I’m not sure if most are familiar with the Long Tail theory, but for those who aren’t sure, this theory was coined by Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson. It states that
Frequency distributions for online searches show large numbers of less popular, niche keyphrases being used to search for products and services – most evident when distribution frequency of search terms is displayed on a graph.
Today, I finally had the time to go through a Harvard Business Review Should you Invest in the Long Tail?
by Anita Elberse.
The article presents some good solid data debating if the long tail theory work. Elberse uses data from Rhapsody and Quickflixto to determine if the theory holds true.
The data from Rhapsody shows
The top 10% of titles accounted for 78% of all plays, and the top 1% of titles for 32% of all plays. Pause for a moment, though, to reflect on those numbers. One percent of a million is still 10,000 – far more than the number of titles a U.S. radio station plays in a given year, and when translated into album terms, equal to the entire music inventory of a typical Wal-Mart store.
What was interesting from the article was the mention of how consumers are still flocking towards blockbuster products are still given higher preferences against obscure products. And this applies to the online medium as well, despite online stores not being bound by the limitations a brick and mortar store has of limited offerings.
A balanced picture emerges of the impact of online channels on market demand: Hit products remain dominant, even among consumers who venture deep into the tail. Hit products are also liked better than obscure products. It is a myth that obscure books, films, and songs are treasured. What consumers buy in internet channels is much the same as what they have always bought.
I especially like the last 2 pages of the review for recommendations to producers and retailers. Elberse shows a balanced approach of accepting that the long theory, which has become more dominant because of the availability of online channels. While blockbuster products (backed by heavy marketing) still has a large place in the market, the ever growing presence of the consumer’s voice beckons for the long theory to hold true.
While you can see the ongoing debate on which notion now holds true, I’m applaud Elberse efforts. (being a guy who likes a theory to be backed by some quantitative numbers) The theory, while it fascinates me, is also still a notion that technology can drastically change consumer’s behavior. This review might not be the final straw of an ever evolving purchasing pattern, however, it just rings to me that maybe most consumers aren’t all that ready to find out which niches really appeal to them and still the need the guidance of traditional efforts to bring the best entertainment to us.
What do you think? Which side of the fence do you sit on now?