Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail”

January 11, 2008

Chris Anderson wrote The Long Tail in 2006. The book is one of a handful that defines the large changes brought about by the web. It defines the forces at play that have allowed Amazon, iTunes, ebay and others to redefine large industries. We will discuss the Long Tail at length in class.

Wikipedia says the following:

The phrase The Long Tail was, according to Chris Anderson, first coined by himself. The concept drew in part from an influential February 2003 essay by Clay Shirky, “Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality”, which noted that a relative handful of weblogs have many links going into them but “the long tail” of millions of weblogs may have only a handful of links going into them. Beginning in a series of speeches in early 2004 and culminating with the publication of a Wired magazine article in October 2004, Anderson described the effects of the long tail on current and future business models. Anderson later extended it into the book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (2006).

Anderson argued that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough. Anderson cites earlier research by Erik Brynjolfsson, Yu (Jeffrey) Hu, and Michael D. Smith, that showed that a significant portion of Amazon.com’s sales come from obscure books that are not available in brick-and-mortar stores. The Long Tail is a potential market and, as the examples illustrate, the distribution and sales channel opportunities created by the Internet often enable businesses to tap into that market successfully.
An Amazon employee described the Long Tail as follows: “We sold more books today that didn’t sell at all yesterday than we sold today of all the books that did sell yesterday.”

Anderson has explained the term as a reference to the tail of a demand curve.[5] The term has since been rederived from an XY graph that is created when charting popularity to inventory. In the graph shown above, Amazon’s book sales or Netflix’s movie rentals would be represented along the vertical axis, while the book or movie ranks are along the horizontal axis. The total volume of low popularity items exceeds the volume of high popularity items.

Please add his blog to the Required Reading list.

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