Book Review: The Long Tail

The Long TailThe Long Tail by Chris Anderson is a book about niche markets. Chris investigates some of the newly opened markets due to the vastly decreased costs associated with digital inventory. For example, the Rhapsody Company sells subscription music service and maintains an absolutely monstrous library of music. The largest record stores on the planet might only carry 10 000 different albums, and the local Wal-Mart probably less than 1000 albums. Rhapsody, on the other hand has over 2 million songs.

The phrase the long tail refers to the chart that you’d get if you plotted products on the x-axis and sales on the y-axis and sorted the products by sales. The remarkable thing is that as far down the chart you look it never really gets to zero.

Looking at the music industry, something like 98% of the sales come from only 2% of the albums. The other 98% of albums out there however still have a market which is not being tapped by Wal-Mart and the local record store (for the most part). However, as access to more niche products becomes more accessible to everyday consumers the markets for those products grows.

It seems as though providing choice to consumers is a good thing. Not everyone wants to listen to the latest Brittany Spears album, or watch the biggest action film out of Hollywood. Given the choice some people will venture into more exotic musical tastes and start watching foreign films.

In multi-billion dollar industries like the movies, music, or books the other 2% of sales coming out of the bottom 98% of the market is still enough to make substantial amounts of money. The remarkable statistic from Rhapsody is that they sell a song from every album every month. Even the crazy artists that do for example punk remixes of children’s songs are still finding listeners.

I read this book looking for an angle. I wanted to find some secret undiscovered way to make tons of money. Well the book never had that hidden in the pages for me. It did however validate the approach to marketing that I’ve been taking. Given a big enough market place, you’ll find someone interested in what you have to sell.

The book was a fun read. The statistics were sometimes quite unexpected. Chris Anderson did 2 years of research for this book and it shows.

My only gripe about the book is that by the end it felt a bit repetitive.

Overall it’s definitely worth a read.