Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Long Tail: Misses are no Longer Bad

by Andrew Paster

With such a variety in the market these days, it is rather difficult to appeal to everyone. Stores cannot always stock what appeals to the few people who have non-conformist needs. In order for a business to be successful, it must make a profit. The best way to do this is to appeal to the masses. By selling “what’s new” or “what’s hot”, a business is guaranteed to generate enough profit to progress. Although satisfying the masses takes care of most people, how are those “others” satisfied? It is difficult to satisfy our needs, when those needs are not highly demanded by the masses. In his article “The Long Tail”, Chris Anderson says, “retailers will carry only content that can generate sufficient demand to earn its keep.” This makes sense for an actual store. There is no reason to carry a product that only sells one copy a year. However, that was geared for the 20th century. Before the Internet, “an audience too thinly spread is the same as no audience at all.” This statement completely dismisses all sorts of potential customers. Although a store cannot physically stock every product, it allows for newer technologies and outlets to emerge to satisfy those who cannot so easily accommodate their needs.

Anderson says that, “this is the world of scarcity. Now with online distribution and retail, we are entering a world of abundance.” Who doesn’t love abundance? The Internet provides us with so many options that would never exist. It challenges Pareto’s principle that only 20% of something will be a hit, while the other 80% a miss. With only a one in five chance of success, a miss is easily obtained. The Internet has allowed for this rule to change. Such companies as Amazon and Rhapsody have learned how to take those “misses” and make them successes. Since there are so many misses, the money from them is bound to add up. Since the Internet is free of physical capacities, a miss can be able to be stocked, not costing anything, and only making profit whenever that random person comes across it.

For example, Rhapsody’s online music library stocks well over 735,000 tracks. With such a vast library, stores like Best Buy and Tower Records cannot compete. There are enough songs on Rhapsody for a specific genre to have its own store. The thing about Rhapsody is that as quickly as it adds new content, a few people here or there immediately pick it up. With such offers online, it is hard to see what it is that keeps people continuing to buy from stores themselves. It could be the convenience of getting something while you’re out, or the satisfaction of physically possessing something (as opposed to buying a file from the web). Barnes and Noble stocks roughly 130,000 titles. More than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside of their top 130,000 titles. It is impossible to physically beat the web when it comes to variety and accessibility.

The most interesting thing I learned and realized while researching The Long Tail came from Chris Anderson’s article. It was something I had never realized, and would never have expected. Returning to online music, it is viewed as a single-driven business, like that of the 1950s. People tend to only purchase one or two songs from an album. This way of buying singles is much like the 50s, where only a few songs from the album were sold as their own separate record. Who would ever have thought that something so modern, new, and efficient would send us back in time? All of this available content allows us to experience new things and diversify ourselves. With such an ease of exposure, the Internet can allow us all to connect and share in a way never known before.

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