The Long Tail – a book I should’ve read a long time ago.

I first heard about all the buzz surrounding The Long Tail many months ago. This book has been on my shelf for over 8 months. What a shame… I should’ve picked it up and finished it a long time ago! *sigh* if it only wasnt for my busy schedule…

Anyway, off late, I’ve been spending my free time reading Chris Anderson’s absolutely amazing book – The Long Tail. For those unfamiliar, Chris is the editor of the very popular Wired magazine. His writing style and insight is absolutely stunning. I am about half way through now.

For starters – the jist of what Chris says is that for digital goods and websites selling them – 98% of their sales and business comes from the electronic / downloadable stuff that is part of “the long tail” – or to put it in his words… all the stuff that sells a few units a year. True there are the best sellers that bring in good volumes – but when you stack up the number of units sold by all the best sellers put together against the number of units sold by the “millions” of sellers that harldy sell a few every year – its the low sellers that form 98% of sales for online digital stores like the music site Rhapsody or iTunes. This constitutes “The Long Tail”.

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This insight works in complete contradiction to the brick-and-mortar stores. Why? Because, while it costs money for brick-and-mortar stores to collect, manage, stock, display and ship out physical goods – it doesnt cost an online digital store anything (very near zero) – to store an dgitial (music) file. Shelf space in shops is expensive and as a result shops only store the “best sellers” or physical goods that sell or are projected to sell atleast “x” number of units a month. All the other stuff thats not mainstream is not displayed.

Stop. Switch over to the online world. This is where mainstream is non-existent, and where the choice can be seemingly endless and consumers can truly experiment and purchase goods that are not mainstream and pushed by large publishers. YOU get to choose and buy even the most obscure and hardly popular products – because your choice is unique and you LIKE the stuff. And what is the reason for such large canvass of variety?

Chris calls it the “prosumer”. The consumer who not only consumes but also produces. The availabiltiy of desktop compositing software, blogs, audio beats, machinima (animated movie making software) and so many digital programs that allow people to “create” and let the talent flow… is causing an amazing availability of billions of varied products. Now anyone can start a garage band, become a writer, artist and movie director. True, 99% of this is NOT going to be mainstream. But atleast consumers have the choice to now see what is out there and not what a few large publishing companies decide to push our way.

Now, if you’re wondering if Amazon.com is also part of the long tail – the answer is yes. He calls it a hybrid model (a mixture of the two – since it does have to store some stock of physical goods in its geographically scattered wharehouses). What about Google? Yes, the Google Adwords as well as Adsense models are also models that adhere to The Long Tail concept. How? well, think of the countless number of small Adwords customers… there are a huge number of small customers who have tiny $3 daily pay-per-click budgets. These tiny amounts multiplied by by the vast number of users results in a figure much much higher than the top say 100 large customers – like eBay… and that large area of money constitutes of The Long Tail!

Read this book – if what I’ve written excites you… there’s plenty of more stuff, and I’ve only touched upon a few of the things Chris has written about in this wonderful book.

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