributing niche-appeal items is near zero
  • the availability of niche-appeal items is at a par with mass-appeal items, through consolidation into master catalogs, search engines, and so forth

All of which has come to pass through the Web.

From the niche-dwelling consumer’s point of view, it’s all about vendors providing an effectively infinite catalog that ranges across all niches and back to the beginnings of recorded time (or 1995, whichever came first).

From the niche-dwelling producer’s point of view, it’s all about connecting with a market, even if it means doing onesie-twosie, break-even transactions on long-discontinued merchandise. Just to connect. And move product. And persist in somebody’s collection somewhere for some reason. Even if it means that, by settling into the “long tail,” our work shall ever more be tagged as “unpopular” or “not for everybody.”

Though, as the “long tail” illustrates, the “popular” is “not for everybody” either. Most of the popular stuff will eventually slide down the tail toward niche status, sometimes over the course of a generation. Or seemingly overnight (as when an obscenely and expensively promoted bow-wow of a Hollywood sequel blockbuster plunges in the box office in its second and third weeks of exposure).

Slipping ever further toward the indistinguishable media soup of yesterday's product, the heat death of surfeit-swamped oblivion that awaits even the biggest productions.