Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Doubts Multiply About the "Long Tail"

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the to-him-who-hath-shall-be-given dept.

The Internet 194

fruey sends in a New Scientist analysis of the many second thoughts about the Long Tail theory. It summarizes four studies that show, in different markets, that the tail is both flatter and thinner than originally supposed, and that blockbusters are not going away in those markets — they are getting bigger. It's theorized that widely used collaborative filtering software is magnifying the winners' share of the various pies, and peer influence is a large contributor to consumer behavior.

cancel ×

194 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Multiply? (1, Funny)

SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215037)

Just how do you quantify "doubts"? LOL

One person had a doubt, then a second, therefore it multiplied by a factor of two.

Re:Multiply? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215977)

It's more along the lines of 'When a mommy doubt and a daddy love each other very much...' multiplication.

I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (1, Interesting)

Finallyjoined!!! (1158431) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215061)

I stopped buying CDs when the music companies started sueing their own customers.

So I'm not even part of the fat root :-)

Re:I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (4, Insightful)

clam666 (1178429) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215431)

I stopped buying CDs when the music companies started sueing their own customers.

You too? I thought I was the only one. I rarely bought music in the past, then downloaded a few songs which I would never have paid for but just wanted to hear. Then the RIAA started with their crap and I stopped listening to it all. There's nothing like being blamed for their crappy product. I mean, have the major labels actually put out that much good music in the last 10 years to even download? It seems like the bar has gotten awfully low.

As far as the "long tail" theory, I'm surprised that it was accepted that much at the time. Anderson sounded like the he had the same kind of glazed eye look about the future of the internet as the Web 2.0/Social networking people do when you talk to them.

Do people fundamentally change when they have more than one option to choose? I would have guessed rarely. Just because people have more choices does not mean they make statistically random choices. People have far greater psychological issues about what they choose and why they choose them than just availability. People like to be on the bandwagon and choose what their friends do, they like to choose things they've heard of and feel safe about, what's been recently marketed to them, comfort foods vs. healthy foods, etc.

Although we are all unique individuals following the herd, we by-and-large make the same choices about things, with a little bit of variance thrown in to keep it interesting. Raise your hand if you've never eaten at a McDonalds or drank a Coke before.

The internet may offer a wide variety of things in theory, but in reality it is businesses trying to offer customers the products that will give them the best ROI, and that means you'll make more money off the herd than a few outsiders demanding obscure products and services.

It makes sense to push items that the herd wants to buy. It makes sense to push the same things the other players are pushing and focus on better volume marketing, rather than pushing obscure things that a relatively few want and spending more money on targetted advertising.

The consumer follows the same approach as others, otherwise Walmart would not have been able to be in the position it's in.

Re:I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (5, Interesting)

D Ninja (825055) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215625)

I mean, have the major labels actually put out that much good music in the last 10 years to even download? It seems like the bar has gotten awfully low.

Possibly. Or maybe you've just aged and your tastes have changed as they've become more refined (a nice way of saying you've become pickier). That sort of makes sense since you, being older now, are not the RIAA's primary target market (which tends to be in the teens, younger 20s, etc). Additionally, being older, you're also not as impressionable. A song that would have affected you at age 15 (when emotions were high, and many experiences were imprinting themselves on your mind) would barely make a dent now or may not even be noticeable.

There has been good stuff produced in the past 10 years. I know names like Britney Spears pops to mind when you think about the crap out there, but there are a lot of artists who are part of the big labels who don't get the same face or radio time for whatever reason.

Re:I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215721)

This is why I fucking hate making the mistake of reading the comments on this website. I do it so rarely and every time I do I regret it.

I rarely bought music in the past, then downloaded a few songs which I would never have paid for but just wanted to hear.

So, you wanted to hear it, but didn't want to buy it - so you took it. See that's the problem. If you didn't want to pay for a product, you don't just magically get the product anyways. If you think the industry puts out shit, it shouldn't be worth listening to in the first place.

How bout we face the truth, you're a poor person who wants what they want and feel that any justification for taking instead of working for it is valid.

As for the rest of your post, if you knew what the fuck you were talking about you would know that you go ask "the herd" what it is their looking for and then go give it to them. Jesus, you sound like your whole knowledge of the world comes through a fucking web browser you god damned prick.

People who use the concept of "the herd" as if they are outside it and understand obviously don't. If they did, it wouldn't be regarded as a herd.

Re:I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (1)

retech (1228598) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215907)

Wow, someone's world view is being threatened and they're lashing out.

Re:I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215957)

I don't really think that was the intention of the parent post. Nothing to do with world view. Tastes do change over time and, as we age, we do become more choosy.

Or maybe you're just trolling.

Re:I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (1)

retech (1228598) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216015)

I was referring to the post that starts with: "This is why I fucking hate... ." That person has a few unresolved anger management issues.

Re:I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216075)

I'm not sure that McDonalds and Coca Cola are that interested in one-time customers. I haven't bought a Coke or eaten at a McDonalds in quite some time.

Amazon's reputation is based on the illusion of choice. Customers believe that there's a chance that their local bookseller will not have an items, and so they go to amazon, and buy bestsellers from them. If Amazon were to strip down the inventory to match that of an airport bookstore, they might be able to sell to a sizable majority of its customer base without problems. But the remainder of its customers would probably be able to spread, through word of mouth that amazon should no longer be the bookseller of first resort.

Suppose you needed to do home repairs. If the Sears Hardware ad the Home Despot were both equally close, which store would you patronize?

Re:I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (1)

Klaus_1250 (987230) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215567)

Too bad the article only focuses on legal downloads and such. I'm pretty sure that the long tail effect does exists, just not in the paid download market.

Re:I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (4, Funny)

motek (179836) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215703)

Quite obviously, it must exist. The lack of evidence simply means it is an invisible tail, well hidden from the eyes of the unsuspecting public. Probably some sort of conspiracy of the short-tailed...

Re:I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215597)

I must say, it's quite an accomplishment that for a product that would normally have steady demand to have the whole recording industry crying foul at the same time, and doing horribly. It's like the RIAA doesn't want to actually make money or something.

Re:I, for one, am not part of the long tail.. (1)

TheTyrannyOfForcedRe (1186313) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216237)

There was a time when I visited my favorite music store once per week. I typically spent $50-60 per visit on major label releases. When the lawsuits began my weekly buying sprees ended. I'll never consume another major label product again, ever. I can thank the RIAA for opening my eyes to a world music that I hadn't known was out there. Thanks RIAA!

billionerror FraUD forever fairytail winding down? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215075)

easy come, easy goo. better days ahead. you can bet your .asp whois on the 'thin end'.

You corporate monkeys... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215077)

never cease to amaze me! Now give yourselves a pat on - no, a long tug on the tail.

Sounds like he got the long tail (4, Insightful)

thedonger (1317951) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215099)

Looks like he got his long tail, but I don't know why anyone would expect Harry Potter to sell less simply because someone could chose to get some out-of-print book or the like. Fill Barnes and Noble with shitty fantasy that will never sell and HP will still break records. The Internet can't change that.

