by Chris Anderson Print book  |  1st ed
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Blog review   (2008-06-02)
[cross-posted from http://postgeographic.wordpress.com/2007/05/12/the-long-tail/ ]As the title of this blog indicates, I’m a sucker for any book which uses the phrase “the tyranny of geography” on more than one page. But for reasons above and beyond that, I want to strongly recommend The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, the Editor in Chief of Wired magazine. In short, this book gives the best argument for why the Internet and modern communications technology are great.This graph is a basic demand curve: vertical is sales, and horizontal is rank in sales. So at first glance, it looks like the top-sellers make up the most aggregates sales - the green area is larger than the yellow area. This is how traditional markets have worked: try to produce the most blockbuster movies, the top-selling books or the chart-breaking albums.What Anderson points out is that the yellow part of the curve - the low-selling inventory - is still important, lucrative, and possibly bigger than the “Short Head”. And we only know this - we are only learning just how long the curve can be -The Long Tail because the Internet has allowed inventories which go “down the curve” to those low-selling titles: a normal bookstore only has shelf-space for x amount of books, so it will be limited by that number has to what amount of the curve it can produce.Amazon, on the other hand, has such a huge inventory it can carry more and more low-selling books, which means more sales for Amazon and more importantly, a selection for the reader that was unthinkable before. With digital inventories, you can go even further down the curve and practically list every possible item for sale to the consumer.Anderson refutes one of my least favourite critiques of technology: that we’ll be overwhelmed and paralyzed by choice (as a consumer, a researcher, a citizen, etc.). He points out that the same technology that allows for infinite inventories allows us to get better and better at sorting through the massive pile of choices: search technology, social networks, reviews, friend recommendations help us find what we want - and in many cases, it continues to not be hits.It’s pretty obvious that the Internet, like mail-order catalogues before it, allow for niche markets, but the concept of the Long Tail really clarifies what this means. Unfortunately, the book is quite business-oriented (basically, if you want to make money, find a market that currently only offers the Short Head, then swoop in as a “Long Tail aggregator”); to me, the most exciting implications of this concept are social or political. What can “niche politics” achieve? What do political causes that are unbound by geography look like?
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