Anderson explains, “The theory of the Long Tail can be boiled down to this: Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a huge number of niches in the tail.”
What drives this Long Tail and the niches that populate it? Anderson identifies three ‘forces’.
- More stuff is being produced. Technology and the internet make it cheaper and easier to record and distribute your own songs, publish your own writings and so on. This lengthens the tail.
- There is better access to niches, again thanks to the reach and economies on the net. This fattens the tail.
- Search and recommendations connect supply and demand. This drives business from hits to niches.
All this is good stuff. Anderson suggests that we all have niche interests; it’s just the constraints of mass media that have focused us on the common denominators of mainstream hits. Clearly this resonates with a lot of people (and I’m among them), who have been quick to adopt the term and apply to it to their own domains.
Anderson explains that the Long Tail is an example of a power law, and that “powerlaws come about when you have three conditions:
- Variety (there are many different sorts of things)
- Inequality (some have more of some quality than others)
- Network effects such as word of mouth and reputation, which tend to amplify differences in quality.”
These conditions are important, for reasons I’ll come back to. Why do they breed Long Tails? “The characteristic steep falloff shape of a popularity powerlaw comes from the effect of powerful word-of-mouth feedback loops that amplify consumer preference, making the reputation-rich even richer and the reputation-poor relatively poorer. Success breeds success,” writes Anderson.
Identifying “The Long Tail” – Chris Anderson
Chris Anderson (Wired): Technology’s long tail