Re:Sounds like he got the long tail (4, Insightful)

CyberLord Seven (525173) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215357)

"The Long Tail" did not suggest that Harry Potter would sell less. It suggested that a less well-known, or liked, book could make as much money as a Harry Potter or more because the internet would allow those who liked such things to find them more easily.

For instance, we all know about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button because of all the advertisement money spent on it and the use the Oprah Winfrey's show as an additional ad vehicle along with "E" and other such crap that fills the airwaves.

If "The Long Tail" is accurate, then there could be a much smaller independant movie that will could be released at the same time as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and that will make as much money as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but in a longer time frame. This is because you and I think this independant movie stinks when we hear about it, but your neighbor and mine thinks it's the Bee's Knees and search out art-house showings and buy the DVD and watch it whenever it shows on the Idependant Film Channel and Sundance and spread the word so that the thing takes on it's own life in a manner similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Of course, if "The Long Tail" is wrong, then this independant film will more likely resemble "Howard The Duck".

Re:Sounds like he got the long tail (1)

thedonger (1317951) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215577)

Ah, I see your point. As far as the movie example, $10 per ticket will give "top tier" movies like Benjamin Button such a jump in gross sales that art house flicks and other creepers in the long tail section will never make up the ground. Net sales, OTOH, may be a different story.

Re:Sounds like he got the long tail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215847)

And that's why you have to read a bit more about long tail.

Not exactly. (5, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215581)

"The Long Tail" did not suggest that Harry Potter would sell less. It suggested that a less well-known, or liked, book could make as much money as a Harry Potter or more because the internet would allow those who liked such things to find them more easily.

Not exactly.

It is the hypothesis that ALL of the non-Harry Potter books COLLECTIVELY will sell as much or more than the Harry Potter books themselves.

Even that is wrong. It isn't a single book or a single series. It's the percentages. It is the hypothesis that the 80% of lesser selling titles will equal or exceed the sales of the top 20%. Or 90% / 10%. Or wherever you want to make the cut.

In theory, it is easy to demonstrate. Suppose there are 2 blockbusters released in a category ... and the average person buy 10 items in that category. So, 20% of the sales would go to the blockbusters ... but 80% would go to the "long tail".

The problem is that the average person does NOT operate that way. They might by the latest Harry Potter book ... and no other book that year. The same with music. The same with movies.

Re:Not exactly. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26216393)

You have the let the tail grow a bit to add up the Harry Potter tail, and we may need to subtract current "head" content from it.... because even this soon, would we have the Twilight series without Potter?

Twilight is a blockbuster plucked from the still-short Potter-tail and amplified.
 

Re:Sounds like he got the long tail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26216133)

Modded you up... but ONLY because you found a way to bring "Howard the Duck" into the conversation.

Re:Sounds like he got the long tail (1)

CyberLord Seven (525173) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216337)

A great comic. A stank-ass movie. About the only thing it's good for is as an example of a horrrrrrrrrrribbbbblllllleeee (geez, I still get the shivers) movie.

Re:Sounds like he got the long tail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26216425)

Leah Thompson in her underwear, yum!

Definition (4, Interesting)

spuke4000 (587845) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215103)

What is the long tail? The summary, and TFA (I skimmed it so maybe I missed this) seem to indicate that the long tail theory means the more obscure stuff will be more popular. I thought it simply meant that you could make money off the obscure stuff when your distribution costs went to zero (because of the Internet). Am I missing something, or does the article interpret the idea of the long tail incorrectly?

Re:Definition (1)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215143)

Well, I don't know either, but here's my take:

I dropped a brown rope this morning the size of a small South American country. At one point, I wasn't sure if I was taking a shit, or it the shit was taking me. And while I'm on that point, what's the deal with taking a shit? Shouldn't it be leaving a shit? I'm certainly not taking anything with me when I'm done.

Anyway, back on topic, Vista sucks ass.

=Smidge=

Re:Definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215239)

+1 offtopic rambling is as relevant, useful and ontopic as the article itself.

Re:Definition (1)

rbrausse (1319883) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215295)

hmm, I believed long tail means that the stuff can be sold and sold again over different channels (e.g. a film: 1. cinema, 2. dvd, 3. television, 4. some strange magazines with the dvd of the film, 5. drive-by-ads with youtube et al, ...)

but I have to agree that I never thought about it - "long tail" is just used as buzzword in my experience...

Re:Definition (1)

Endo13 (1000782) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215353)

Well, this was my first encounter with "the long tail", so all I know about it is what I read in the article. It seems this particular article is defining "the long tail" as an ability for retailers to sell a lot more different items, so some of the peak demand for the most popular items (blockbusters) gets spread out to the extra selection that wouldn't normally be available in a B&M store. Also, it briefly mentions a small possibility of an unexpected blockbuster arising from that extra selection.

Re:Definition (1)

slugtastic (1437569) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215383)

Heres a wikipedia [wikipedia.org] page about the Long Tail.

Re:Definition (2, Informative)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215391)

The idea that the internet is transforming our buying habits was first popularised in an article written by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of the technology magazine Wired, in October 2004. The article, titled "The long tail", became a blog, a best-selling book and a marketing mantra.

Anderson's premise was simple. Before the internet, even the largest retailer had physical constraints on the variety of stuff like books, CDs and DVDs it could profitably sell. Savvy store owners had to tailor their stock to maximise returns from limited shelf space, and consumers had to make do with what was on offer.

In cyberspace, by contrast, shelf space is practically unlimited and other overheads at rock bottom. Online retailers can take advantage of that to sell vast catalogues of obscure products at little or no extra cost.

Anderson postulated that this new breadth of choice was leading to a metamorphosis of the classic demand curve. Instead of a steep peak representing comparatively few big-selling items, a gentler curve spread over far more products was emerging - creating the eponymous long tail (see graph).

To Anderson, this migration to the long tail is a journey of self-discovery for all of us. "As a teenager in the 1970s, I listened to one of the 10 radio stations on offer, but I'm not sure I really knew what my taste was." Now, he says, we are all finding out - and discovering that we like quite different things. His conclusion is summarised in the subtitle of his book: "The future of business is selling less of more".

For a visual, check out the graph in the article.

Re:Definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215407)

What is the long tail? The summary, and TFA (I skimmed it so maybe I missed this) seem to indicate that the long tail theory means the more obscure stuff will be more popular. I thought it simply meant that you could make money off the obscure stuff when your distribution costs went to zero (because of the Internet). Am I missing something, or does the article interpret the idea of the long tail incorrectly?

It's marketing fluff which is why it's not always so easy to pin down a precise definition of "long tail" or "long tail theory". It seems to boil down to the idea that in markets where there are lots of choices, like a wide variety of items, 20% of products available will dominate the market while the other 80% will hardly sell at all in comparison (the shape of the graph is what gave it the name). But it doesn't mean much, in the sense that there are not many scenarios where you can use the knowledge of this very general trend to have any influence over events. You could drop the marketing angle entirely and just call this an application of Sturgeon's Law, for that matter.

Re:Definition (3, Informative)

I Want to be Anonymo (1312257) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215415)

The phrase "long tail" has a couple of related, but different meanings - both from the shape of a graph of sales (or popularity) on the Y-axis.

