Long Tail (is Not So Big)

WSJ has a piece by Lee Gomes today (July 26) with the title: It may be long time before the long tail is wagging the web. He says

Let’s start this discussion where Mr. Anderson starts his book, with his discovery of what he calls a paradigm-changing statistic. In the introduction, he tells how he learns from Ecast, a music-streaming company, that 98% of its catalog gets played at least once a quarter — much more than most would predict.

This “98 Percent Rule,” as Mr. Anderson names it, suggests the remarkable prospect that no matter how much inventory you put online, someone, somewhere will show up to buy it. He writes, “Everywhere I looked the story was the same. … The 98 Percent Rule turned out to be nearly universal.”

Except it’s not. Ecast told me that now, with a much bigger inventory than when Mr. Anderson spoke to them two years ago, the quarterly no-play rate has risen from 2% to 12%. March data for the 1.1 million songs of Rhapsody, another streamer, shows a 22% no-play rate; another 19% got just one or two plays.

Chris Anderson has responded to this article in his blog.
He concludes with:

I’m actually quite an admirer of Gomes’ work and he certainly did do a lot of research for this piece. But he started off with the wrong end of the stick (looking at the market in percentage terms, which doesn’t work because the definition of “head” keeps changing) and sadly wouldn’t let it go. As an editor, I’ve seen this happen before and we try to watch out for it. But sometimes the lure of the gotcha is too much to resist.

You can read both and draw your own conclusion. My conclusion is simple: Long Tail is good but it is really not so big and it will take some time for it to really get its right share. But the fact that Internet makes Long Tail more important than the traditional approaches remains valid. The issue is more, how big is the long tail? Maybe it depends more the type of business. In case of books this may be more true than in case of music.

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