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

Steven 15 responses General
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In the most important business book since The Tipping Point, Chris Anderson shows how the future of commerce and culture isn’t in hits, the high volume head of a traditional demand curve, but in what used to be regarded as misses: the endlessly long tail of that same curve.

the-long-tail

The Long Tail clearly belongs on the shelf between The Tipping Point and Freakonomics.

In the October 2004 issue of Wired magazine, Chris Anderson published an article in which he shared these observations:

  1. (1) the tail of available variety is far longer than we realize;
  2. (2) it’s now within reach economically;
  3. (3) all those niches, when aggregated, can make up a significant market – seemed indisputable, especially backed up with heretofore unseen data.

That is even truer today than it was when The Long Tail was first published years ago.

The era that Anderson characterizes as “a market of multitudes” continues to grow in terms of both its nature and extent. In this book, Anderson takes his reader on a guided tour of this market as he explains what the probable impact the new market will have and what will be required to prosper in it.

According to Anderson, those who read the article saw the Long Tail everywhere, from politics to public relations, and from sheet music to college sports.

What people intuitively grasped was that new efficiencies in distribution, manufacturing, and marketing were changing the definition of what was commercially viable across the board. The best way to describe these forces is that they are turning unprofitable customers, products, and markets into profitable ones.

Therefore, the story of the Long Tail is really about the economics of abundance:

what happens when the bottlenecks that stand between supply and demand in our culture start to disappear and everything becomes available to everyone.

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15 Comments

  1. Samie

    This reminds of Timothy Ferris’ “muse” concept! It’s like you come up with a niche product and sell it online, since the cost of marketing and selling is so cheap! the niche market is definitely where to be right now.

    1. Michelle

      Ugh, I hate to love Timothy Ferris. That guy’s got it made! have you heard that he’s coming out with a new one, The 4-hour Chef? 4-hour Workweek, 4-hour Body, what can he NOT do? I think this article hits the nail on the head, and your comment too Samie: Niche market reigns supreme right now.

    2. Samie

      He’s a flat-out genius. I would like to be him just for one day. Can’t wait for the new book! He’s been posting updates about it on his Twitter and Facebook.

  2. John

    There’s a company called DODOcase that rode in on the iPad’s tail. They created an accessory product for the iPad that’s just a case that makes it look like a book. Clearly they couldn’t compete with the iPad so they came up with a product just to go with and compliment it. And made millions off of it…

  3. Dana

    I understand that as an entrepreneur we can take advantage of the “tail” but if the tail is more open and accessible so that anyone can sell products, doesn’t that mean that there’s more stuff being sold on the internet and more demand on consumers’ attention?

    1. John

      I see where you’re coming from Dana, but honestly, it’s the people to take the time and initiative to start something that will benefit from it. And as long as someone makes sure to market to the right audience, I see no reason why they can’t make a profit from it, or at least get a learning experience out of it.

    2. Jony

      Oh yes, the key is definitely marketing, big time. If people don’t know about a product, how are you going to get them to buy it? That’s why a lot of times people start out by giving things out for free, just to get the word out.

  4. Anon

    I’m so glad someone else does reviews of books like this, I have no time to read haha

    1. Liz

      Same here! haha

  5. Shad

    If anyone is planning on taking advantage of this, my only advice is to try to do as much of it yourself as you can. Anybody can file a patent by themselves if you do the research beforehand. This is exactly what I did, instead of paying up to $300-$500 or more. Everyone with an idea should take the time to see if it’s not already being done, as John says, there’s definitely money to be made out there.

    1. Jony

      As someone who’s filed a couple of patents I’ll tell you that the easiest way is to file for provisional patent, that gives you a year to get it started and try to make money off of it. Those only cost like $130 to file if you do everything yourself. If you want to file a patent so that you own it for many years, it’s a lot more expensive.

    2. Sarah

      I didn’t even know you could file it yourself! I always figured it would be a whole process involving a lot of money and a lot of red tape. I have ideas all the time, especially for baby products, being a new mother, and I bet I could do exactly what this book talks about and make a lot of money off of a niche market. Thanks for posting that, now I know!

    3. Shad

      You should absolutely look into it, Sarah, there’s no limit to what you can come up with, and you never know what will be the next big thing. It could be that your new baby product invention could end up paying for that baby’s college!

  6. Gorman

    The Tipping Point is a great read, and Malcom Gladwell is an amazing mind. I haven’t read the Long Tail but if it’s anything like Tipping Point, I’m on board. Nice review!

  7. Anon

    Saw a really great invention the other day that this reminds me of. If you’ve ever been to a hookah bar, you know that for sanitation reasons everyone has their own plastic mouthpiece that they use to smoke, and then remove when they pass it on to the next person. When I went in the other day, they had new mouthpieces: They were plastic, came in all different vibrant colors (instead of the usual bland white) and were shaped to fit your mouth for a better, easier smoking experience! Very cool, niche market product idea that is easy to manufacture and made that inventor a nice chunk of change.