The Long Tail Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More

In the technology industry – especially in the Web 2.0 world – few people don’t know – and use – the phrase the long tail. Unfortunately, the majority of the users haven’t spent much time understanding the thinking and the impact of the new economics.

The Long Tail is one of those “ahh haa” books. The insights that Anderson developed as editor in chief of Web 2.0 magazine have become the guiding force for many companies today. Many company executives have read the book so many times that the author’s insights have become an integral part – consciously or subconsciously – of their strategic thinking.

To understand the impact of the long tail you only have to look at Google, Amazon and NetFlix to mention a few firms.

While there are – and will always be – smash hit content and products that fill store shelves and theaters, consumers now have more options. Today’s web economy offers a seemingly infinite inventory to choose from. NetFlix certainly carries all of the current movie hits and sends them to customers by the thousands every day. At the same time they have an inventory of more than 70,000 relatively obscure titles that appeal to a very narrow segment of consumers. They can find their “brand” of entertainment and enjoy it without spending hours, days or even months searching for that one rare copy.

Rhapsody, iTunes, ArtistServer and other online music outlets give consumers – young and old – a global selection of music that suits their taste. , ArtistServer, ArtistServer

And the intelligent software that all of these firms use also uses the consumer’s requests to present content and products that share common points thus giving consumers even more opportunities…to buy.

Anderson shows how organizations and their communications people can gain invaluable insight into their customers’ and partners’ wants and needs to develop new products/solutions and relationships.

Does Anderson forecast the disappearance of mass produced products/services?

No but he does a very thoughtful analysis of how important niche markets can be for firms. In many instances the firms that focus on niches will most certainly sell smaller volumes of product but they will do it more profitably and they will do it with greater customer loyalty.

Anderson developed what he calls the 98 Percent Rule. This means that 98 percent of the products/services available online will be sold at least once. While he developed the concept/theory at the early stages of the second generation of the Internet, many have found that his projections are not always valid.

Only time will prove or disprove Anderson’s thesis. But despite this and the fact that the book suffers from considerable repetition, it is valuable to communications people – and management at large – who must increasingly reach customers on a 1:1 basis.

While Anderson focuses most of his coverage in the book on media and entertainment companies, it is interesting to note that firms like Wal-Mart, Macy’s and Nordstrom’s have developed their own versions of the long tail.

These companies carry the most popular products in their stores but have an online “inventory” of products that is often 4-5 times larger. Many customers seldom step foot in the brick and mortar store yet they “visit” the store regularly to find new and unique items. More importantly…they buy!

Anderson’s book – despite his redundancies – gives you a new understanding of niche marketing and niche customer relations. We no longer have three TV networks. We have an almost unlimited number of choices over the air and across the Internet. In a growing number of instances, firms have taken advantage of this phenomenon to develop their own on-line shows and educational/informational events.

Your company doesn’t need to each 100 million prospective customers. What it needs to do is reach one million of the right customers – business and consumer. It needs to reach them in a consistent manner with the correct product, service and information. Anderson gives you the background, guidance and tools you need to know how to reach these customers and build a strong relationship with this niche market.

The Long Tail is more than just a business book…it is the way you will reach and communicate with customers in the 21st century!



G. A. "Andy" Marken President Marken Communications, Inc. Santa Clara, CA Andy has worked in front of and behind the TV camera and radio mike. Unlike most PR people he listens to and understands the consumer’s perspective on the actual use of products. He has written more than 100 articles in the business and trade press. During this time he has also addressed industry issues and technologies not as corporate wishlists but how they can be used by normal people. He has been a marketing an...

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