In this case, the X-axis is a listing of different titles, sorted by popularity. There are a small number of extremely popular items, tailing off to huge numbers of less popular items.

In the other use, the X-axis is time. Something can be hugely popular for a few days/weeks/months, but will continue to have greatly diminished sales for many years to come.

The concept of the "long tail" is that the combined popularity or profitability of the items in the tail can be a significant part of the overall profitability of the entire market, particularly when internet sized economies of scale make it efficient to stock and sell these items.

Re:Definition (5, Informative)

vux984 (928602) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215419)

What is the long tail? The summary, and TFA (I skimmed it so maybe I missed this) seem to indicate that the long tail theory means the more obscure stuff will be more popular.

The long tail theory is:

1) More obscure stuff will be more profitable (because distribution costs are down - you can distribute electronic goods for practically nothing, and even real goods are more profitable because you can keep them in a warehouse in Wisconsin instead of taking up premium shelf space at a retail store downtown NYC)

2) Because its profitable, people will actually carry it.

3) Because people will carry it, people that actually want it will be able to find it and buy it.

4) Because people can find and buy the obscure stuff they want they'll spend less on the popular stuff they don't want as much. So the blockbusters will lose some of their sales to the obscure stuff.

In reality, this doesn't seem to be happening.

Re:Definition (2, Insightful)

sfsp (655361) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215705)

My personal experience is that the part of your thesis that isn't happening is Step 4:

4) Because people can find and buy the obscure stuff they want they'll spend less on the popular stuff they don't want as much. So the blockbusters will lose some of their sales to the obscure stuff.

It seems to me that blockbusters are getting bigger, AND the tail is getting longer. More money is being spent at both ends of the curve. This would imply that the curves in the New Scientist article graphic are incorrect: the long tail isn't stealing dollars from the blockbusters. It's not a zero-sum game.

Of course, throw in a tanking economy and all bets are off...

Re:Definition (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216117)

My personal experience is that the part of your thesis that isn't happening is Step 4:

Yes. Precisely. The first 3 are all happening. Its just #4 that isn't panning out.

It seems to me that blockbusters are getting bigger, AND the tail is getting longer. More money is being spent at both ends of the curve.

Yes, to both the tail is getting longer and the blockbusters are getting bigger.

This would imply that the curves in the New Scientist article graphic are incorrect: the long tail isn't stealing dollars from the blockbusters.

Not quite. The article isn't saying that the tail is too "short", but simply that its much flatter and thinner then they expected.

People who really want the obscure stuff =are= buying the obscure stuff so the tail is there, but they are surprised that despite the availability of such a wider range of product, that things are actually becoming more concentrated around the blockbusters. This is somewhat counter intuitive.

Re:Definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26216073)

So the blockbusters will lose some of their sales to the obscure stuff.

In reality, this doesn't seem to be happening.

Because up until that assumption, the theory sounds pretty decent. It's rediculous to assume that the people who like obscure things don't also like mainstream things, or that a sale of an obscure items equals loss of a sale on a bigger item. I like plenty of obscure things, I also like plenty of mainstream things (newsflash: a lot of mainstream things are mainstream because they're good). Just because I go out and buy the next Frontline Assembly or Funker Vogt album doesn't mean I'm not going to buy the next Metallica album also. Metallica isn't losing a sale because I like Frontline Assembly.

Re:Definition (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216433)

It's rediculous to assume that the people who like obscure things don't also like mainstream things, or that a sale of an obscure items equals loss of a sale on a bigger item.

Its not that these people don't like both, its that they only have so much money, and that until recently only one of the items was readily available. So yes, in the big scheme of things, if 20 billion dollars is spent on obscure items that didn't used to be available, that's 20 billion that's not going to be spent on other stuff.

One of the real factors affecting the music industry is the rise of the cellphone and gaming industries. Even if piracy were impossible music sales would probably be down simply due people spending that disposable income on cellphone contracts, video games, etc.

After all the sale of an obscure item either equals the loss of a sale on -something-, or that the money would have gone into savings. Givin the savings rate in the US is practically zero, that means its probably the former.

So yeah, some people will skip mcdonalds to buy the obscure CD, some people will skip on a new t-shirt,... and a lot of people are going to skip on some other more popular CD.

Re:Definition (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26216487)

The above summary really is not correct. The "long tail economy" merely means that obscure tastes can be satisfied by the market if distribution and storage are low enough cost. Using an anecdote, I have a friend who sells light switch wall plates. These items are very decorative and are intended to replace the plain ones you can find in any hardware store. However, the market for such decorative items is small. Most people are content with the simple and functional ones that come with the house. If this store were a traditional brick and mortar building servicing a community of 10,000 then it would not be able to remain open. If the store were moved to a large city, such as Jacksonville then it might be able to eek out an existence. Even then, however, not many people would know about such a place even if they wanted it. However, if this place was merely and Internet store which produces those wall plates on demand (e.g. minimal warehouse cost and minimal distribution cost), then the store can be (has been) successful. It is not churning out thousands of orders per day, but a few orders per day can keep the semi-retired owner occupied and earning some cash. The heart of the "long tail economy" is to be able to provide for uncommon market segments more viably.

The long tail market is insignificant in size when compared to the mainstream market. However, if stores could provide shelf space for the popular items and still allow for special ordering of more obscure items, you get the same result. This does not predict that a small niche will out earn the mainstream market unless the mainstream market is oversold.

For example, if you have 20 pop radio stations competing for listeners and only one classic radio station (no other radio stations). Also assume that 90% of the radio-listening population enjoy pop, 5% enjoy classic, 3% enjoy punk, 1% enjoy Elvis Presley All Day Every Day, and the remaining 1% form assorted niches of other genres (I know this is not a realistic distribution). In this scenario, if all the pop radio stations were of similar quality the market would predict that each gets 4.5% of the listeners. The one classic radio station will get 5% of the listeners because they have no other choice. Everyone else forms a long tail because they are not able to listen to their favorite music at all. If the cost of operating a radio station were to be reduced or the revenue were to increase, it may become viable to start a punk radio station. However, if these demographics were more generally true and you could have a radio station at the same cost but service a radio-listening population that was 50% bigger, then the punk could compete with the rock stations. Unfortunately, the Elvis Presley All Day Every Day crowd will need more than a four-fold change. The other markets are even worse off.

Re:Definition (5, Informative)

routerl (976394) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215451)

Picture a graph: the y-axis is popularity (i.e. numbers sold) and the x-axis is products (e.g. each point is a book). If all the most popular products (e.g. Harry Potter) are closer to the y-axis, and as you move away from the y-axis popularity decreases, you get a long tail on the graph.

The idea here is that stocking, e.g., a few copies of a LOT of relatively unpopular books, allows you to cater to niche markets and can significantly increase profits compared to only carrying products that are in high demand.

Companies like Amazon are masters at exploiting the long tail. Oh, and here [wired.com] is the original article describing this idea.

