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The Long Tail

I heard an interesting radio segement today about the Long Tail. Chris Anderson coined the term the Long Tail in an article in Wired in 2004, and is releasing a book on the same topic in a few days. It has been talked about most in reference to the Entertainment industry (books, movies, music), but is also relevant to marketing in general, and I'm thinking about the possible impacts on organizing. Essentially the idea of the Long Tail is that there are two markets: the Head, which are the few best sellers or top hits that everyone knows about (the DaVinci Code, Mariah Carey), and then there is a Long Tail, consisting of multitudes of items that hardly anyone has heard of. The idea is that with new distribution channels, the Long Tail has become as important, or even more important, as the Head. Items in the Long Tail, which are in low demand and have a low sales volume, such as my Uncle Bill's recent non-blockbuster, Beneath the Surface : Submarines Built in Seattle and Vancouver 1909 - 1918 , can COLLECTIVELY make up a market share that exceeds the best sellers or blockbusters, as long as there is a large enough distribution channel. What are the large distribution channels? Not surprisingly, these are Internet companies with almost endless inventories, such as Amazon, Netflix or iTunes. Anderson claims that this is leading to a completely different kind of economic marketplace, with a new focus on the Long Tail which was never possible when stores were limited to the inventory on hand. The niche market will rule in the 21st century. This also may lead to a completely different kind of culture, with less and less of a "common culture" (if there ever was such a thing). I can think of a number of relations to organizing and advocacy, though I'm mostly coming up with questions rather than any grand conclusions (how do we focus on the "long tail"? how does a focus on the "long tail" lead to common action? if the US is shifting towards niches, how will organizing change? Will this lead to more atomization? Less commercialization? More diversity? etc. etc.)

Comments

I think that big business has already found a way to focus on the Long Tail. It is through the use of the websites that anyone can search and the item you want is always at the top.

For us, we need to get organized. One state level example might be that way MCN acts as a type of clearing house, especially for jobs. If we had an e-bay for nonprofits it might help. Demand and economics are also an issue (he who has the gold makes the rules). We could also work to utilize e-bay. Maybe we can sell cheaper better services. Maybe we can get e-bay to give back to the community by creating a nonprofit e-bay site.

Liz- I just saw an article by Chris Anderson in Wired http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.07/longtail.html about the same thing. It's an adapted excerpt from his book - it might be an on-going series. This month he talks about music and puts it in historical context.

I'm now reading Wired - I don't know what's happened to me. See my blog entry for today for more info web.mac.com/mandyellerton