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The Long Tail July 28, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews.

Expanded and developed from his Wired magazine article, Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail is primarily about how technologies such as the internet are changing marketplace realities and redefining the face of business — not to mention politics, culture and society as well.

The Long Tail derives its title from what are known in statistics as long-tailed distributions (such as a Chi-squared distribution, or perhaps the right half of a bell/normal curve). The argument that Anderson puts forward is that technologies have vastly democratized the tools of production and distribution, and have made it far easier for buyers and sellers to actually come together. As a result, there is a fundamental shift in commerce from mass marketing to niche marketing. Whereas in the past “hits” comprised the bulk of sales, today there are markets for even the most obscure of products. In the jargon of the book, while hits continue to populate the “head” of sales distributions, there is an increasingly long “tail” of niche products that individually generate a little sales. As Chris Anderson rightly observes, in the aggregate this little amounts to a lot — and a significant lot at that.

Naturally, much of The Long Tail delves into cases that involve internet commerce in some shape or form, from electronic stores such as iTunes, Amazon.com and eBay, to search engines such as Google or Yahoo, to the phenomenon of viral marketing that seems to be all the rage. As such it would be tempting to write the book off as yet another tome singing the praises of the internet economy. But The Long Tail is no such book: Anderson himself is quick to acknowledge the roots of the long tail phenomenon in the bricks-and-mortar economy as embodied in the entrepreneurship that would give rise to Sears, Roebuck and Co., demonstrating perhaps not that history has repeated itself but rather that it has come full circle.

With The Long Tail, Chris Anderson has written an indisputably compelling book. It is a definite must-read that manages to communicate what we may already know about the digital age intuitively but in a fashion so clear and enlightening as to be captivating.



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[…] The Long Tail […]

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