Re:Definition (2, Informative)

kkffjj (1339025) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215473)

spuke4000 - you are correct in what you do say: "I thought it simply meant that you could make money off the obscure stuff when your distribution costs went to zero (because of the Internet)." you are missing part of what the "longtail" means. It's not really that you "can make more money off the stuff" because before your costs went to zero, you had to make decisions not to sell stuff below a certain point in the tail. Not only has the stuff in the long tail become cost effective to sell, but (and this is as much a key as what you said) the stuff in the long tail has become "more discoverable" by consumers. (because of internet technology, namely recommendation engines, tagging, categorization, and social networking) The consumers "cost to discover" also goes way down. Read "the long tail" by chris anderson. His findings are all backed up by scientifically designed experiements and professional statistical analysis. with that said, I don't think blockbusters are going to suffer, they will still grow, but so too will the long tail titles. It's not a zero sum game. Even if dispiosable income stays the same, the cost of blockbusters has decreased, allowing more discretionary spend in the long tail....blah blah now im just speculating. happy holidays

Re:Definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215521)

If you click on enlarge image, you will see what the article defines as the long tail.

it's used for both (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215555)

Many long-tail proponents argue that the two meanings you discuss are related: when distribution/stocking costs for obscure works go to zero, it can be profitable to stock/sell them, and therefore they will actually be stocked/sold by online retailers. Since this makes the works much more readily available than previously, their sales will (collectively) go up.

The hypothesis is that the reason the top N works account for such a large market share traditionally is at least in part the practical problems with stocking more than a certain amount of stuff at your local retailer. Therefore, the hypothesis goes, obscure works will collectively account for a larger percentage of sales once the shelf-space constraint goes away and people can buy what they would "naturally" prefer.

The present article seems to be arguing that, even though obscure works are now easier to get, they're actually still not really being bought much. The article seems to be arguing that the constraining factor is now a sort of virtual shelf space of mind-share/visibility/recommendations, so the obscure works don't get noticed even though they are now easy to find and buy if you knew about them.

Re:Definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215649)

The Long Tail is most easily understood in terms of Amazon vs a traditional bookstore.

The old business model says: you have limited space for goods - so you can only stock those books that sell at least 10 copies a year (for example).

The "long tail" says that - if you have no shelf/stock constraints, then there is plenty of profit in the "long tail" - ie thousands of back catalog books that might only sell one copy a year, or every five years. If you deliver on demand and there is no storage costs for offering that extra product, it only has to sell one copy ever to be profitable.

It doesnt say that Harry Potter will go away, just that only focusing on the "blockbusters" is ignoring these niche items in the tail...

Similarly, a record store can only stock albums that sell, but iTunes cost for offering an additional track is so miniscule that even a track that is bought once ever could turn a profit.

The analogy extends to lots of things: websites - millions of people might buy from Amazon.com, but you could run a small website focusing on niche products that only sells a couple hundred items a year and still make a good living. videos - Dark Knight makes millions, but there are thousands of niche DVDS that might only sell a handful of copies each - these can still be very profitable if you can deliver them on-demand and have minimal storage costs for them...

To sum it up:
Just because something isn't a blockbuster doesn't mean you can't make money from it...

Re:Definition (3, Informative)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215667)

The summary sorta implies that "The Long Tail" means that the unpopular stuff will be more popular. But that isn't the theory, and TFA does a decent job explaining it. "The Long Tail" instead means that if production and distribution costs are low enough, a whole variety of niche products suddenly become viable. Traditionally people could only buy one of the top-10 books (or DVDs or whatever), because stores couldn't afford to stock anything but the best-sellers. But things like Amazon allow them to "stock" just about everything: so a previously untapped market appears, with stores catering to all of these niche buyers. The idea is that the potential in the long tail is massive: nothing in it is particularly popular or sells that many copies, but in aggregate it can be huge (maybe even bigger than the "best sellers"). This model has clearly worked for places like Amazon. Another stereotypical example is customized shoes or clothing; whereas traditionally you could only buy the shirts you saw at the local store, with the Internet you can buy all kinds of more niche styles. In fact, you can buy shirts that have user-chosen slogans or logos. The plethora of online stores that offer these services, or which capitalize on short-lived Internet memes by selling associated clothing, shows that this idea has merit.

The article notes that despite the long tail, we still have blockbusters. This isn't really in conflict with the theory of the long tail. Indeed the theory mostly talks about the (previously untapped) potential of the long tail... but blockbusters will always exist. TFA says that despite niche markets, most of the sales, and most of the money, still comes from the best-sellers or the blockbusters.

I think (part of) the explanation for this is from free content. I think that anyone trying to capitalize on the long tail will have a hard time competing with amateurs, enthusiasts, and free information. For mainstream content (e.g. a generic action movie), amateurs won't be able to compete with the budget and brand recognition of established studios. But for niche interests, amateurs will often be producing the "best content" and giving it away for free, making it impossible for commercial interests to capitalize on it. Think about the variety of niche blogs, forums, wikibooks, YouTube channels, creative commons music or books, and so forth.

So I would say that the long tail exists, and is healthy... but is harder to monetize than some people may have thought. The fact is that niche interests exist, but those niche communities are often finding that they can satisfy their needs themselves, leaving no room for commercial entities to capitalize.

Re:The Long, Fat Tail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215805)

The Long, Fat Tail is not the bestseller. Nowhere does its author claim that the tail is fat, and by calling it less fat than some ambiguous amount of fatness makes for a rather boring argument. Highlighted in TFA:

"Of the 13 million tracks available, 0.4% of them account for over three-quarters of downloads"

The real story of The Long Tail:

"Of the 13 million tracks available, 0.4% of them account for 80% of the market, and others (the long tail) account for about 20% of the market - a market that did not previously exist."

Re:Definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26216315)

I don't know about anyone else, but I propose that to cut down on the number of tags being used, we replace "badsummary", "!news", and "idle" with a new "kdawson" tag.

It had to happen sooner or later (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215117)

A summary that told me so much, yet so little.

"Long Tail theory" No idea. Apparently I missed an article somewhere.

"flatter and thinner" I gotto admit, tails in an evolutionary sense popped to mind here for some reason. Though the mention of markets made that an obvious red herring.

"blockbusters are not going away" Aha, movies!

"widely used collaborative filtering software is magnifying the winners' share of the various pies" Say what?

Re:It had to happen sooner or later (5, Funny)

ZygnuX (1365897) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215469)

The guy who made the summary is the perfect politician. Able to fill a summary with words... but without saying anything!

Mod parent up! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215539)

That is absolutely perfect. This perfectly defines it.

Re:Mod parent up! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215603)

Parent will also be a great politician too!

Re:It had to happen sooner or later (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216227)

If that were true, I would have finished reading the summary and been left with a vague sense that I found the writer to be a likable fellow, whereas in reality I became mildly irritated and scrolled down to see if any of the comments made more sense.

Re:It had to happen sooner or later (1)

glwtta (532858) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215773)

For some reason article submitters here really like to reference obscure concepts without definition; I think we're supposed to be in awe of their erudition.

"What do you mean, you are not familiar with Long Tail theory? Why, such a possibility never entered my mind, seeing how I know it so well!"

Gets tiresome, since the only result is that we end up clicking through to articles we have zero interest in.

