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The Marketeer

You can’t handle the long tail

I have an idea rattling around in my head about some shortcomings of Chris Anderson’s Long Tail and it’s starting to come together, but not enough to really run with (a barticle, if you will).

One part of it is that the average person can easily remember 3 things on a topic, anything beyond that gets more difficult. The army has done some studies on that, I have something on that somewhere around this virtual mess on my PC. This explains a peice of why you get 3 big players on the vert ramp and everyone else is on a trip to the long tail ghetto.

The other is the mistaken notion that you’re ever going to make more than a nickel if you are out on the tail. People seem to be stretching it beyond the fact that one must own the whole curve.

I’m also working an an addendum to my Web 3.0 post which will show why the browser will die, more on that tomorrow.

2 replies on “You can’t handle the long tail”

Interesting points. While I don’t disagree with them, I do think they’re incomplete.

Although it may be true that the average person can only remember 3 things on a topic, it’s quite possible for a person to remember hundred or thousands of things on topic about which they’re very passionate. E.g., knowing every trivial detail about a certain obscure anime, or knowing every twist and turn on every local bike route. Furthermore, all these magic information boxes we’re using have practically limitless memory about any given topic. I don’t remember every obscure Kung Fu movie I want to see, but my blockbuster queue has dozens of them lined up for me. I just get them in the mail and watch them.

And although content aggregators are big-winners in The Long Tail, and a person producing niche content will probably never become a rich superstar, the whole point of The Long Tail is rather that the person can now at least make that nickel, which is, importantly, not 0. Anderson has written on this subject extensively on his blog a couple times, but I’ll use another anecdotal example. I don’t write my free open source software project to become a millionaire. I do it as a hobby. If I made just $5/month from it, will, that’s nice too; but even without that, I still write it, and that’s another tiny niche product out on the tail.

Great comment Luke, I like your blog too (but I think you’ve scared me away from trying to trick out my TiVo).

I thought trying to get the “Trinity Rule” and the long tail together might work but I think instead of chocolate and peanut butter all I’ve got is jello and clam chowder, or some other hideous abomination.

Perhaps the trinity is a component of the formula that defines the curve but relative profitability of the entire curve is based on market forces not the limitations of our brains to get beyond 3 choices.

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