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Will the Long Tail Have a Long Run?

New book by Wired editor touted as 'the next Tipping Point'

June 13, 2006

2 Min Read
Will the Long Tail Have a Long  Run?

5:55 PM -- My brother-in-law, who's a tech venture capitalist in Southern California, had an advance copy of Wired editor Chris Anderson's book, The Long Tail, when I visited over the weekend. Official publication date is July 11, according to Anderson's Website.

"The Long Tail' is Anderson's term (originating in statistics, it describes a graph with a few cases with huge numbers associated with them clustered at one end and a whole lot of cases with few associated numbers making up the long, gently sloping "tail" of the curve at the other) for the new economics of Web-based commerce: Because, in theory, everything is available online, there's an incentive for retailers to keep the low-selling, obscure items available continuously as well as the huge-selling hits. In other words, while Mariah Carey's new album might sell a few million copies, CD-sellers can also make good profits by making available hard-to-find old Thelonious Monk recordings that only sell a few hundred a year.

I wrote a feature for Wired on XM Radio a couple of years ago (before Anderson's "Long Tail" article ran, I must add) that described the satellite radio business as one of "microgenres" -- if the programming director at XM thinks there's an audience of a few hundred for, say, early Joy Division, he throws up a channel. The channels are constantly in flux and sat radio is by definition a non-hit-driven business.

Essentially a magazine article pumped full of examples, The Long Tail is being touted as the new Tipping Point, and the term has already entered the tech-business lexicon. You could argue that the wireless business is by its nature one of long tails -- to each cell phone its own ringtone, its own playlist, its own obscure Hong Kong gangster videos. It'll be interesting to see if sales of the book match up to the expectations -- not to mention the huge advance Anderson reportedly received.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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