Re:It had to happen sooner or later (1)

fnord_uk (842775) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215981)

Flatter, thinner and shorter tails make me think of beaver.

fnord

Re:It had to happen sooner or later (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26216151)

"widely used collaborative filtering software is magnifying the winners' share of the various pies" Say what?

Amazon's recommendation system and similar things that say "if you like this, then you would like this other thing..." as that reinforces the popularity of related items. Such systems do not recommend the obscure items that few people seek.

Re:It had to happen sooner or later (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26216429)

Yes yes, I got it *after* I looked at the article. But in the context of that summary, it seemed like absolute gibberish.

What the?!? (1, Funny)

noahisaac (956470) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215181)

I had no idea what long tail theory is. I originally thought this summary was a joke, like one of those automatically generated jargon papers.

Re:What the?!? (5, Funny)

ubrgeek (679399) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215237)

What the hell was that? Mattel's "My First Summary"?

They can't HANDLE the long tail! (3, Insightful)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215183)

Of course they want to sell you new media. Old media has the unfortunate quality of being old. Should copyright extension insanity ever end, old content is closer to becoming free content.

If they can induce you to fill your time with new, "premium" content by splashing adverts at you and skewing selection algorithms on Amazon and the like, they will prefer to every time. New stuff commands a higher price. New stuff has higher margins. New stuff keeps the media industry running, and they have clout.

Old stuff is, like, yesterdays stuff. Even if it's better.

Tinfoil hat time (1)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215367)

It's not even about new vs old. It's about the specific item that "they" want you to buy. It's much more profitable to invest in and sell one big blockbuster than it is to invest in and sell several moderately popular items. In short, they want us back playing their game.

I for one have often browsed the shelves of airport bookstores and have walked out disgusted every time because I can't find anything worth reading. I've even passed up classics because they only stock the most poorly done translations. I don't shop at record stores anymore because almost no one carries good metal. I don't shop at hobby shops much anymore because in the few I can find, none carry any supplies for resin models (let alone carrying the models themselves).

Consumers change slowly.. (3, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215333)

It's pretty silly to expect that everyone is going to change their behavior immediately due to increased availability of a larger variety of goods. When cable came along and people were given a larger amount of choice of television programming viewing habits didn't change overnight, they changed over decades.

People are creatures of habit. It'd be more interesting to see if the variety of goods people buy varies with age. If so, expect that "long tail" to eventually appear as the population turns over.

Re:Consumers change slowly.. (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215747)

Interesting, comparing it to cable TV. What a lot of people do not know is that most of the niche cable channels (think Golf Channel) aren't very profitable. They still exist because they managed to get themselves listed with the cable company and this guarantees them revenue, regardless of actual viewing habits. The ad space is really cheap as well, and this attracts certain types of marketers.

What happens if we get total ala carte channel selection where everyone gets to decide if they can receive the Golf Channel or not? I'd expect the Golf Channel (and a bunch of other niche-market cable channels) to go away quickly because there isn't enough viewers to support the fees they have to pay for satellite distribution.

So, have people's habits changed? Not really. There may be 500 channels available, but most people watch the top 20 or 30. The bottom 100 could go away tomorrow and nobody would notice. And they likely as not will go away pretty soon. Cable is likely to be a lot more like VHF TV in the 1960's where there are 20 channels and a whole lot of empty space.

Re:Consumers change slowly.. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215749)

Don't forget the biggest sin that an American can make... "Though shall not get ripped off." If you get ripped off then normally you are the one who is mocked at. Going with named brands at least helps insulate you from getting ripped off. Hey Ill buy this Xerox Printer vs. a Samsung. I may pay an extra $100 for it but hey it is a Xerox not a cheap Samsung... (even if samsung had made the printer for xerox) you are insulated from ridicule. If the samsung crapped out you should had gotten the Xerox. If the Xerox crapped out well that was the best I could get they all have problems.

Missed the point (3, Interesting)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215791)

The habit (of wanting what everybody else wants) is not waning as selection and availability increase. The habit is reinforced by the increasing channels by which we can see what everybody else wants and adjust our own wants to that.

The Internet, while logistically making the long tail feasible, is socially making blockbusters bigger.

Re:Consumers change slowly.. (1)

E++99 (880734) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216231)

It's pretty silly to expect that everyone is going to change their behavior immediately due to increased availability of a larger variety of goods. When cable came along and people were given a larger amount of choice of television programming viewing habits didn't change overnight, they changed over decades.

But TFA shows research that indicates that increased variety and increased connectedness causes MORE uniformity in consumption. When we have more choices than we could possibly process on our own, our dependence on the community to tell us what is good increases, and a smaller number of popular choices become more and more popular.

I, for one, am part of this (thin as it may be) long tail. The last two books I bought from Amazon were "Astronomical Algorithms" by Jean Meeus and "Theogony" by Hesiod. These were not fad-driven purchases. I'm willing to believe that the market as a whole is becoming more markedly fad-driven; but I also must believe that there are many others like me who, pre-Internet, would have gone to a local bookstore to find the books such as the above examples, and, not finding them, would have ended up going without.

Not that I'm any different from the fad-driven masses. If I were simply looking for a book to amuse me, or to pass the time, I would probably look at Amazon's best selling list as a way of maximizing my chances of getting something good. In the old days, I'd probably have been more likely to go to the local bookstore and look for something that jumped out at me. Hence I would be manifesting this fad-driven as well. Combining both behaviors, I'd say that the shape of the curve is indeed steeper, with bigger blockbusters and with a thinner tail, but still with a much, much longer tail.

Re:Consumers change slowly.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26216265)

I agree it took decades to come out with TiVo which finally condensed 999 channels of 90% crap back into 2 - 3 channels worth of interesting material. I don't think people changed habits, I just think we adapted to crap being pushed down our throats by creating filters that limit this crap to old manageable amount.

In a same way the long tail only makes sense if you don't know basic sociology. People won't change habits, but rather stick with what they know and care about. While you might have a steady population of classical music, you also have steady populations of 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's, ..., all kinds of genres. All of them listening to their favourite music and only occasionally sampling other stuff.

The only difference between "popular" stuff and "unknown" stuff is the size of initial bulge. Unknown stuff doesn't have it. While it seems plausible that in a long run, approaching infinity, all things equal, the size of the bulge becomes irrelevant, the sad fact is that not all things are equal. Generally the unpopular stuff will always have less demand than initially popular stuff, because there is no medium for spreading information of existence. Popular stuff gathers "the buzz" which only serves to get out the word of existence and social network filters just amplify this information on the cost of less known items.

At the end you come to the point of not looking for something you don't even know exists. People don't look for old stuff (long tail) to discover new things, they look for it to reaffirm their old tastes. And with each decade and generation shift there is less demand for the stuff. Things that haven't generated buzz in these cases simply drop off the radar while other remain marginally profitable if even that. Yes, even on the Internet, there are costs for keeping and distributing stuff.

Internet on itself is not free distribution medium, event hough it might look like this to the uninitiated. Personally I'm still amazed how many people still think that you bild it once and then it's free to run and every $$$ will return threefold because there are no costs for content/production/filtering/distributing ... Last two decades are littered with corpses of such failures and it seems there are even more to come.

