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Long Tail Hype — Busted July 26, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Joining the Economist, Slate, and others, Wall Street Journal columnist Lee Gomes offers some tough criticism of Chris Anderson’s Long Tail book and hyping (Anderson’s blog attempts to refute the review). And Gomes did some real reporting to back it up. Good work, Lee.

    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.

    Mr. Anderson told me in an email that he only mentioned the 98 Percent Rule to show how he first got interested in the book’s overall subject, adding, “I have no idea how broadly it applies today.”

And, continuing:

    Another theme of the book is that “hits are starting to rule less.” But when I looked online, I was surprised to see what seemed like the opposite. Ecast says 10% of its songs account for roughly 90% of its streams; monthly data from Rhapsody showed the top 10% songs getting 86% of streams.

Gomes cites similar figures for other media. He says Anderson says the point is that the role of the long tail is increasing. Okay, Chris, but your subtitle says this is the future of business. And reportedly you say something about the end of common culture.

Economists — heck, even Jupiter analysts — have been talking about long-tail markets for years. There’s no question it’s an important characteristic of digital media. From an upcoming JupiterResearch report:

    It is not enough to simply say that the limitless stocking capacity, search-ability, and relatively low-cost distribution of the Internet enables greater content availability than media restricted by limited distribution (there are only so many networks, or store shelves, or weekends for movie openings in a year). Rather, one has to prove that a) there is significant demand for non-blockbuster entertainment, b) that the long tail can change the Pareto principle (a.k.a. the 80-20 rule, another “power law distribution”), and c) that anyone can make money off the tail, without delivering the head also.

Disclaimer: I haven’t read the book yet, hence my own lack of review. I love the long tail; it just doesn’t wag the dog yet. And maybe won’t ever. I read a lot of what Anderson writes, and I’ll get around to the book shortly. But Anderson doesn’t have to worry. His book is safely at the head end, at Number 20 on Amazon this morning.

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