The Long Tail: They are Both Right

Theories like The Long Tail regularly get taken to extremes in this business, often elevated to the stature of law on the basis of will power alone. What is happening now is a natural correction that pulls back the scope and reapplies the learnings for a better outcome.

I think we all intuitively know that there is a lot more value in niches as a result of the web, but at the same time we know that our behaviors only change incrementally as a result. We have new channels to take advantage of but our consumer behaviors are largely the same.

Whether Anderson intended it or not, the Long Tail is spot on in predicting that social behaviors would amplify as purchase determiners on the web. Having said that, socially enhanced shopping has not transformed retail into a mass market of niches and brand companies and retailers alike still spend proportionately about the same on customer acquisition costs as they historically have.

The other book that deserves scrutiny is Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which as it has turned out is a phenomena a lot less predictable to replicate.

It’s all goodness and we should all consider ourselves fortunate to be in an environment where these concepts are being developed and established brands are willing to push aside the old rules to try new things.

Prof. Elberse looked at data for online video rentals and song purchases, and discovered that the patterns by which people shop online are essentially the same as the ones from offline. Not only do hits and blockbusters remain every bit as important online, but the evidence suggests that the Web is actually causing their role to grow, not shrink.

Mr. Anderson responded on his Long Tail blog, thelongtail.com, saying much of the difference between his analysis and hers involved how hits and non-hits, or “head” and “tail” in the book’s lingo, are measured. Aside from that, he was generous in praising the article, and said he welcomed the sort of rigorous scrutiny the theory was getting.

[From Portals - WSJ.com]