Re:Consumers change slowly.. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216297)

It's pretty silly to expect that everyone is going to change their behavior immediately due to increased availability of a larger variety of goods. When cable came along and people were given a larger amount of choice of television programming viewing habits didn't change overnight, they changed over decades.

Hint: It's 2008 - and that increased availability has been around since 1996 or so (a decade plus). You'd expect the effect to be showing even if it's not yet general - but it isn't.

"selling less of more" (2, Interesting)

fermion (181285) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215341)

I believe this, not the headline, is the crux of the article

OTOH, it is clear that the way to make a lot of money as a retailer is to have the popular options at a low price, a la Wal Mart. As the article suggests, though, have a few niche items can make money, if you can get people to pay for therm.

Here is what I think. Stocking an item, even a virtual item, incurs a cost. So if one stocks a million different items, and only one thousand different items moves a week, then there are costs not being covered on an even yearly basis. One way to make this work it mark up items a lot, as in the used book store, wher a book can be bought for a dime and sold for a dollar.

To me the long tail means either selling in a high markup niche market, or having the ability to control costs so you can sell less of more different things and actually draw a profit. In either case, the long tail in going to be chanllenged in times that force are going to force some fiscal responsibility, and people are going to focus on necessities and cheap luxuries.

Further Reading (1)

Symbolis (1157151) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215343)

The original [wired.com] (for me) Long tail article. You can also check out longtail.com.

Or, you know...just search with Google for "The Long Tail".

CAUTION! (2, Funny)

denzacar (181829) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215857)

Or, you know...just search with Google for "The Long Tail".

Googling for the "long tail" in German may have unforeseen consequences.
Particularly if you do it at work.

Bad Economy (1)

Van Cutter Romney (973766) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215345)

Could it be that because of the bad economy those things on the farther ends of the tails which were more cheap and more available before aren't so anymore?

The long tail theory is silly. (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215363)

The thing about the long tail theory is that, on the flat end of the curve, you have very small overall returns, and a lot of other people making products with the same low capital and similar returns. so, basically, you have a lot of sucky stuff, then, a few things that are actually pretty good. You can see this with windows shareware as much as you can with web sites or anything else. A lot of stuff sucks, and only a small amount of it is actually good.

Since everyone else seems to know (1)

ZanySpyDude (1215564) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215381)

Long tail theory is that selling large numbers of unique items at low levels is profitable. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Long_Tail [wikipedia.org]

Clueless (3, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215403)

from the comments, the "long tail theory" is misunderstood by most slashdotters (at least, the few who are showing up today, most of whom, it seems, are in my "freaks" list judging from the comment moderations).

TFA was incredibly bring and unnecessarily wordy, as if the author had little to say and vast tracts of text to say it in.

Wikipedia refers to:

  1. The Long Tail, a consumer demographic in business
  2. Power Law's long tail, a statistics term describing certain kinds of distribution
  3. Long-tail boat, a type of watercraft native to Southeast Asia
  4. Long-tail distribution, a probability distribution is one that assigns relatively high probabilities to regions far from the mean or median.
  5. Long-tail traffic, telecommunication traffic that exhibits a Long-tail distribution

Obviously it's not referring to a boat or telecommunbications traffic. What it does refer to is a statistical curve on a graph. Take IQ. If your IQ is 100, you are on the top of the bell curve, the median. If your IQ is over 150 you are close to the extreme end of the "long tail".

The phrase The Long Tail [wikipedia.org] (as a proper noun with capitalized letters) was first coined by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 Wired magazine article[1] to describe the niche strategy of businesses, such as Amazon.com or Netflix, that sell a large number of unique items, each in relatively small quantities.

The concept of a frequency distribution with a long tail -- the concept at the root of Anderson's coinage -- has been studied by statisticians since at least 1946.[2] The distribution and inventory costs of these businesses allow them to realize significant profit out of selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers, instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items. The group that purchases a large number of "non-hit" items is the demographic called the Long Tail.

Given a large enough availability of choice, a large population of customers, and negligible stocking and distribution costs, the selection and buying pattern of the population results in a power law distribution curve, or Pareto distribution. This suggests that a market with a high freedom of choice will create a certain degree of inequality by favoring the upper 20% of the items ("hits" or "head") against the other 80% ("non-hits" or "long tail").[3]

The theory is that if you have warehousing costs, it isn't profitable to stock items that don't sell well. On the other hand, if your warehousing costs are zero, any sale is profitable.

The article (what I read of the boring thing) didn't say much of anything except "stuff one person will buy won't outsell stuff millions of people will buy"

In short, DUH. hardly profound.

Re:Clueless (1)

fruey (563914) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215737)

I'm not sure. I think that what it is saying is that, rather than being able to sell low volumes of stuff that you couldn't sell before, in fact you can't. You'll actually just sell a bit more of the stuff you sold very low volumes (or you didn't stock) before, but there's no magic new stuff that sells at low volume on the net.

Re:Clueless (4, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215837)

The article (what I read of the boring thing) didn't say much of anything except "stuff one person will buy won't outsell stuff millions of people will buy"

In short, DUH. hardly profound.

Well, it's hardly profound if you oversimplify it and misstate it.

The idea behind the long tail was that the massive variety that on-line retailers can offer, as compared to brick and mortar retailers who have severe shelf-space constraints, would lead people to find and buy more obscure stuff.

No one really expected the obscure stuff to outsell the popular stuff, but there was an expectation that some of the dollars formerly directed to popular stuff would get spread instead across the more obscure stuff. This would cause the sales of popular stuff to flatten a little and the "long tail" of obscure stuff to thicken a little.

That seems pretty reasonable on its face, but it's apparently not what happens.

It appears, in fact, that without the friction imposed by retailer shelf-space decisions the blockbuster effect is enhanced. When millions of products are available, people pay even more attention to peer recommendations, and that drives a more powerful blockbuster effect. The use of automated popularity-based recommendation software probably adds to the effect as well.

Is that profound? You decide. I think it's at least interesting.

Re:Clueless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215915)

The long tail is simple..
When a new product is released there is usually a spike, or fat point in the graph. As the product gets older, sales tend to decline. For example, on opening night a movie will have a large number of viewers. As the movie ages, the amount of people viewing will start declining until it reaches zero.

You can't keep a movie in the theatres forever though. However, if you can extend the availability of the movie then you can extend the sales. Whether it's DVD rentals, online viewing, dollar theatres, etc., all of these methods can add to the bottom line of a movie because the movie is already made (no further costs) and it's already been marketed. The longer you can extend the tail, the more profitable is the movie.

What the article is saying is that new internet phenomena such as social collaboration change the shape of the graph. If your social group saw a movie then you're more likely to see it.

So yeah, in short. DUH.

Re:Clueless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26215973)

The article (what I read of the boring thing) didn't say much of anything except "stuff one person will buy won't outsell stuff millions of people will buy"

In short, DUH. hardly profound.

Actually I would say you are the "clueless one".

There are many probability distributions that arise in nature that have a cluster of high probability around a center and then have progressively less and less probability as you get further from that center.

