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Archive for April 30th, 2011

Today I finished reading: “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson (2006©).  The subtitle is: “Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More“.  The book purports to be about the “new” economics of culture and commerce.   I was looking forward to finally getting around to this book as I’ve had it waiting for a couple of months now.  It’s another of the $2.00 books from Half-Price Books.  I have heard the term, “The Long Tail” several times in the last few years.  Usually in context / comparison with the works of  Malcolm Gladwell (“Tipping Point“, “Blink“, “Outliers“).  The author (Anderson) has a similar, populist / popular style which I guess comes from them both being writers in magazines.  Other than this being a book whose concept has entered the popular / mainstream consciousness, I don’t think the book or the concept are as valuable or interesting as Gladwell’s works.
What is a “Long Tail” economy?  A Long Tail economy is one where culture is unfiltered by economic scarcity.  Huh?  Well, here, “economic scarcity” seems to be defined as things which are not stocked at my local store because there is not sufficient local demand.
The basic premise is that we are moving to a world where the manufacturer is going to be expected to carry the finished product in finished inventory (or build to order just in time) instead of the “retail” seller keeping goods in stock.  Given the costs of storage are zero (for the seller), they will carry an unlimited volume (and variety) of product in their sales channel (typically a database driven web site).  This will allow the seller to offer a value-added of a filter (typically some form of recommendation tool and or customer profile/history).  This added value is what will bring you back to the sellers web site for future purchases or other products.  Of course, once you know the location (url) of the manufacturer of the specific item you want, there is no need to use the seller as a middle-man.  At which point, the seller has lost their value until the next time you’re not sure where to get what you want.
The concept is plausible for items which are entirely (or mostly) purely digital – like sound, writing or images – like e-music, e-books, and e-videos.   These items are easily digitized and electronically transportable.  I am more dubious of the value of this concept for items which we buy based on touch and taste.  I have purchased shoes and clothes using catalogs, so shifting to web sites is not a “BIG” deal, but most of my purchases have been “higher-ended” where the seller will accept shipping costs in both directions if there is a problem.  I’m not convinced there are many sellers who would commit to this level of customer satisfaction on low ticket items.  “Atoms”, to me, seem a bigger problem, than bits and bytes.
The book is an expanded version of an article which appeared in Wired magazine back in 2004.  Since I’ve been a subscriber to Wired for over 10 years, I would have read the original article when it was published.  I have only the vaguest recollection of it, so it didn’t make an impact on my life.  The book is a fast read and I do highly recommend it, but recognize the recommendation is based on recognizing the application of the concept to the digital nature of the goods being sold, not on the strength of the concept applying to the world of manufactured products.
I will be offering a number of quotes from the book over the next few weeks to give you a flavor of the content.
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The Puritans nobly fled from a land of despotism, to a land of freedom, where they could not only enjoy their own religion, but could prevent everybody else from enjoying his.
  —  Artemus Ward
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