Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson




(Outstanding Book: Read It Now)




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I’ve been enthralled by the possibilities of mass customization and narrow cast marketing for decades. Fellow enthusiasts of exploiting niches will salivate over Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. Thanks mostly to the Internet, we live in a world where almost everything is available to almost everything, and even the smallest needle can be found in the largest haystack, thanks to refined search capabilities. Product marketers can segment offerings, and can sell lower volumes of more discrete products. The concept is a simple one, and Anderson describes it well with lots of examples. The reason for the high rating and the encouragement to read it immediately is to be sure you’re thinking about the implications and consequences of this change to your business and how it operates. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 4, “THE THREE FORCES OF THE LONG TAIL: MAKE IT, GET IT OUT THERE, AND HELP ME FIND IT,” pp. 52-3:


The theory of the Long Tail can be boiled down to this: Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a huge number of niches in the tail. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.

But that’s not enough. Demand must follow this new supply. Oth­erwise, the Tail will wither. Because the Tail is measured not just in available variety but in the people who gravitate toward it, the true shape of demand is revealed only when consumers are offered infinite choice. It is the aggregate sales, use, or other participation of all those people in the newly available niches that turns the massive expansion of choice into an economic and cultural force. The Long Tail starts with a million niches, but it isn’t meaningful until those niches are populated with people who want them.

Collectively, all of this translates into six themes of the Long Tail age:

1. In virtually all markets, there are far more niche goods than hits. That ratio is growing exponentially larger as the tools of production become cheaper and more ubiquitous.

2. The costs of reaching those niches is now falling dramati­cally. Thanks to a combination of forces including digital distri­bution, powerful search technologies, and a critical mass of broadband penetration, online markets are resetting the eco­nomics of retail. Thus, in many markets, it is now possible to offer a massively expanded variety of products.

3. Simply offering more variety, however, does not shift demand by itself. Consumers must be given ways to find niches that suit their particular needs and interests. A range of tools and techniques—from recommendations to rankings—are effective at doing this. These “filters” can drive demand down the Tail.

4. Once there’s massively expanded variety and the filters to sort through it, the demand curve flattens. There are still hits and niches, but the hits are relatively less popular and the niches rel­atively more so.

5. All those niches add up. Although none sell in huge numbers, there are so many niche products that collectively they can comprise a market rivaling the hits.

6. Once all of this is in place, the natural shape of demand is re­vealed, undistorted by distribution bottlenecks, scarcity of in­formation, and limited choice of shelf space. What’s more, that shape is far less hit-driven than we have been led to believe. In­stead, it is as diverse as the population itself.


Bottom line: A Long Tail is just culture unfiltered by economic scarcity.


To whatever degree you’re involved in production or distribution, the concepts contained in The Long Tail will have implications for how you operate. All the more reason to read it now, and think about what it means for you and your business.


Steve Hopkins, October 25, 2006



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*    2006 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the November 2006 issue of Executive Times


URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/The Long Tail.htm


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