One example is the Gaussian or Bell curve. This can be shown to always arise from sums of random variables (even if they are not themselves on Bell curves) under certain mathematical constraints on the underlying variables. However this distribution has unusually light tails. This means that if you pick numbers from a Gaussian almost all will be near the middle. "Typical" and "Average" are similar here. Take your example of IQ - it is very unusual to have an IQ 50% above (you are a genius) or 50% below (you are in a care home) the average. There really isn't much point focusing on the tails - they don't contain much "mass". IQ is therefore not a "long-tail" phenomenon.

In other distributions (eg Cauchy etc), a "typical" selection may look nothing like the "average" value. An average may still exist, but may not be sufficient to understand what is going on.

For example, take 20,000 policies of US Wind Storm insurance vs 20,000 US Auto insurance - in normal years both will have claims around some average, but Wind Storm has the potential to have claims that are orders of magnitude higher. Freak events (like thousands of drivers all plowing into separate Farmers' Markets in the same year) are not key to the way auto insurers need to be run but large Katrina-like storms are the focus of wind storm carriers.

[Side note - this distinction cannot necessarily be measured by a variance parameter or standard deviation - many "heavy-tailed" distributions such as the Cauchy do not have a variance or standard deviation at all - the relevant integral does not converge. Any finite sample from such a distribution will have a "variance" but it will be meaningless]

This is essentially the argument here. Everyone agrees there are popular "blockbusters" and a tail of less popular stuff. The question is does the tail fall away very fast and so become irrelevant (like IQ or the claims on the portfolio of auto insurance) or more slowly (like claim size for US wind portfolio). This has a big impact on how retail businesses should operate.

Who is right? I don't know. But I do at least understand the question.

Re:Clueless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26216005)

TL;DR

Re:Clueless (3, Interesting)

ZombieWomble (893157) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216081)

While your point is somewhat valid, you're missing the crux of the argument presented in the original Wired article, which went somewhat beyond the simle "smaller costs make rarer sales profitable"

The idea was not only that the internet would enable sellers to tap into this market more effectively (through lower costs) but also that this would in turn lead to the tail becoming yet larger (both because increasing number of items sold means more potential sales, and because these rarer items may pick up additional momentum and sell more copies, thus giving more events with higher frequencies) as compared to the "blockbuster" events, which suffer due to increased choice.

More specifically, the issue is not "stuff one person will buy won't outsell stuff millions of people will buy" but rather "will many items purchased by a few people exceed the sales of a few items purchased by many people", given improved choice. The long tail hypothesis as presented in the Wired article says yes (or, at least, that the few-selling items will gain ground in the scenario presented by the internet) but evidence in this article says no. Perhaps still not the most shocking discovery in the world, but certainly a bit more than the trite discovery you make it out to be.

Also, as an aside, IQ is a very bad choice to illustrate the "long tail" because IQ is by definition normally distributed, and thus has a relatively short tail, as such things go - a long tail distribution is typically characterised by a significant slowdown in falloff as you move further from the median.

Seriously (3, Insightful)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215423)

are you going to sit at your computer and listen to every sample iTunes has to offer and pick out the ones you like best, or are you just going to buy what your friends recommend?

I don't think so (5, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215439)

The markets studied in this work are notorious for being driven by short term fads. Online downloads are by predominantly ephemeral pop music, and a study of 14,000 teenagers? These are the people most influenced by peers and the 'so last week' attitude, They haven't had the time to explore and broaden their outlook.

Try getting a more diverse sample and I think that the long tail will look a lot fatter. People in their 30's and up have had time to develop far more diversified tastes and will have much more eclectic buying habits.

Pick a cohort of 14,000 boomers and you will see something very different.

Re:I don't think so (1)

fruey (563914) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215759)

Good point, I think that boomers (and niche sites that sell for pennies / give stuff away) are the long tail, and that is absent from classic retailers - even Amazon.

There is a good point about how Amazon do have a lot of stuff that just doesn't sell at all though. People still flock to what is popular, basically.

They ignore personality (3, Interesting)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215483)

There's a certain segment of the population that enjoys finding obscure stuff. I'm not sure of the size, but I'd guess it's about the same size as the introverted [wikipedia.org] segment of the population, around 25%, as the two behaviors are somewhat correlated. (i.e. folks who actively stray from the herd socially are more likely to express interest in consumables that are different from the herd's preferences) So, given that assumption, the drivers of a long tail market, "funky stuff seekers," could be overpowered by the general population.

On top of that, it's my guess that researchers in this area, as researchers in most areas, tend to be "funky stuff seekers" themselves. (I mean, it's their job to search and speculate on the edge of their field of study.) So, right off the bat, there's a bit of inherent bias in interpreting the effect of their cohort on the market. In other words, they're following the non-herd herd. :)

Another way to say it... (1)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215515)

Doubts geometrically increase about the "long tail" :)

Summary Rewrite (1)

SlashDotDotDot (1356809) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215653)

fruey sends in a New Scientist analysis [newscientist.com] that questions the Long Tail theory. The theory [wikipedia.org] , first described in Wired [wired.com] , describes how retailers with low stocking and distribution costs can profit by selling a large number of unique products to very small niche markets. But the four studies summarized in the article examine different markets and conclude that this business model may be harder to exploit than originally expected. In fact, the importance of blockbuster products which are sold to an enormous number of buyers may be growing rather than shrinking. One possible reason is that recommendation services, like those provided my Amazon and Netflix, may concentrate interest on a few items and take market share away from the niche items.

Long Tail != No More Blockbusters (4, Insightful)

sac13 (870194) | more than 4 years ago | (#26215711)

The article was generally ok, but clearly not completely understanding of what the "Long Tail" means. Of course, from what I've read (including the book itself) the interpretations and applications of the theory are rather fluid anyway.

The biggest issue I have with the article is that it seemed to be conveying that the "Long Tail" meant an end to blockbusters. It doesn't mean that at all. It just means that there's enough business in the "Long Tail" to make it profitable to sell items that weren't blockbusters given the low cost structures of Internet retailing. Amazon and iTunes both make hundreds of thousands of dollars monthly on items that only sell 2 or 3 copies. With traditional retailers, space is a limited commodity and must be devoted to items that will sell in enough volume to justify carrying them.

Now, IANAPhd, and the article quotes quite a few that seem to disagree with the idea of the "Long Tail", but it seems the evidence they discuss is rather weak. Yes, people are influenced by others in their choices. Much of this comes from the vast history of humanity and our tendency to form social groups. The Internet has yet to truly begin to change humanity in the ways that it will. The key thing with respect to the article is the definition of what our peer groups are. Despite the global nature of the Internet, most of our peer influence is local. As more and more people around the world connect and begin to actually talk to others outside their current peer groups, those peer groups will expand and change. That is going to be a key driver in generating the diversity that the "Long Tail" predicts.

The "Long Tail" is only beginning because humanity's experience with the Internet and the interconnectedness that it brings is only beginning. Just because it hasn't completely happened doesn't mean that it's not happening.

Long Tail == A very old Tale. (1)

mevets (322601) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216435)

The Long tail is snake oil; wishful thinking encapsulated in a sound bite. Mr Anderson has certainly demonstrated how to profit from the "Long Tail", however the business model is really restricted to just himself.

