No wonder that Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail from 2006 is compared to Gladwell’s The Tipping Point on the back flap of the book. No wonder that Gladwell himself writes in Time 100 2007: “All writers are in search of the Big Idea. A Big Idea has to matter. But you can have only one of them. Your Big Idea can’t be that there are, say, 89 Rules of Power. E=mc(2) was, technically speaking, a Big Idea. But not really, because the best Big Ideas are also transparent. Truly Big Ideas are the rarest of phenomena, and when I first came upon Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail last year, I knew this was one.“
Gladwell’s description of Anderson’s big idea of The Long Tail as transparent is right on the spot. You got the point from the very beginning (page 2): “Although we still obsess over hits, they are not quite the economic force they once were. Where are those fickle consumers going instead? No single place. They are scattered to the wind as markets fragment into countless niches. The one big growth area is the Web, but it is an uncategorizable sea of million destinations, each defying in its own way the conventional logic of media and marketing.” The Big Idea is about the success of Netflix, Google, ITunes, Rhapsody, and Amazon. Anderson has been digging through the hard data and economics of these companies (and others) and found The Long Tail.
The aggregate market for niche products is huge as the online music industry has experienced. The radical idea of Anderson is that you do not have to follow the hits and mass products to do business. “If the non-hits – from healthy niche products to outright misses – all together added up to a market as big as, if not bigger than, the hits market” (page 8). In other words this means that “the mass market is turning into a mass of niches” (5). Rhapsody, Netflix etc. are still getting a profit from the music or films that only have a few hits every quarter because the costs of having them in store are low. The fun part of reading The Long Tail is that I can see parts of myself in the Long Tail. I podcast, I netflix, I shop online for niche products because it is easy and because I am a mini-connoisseurs (as Anderson describes it) just like everyone else. On the other hand, I will probably never be so tech-savy as the 16-year-old Ben that Anderson describes. Ben has grown up with broadband, MP3s, cell phones etc. He is used to the choices that I am so overwhelmed of.
The idea of The Long Tail is fascinating. The writing is fantastic. The book is fun. That is my impression. If you have seen my Facebook today I have been reading and reading. I am not done yet. And I will get back to this topic because it is fascinating, fantastic, and fun.