But that's a simple Pareto distribution. (2, Interesting)

Sique (173459) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216007)

... also known (in a simplified form) as "Zipf's Law". The most popular word occurs twice as often as the second popular, three times the third popular, four times the fourth etc.pp.

If you look at the 10% most popular words in a table, you will notice that the absolute share of the upper 10% increases, if you count longer and longer texts with more and more individual words.

With 10 different words you get, that the first 10% make up ~34% of all words.

With 100 different words you get already ~56,5% share for the first 10% of words.

With 1000 words we have 69,2% share for the first 10%, with 10000 we come to ~76,5% share.

To summarize the summary (0)

JoeCommodore (567479) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216025)

So what i sread from the summary is that Four scientist anaysis studies of long tails show that in different stores that tails are flatter and thinner than originally supposed. And blockbusters (only one I know of is the firewor) are not going away in those markets either, they will be bigger though (so much for safe and sane). Then they change the subject and talk about some filtering software that magnifies winner's share of their pies (probably employing the adage about "your eyes being bigger than your stomach"), then again peer influence is a large contributor to consuming (I'll say, aunt Ethel always tell me to have another slice of pie when I win.)

Hmm, I know, maybe it's some sort of "tail pie" they are talking about, no mention what sort of varmint the tail is from, probably rat, they always look stalky and thick.

The Long Tail is about the ends of the bell curve (1)

MikeMo (521697) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216029)

It seems that most /.'rs are missing the point entirely. The Long Tail is not about making an obscure product popular, or about making blockbusters less popular. It's about being able to make a lot of money selling a very few copies of each of a lot of different titles. It's based on the assumption that the population has become so large that a even tiny percentage of people that like a given title is still a large number, and that there are a ton of tiny percentages, "micro niches", if you will, that in aggregate make up a respectable volume. The low overhead makes each sale profitable.

Anderson gives several examples of companies actually making money in the long tail, including Netflix, which rents out a heck of a lot of movies that are not available at Blockbuster.

I, for one, think the biggest thing that holds this back is the one mentioned in TFA - there are too many choices to be able to make a rational selection, so you buy the thing that "everyone" is recommending.

Warez (2, Insightful)

retech (1228598) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216071)

The internet does not increase taste. It may increase choice, but the tastes of people remain the same. If you appeal to the lowest common denominator you flood the market.

Case in point, warez sites. Troll them for 30 minutes and you'll be hard pressed to NOT find a flood of the same 10 movies, CDs, books etc. Even when stealing the product people do not go for the avant-garde or the art house, they go for the same 10 things that are hot.. NOW. Yes, you can find the other obscure stuff, but you have to dig long and hard for it. And in the end, it's the same very small circle of people that do that. The masses want what they want. It's called MASS APPEAL for a reason.

The long tail is zipf (1)

swm (171547) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216157)

The usual formulation of the long tail thesis is that sales volume for items follows a zipf distribution. I didn't see anything in the article to contradict that.

The article holds up the continued existence of blockbusters, like Harry Potter, and evidence against the long tail. However, there must be blockbusters in a zipf distribution--otherwise it isn't zipf.

Every retailer truncates their own tail at the point where sales volume becomes too small (relative to fixed costs) to be profitable. Anderson's original observation wasn't that the internet was going to make the long tail longer or fatter (that wouldn't be zipf, either). Rather, it was that brick-and-mortar retailers and on-line retailers have different cost structures, and that as a result, the truncation point was going to be a lot further out for on-line retailers than for brick-and-mortar retailers.

Humans are so fickle (1)

swm (171547) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216207)

FTA:

Watts thinks that the films we watch or the music we listen to is not entirely, or even mostly, about the thing being consumed. It is about the social context in which we consume it. "If you're dating a girl who likes AC/DC, you might start listening to AC/DC. With another girlfriend, you might be listening to Aerosmith," he says.

The internet enables both approachs (1)

olddotter (638430) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216285)

"Word of mouth" spreads faster on line and so something popular can snowball bigger faster and faster in the internet age. The fat part of the tail.

But the net also allows people with unique tastes to find unique objects to satisfy them. That is the long thin tail.

I personally hate shopping at the modern American mall where I get to pick which of 6 different retailers I buy the same product from. Who thinks that is about choice?

Long Tail is not an *automatic* win (3, Insightful)

IGnatius T Foobar (4328) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216313)

The long tail is alive and well. I think some people seem to have gotten the crazy idea that implementing it meant that you'd have an automatic win. In reality, most of the basic rules of business still apply. You still have to deliver a quality product at a fair price, you still have to provide good service and a friendly buying experience ... in short, you can't be a piece of crap e-commerce company and still expect that the world will beat a path to your door simply because you offer a huge selection. Amazon got it right. iTunes got it right. The basic premise of Long Tail still holds water: if you can connect a near-infinite number of buyers with a near-infinite number of selections, then you don't have to be the market leader selling the big blockbuster hits in order to turn a profit. But you can't suck either; Long Tail doesn't change that.

Costs transfers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#26216419)

The assumption here is that the total overhead costs of popular vs non-popular items can really be reduced to zero by the retailer.

Perhaps to Amazon or to any other virtual retailer, the overhead costs can and do become nearly zero per item, and identical between products (that is, itemwise, it's the same effort for Amazon to sell a Harry Potter as anything else). The implicit assumption seems to be that Amazon's point-of-view vis-a-vis 'costs' is what will draw the-long-tail.

But this is not the end of the supply chain. All costs related to shipping or lead times are passed on to any potential consumer. Rare items may now be available, but that does not mean their total cost of aquisition is lower than very popular books. An obscure title will still be more difficult to ship or print, and may be second hand. That rare items can be had, is now a possibility - that rare items can be had at the same total cost and convenience to the consumer, is not. That the rare items are, in the end, still more costly and less convenient will dissuade any consumer away from their consumption, despite that Amazon can process the transaction with equal facility.

To that end, the warehousing costs are really just transformed into shipping, quality, and convenience costs, all of which are transferred to the end user. Thus, for non-virtual items anyway, I wouldn't expect as strong a long-tail effect as predicted. As for virtual products like music sales.... Who can list of more than 10,000 songs anyway???

A Personal Observation (1)

Dripdry (1062282) | more than 4 years ago | (#26216427)

Perhaps what the Long Tail Theory postulates is that people will somehow stop having a herd mentality once their experiences can be tailored on a whim. However, given that man is a social animal, I don't know whether (or how much) this change will occur.

Personal observation has been that people simply don't have the time these days to dig deeper. Pardon my acting a bit ignorant, but just as many people do not examine their own actions and lives, so too do they not examine many of the things they consume. People are not wired to "dig deeper" for more things they like, they are wired to extract pleasure from entertainment right now. Even people I know who are into obscure things do not seem to dig deeper (like bad movies, for instance).

It takes an intrusive event in someone's life to open them up to new ideas, and people don't like change, even when it obviously makes sense in scientific black and white. I see it in finance every day (when you say "Sir, if you do X you can save yourself thousands of dollars a year in taxes (or whatever)" and Mr. Sir simply won't do it. It's infuriating!) and it seems to occur in hobbies and interests as well. It's something I've been witnessing in myself and others for a long time.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>