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The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More [Hardcover]

Chris Anderson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 11 2006
What happens when the bottlenecks that stand between supply and demand in our culture go away and everything becomes available to everyone?

"The Long Tail" is a powerful new force in our economy: the rise of the niche. As the cost of reaching consumers drops dramatically, our markets are shifting from a one-size-fits-all model of mass appeal to one of unlimited variety for unique tastes. From supermarket shelves to advertising agencies, the ability to offer vast choice is changing everything, and causing us to rethink where our markets lie and how to get to them. Unlimited selection is revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it, from DVDs at Netflix to songs on iTunes to advertising on Google.

However, this is not just a virtue of online marketplaces; it is an example of an entirely new economic model for business, one that is just beginning to show its power. After a century of obsessing over the few products at the head of the demand curve, the new economics of distribution allow us to turn our focus to the many more products in the tail, which collectively can create a new market as big as the one we already know.

The Long Tail is really about the economics of abundance. New efficiencies in distribution, manufacturing, and marketing are essentially resetting the definition of what's commercially viable across the board. If the 20th century was about hits, the 21st will be equally about niches.

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From Publishers Weekly

Wired editor Anderson declares the death of "common culture"—and insists that it's for the best. Why don't we all watch the same TV shows, like we used to? Because not long ago, "we had fewer alternatives to compete for our screen attention," he writes. Smash hits have existed largely because of scarcity: with a finite number of bookstore shelves and theaters and Wal-Mart CD racks, "it's only sensible to fill them with the titles that will sell best." Today, Web sites and online retailers offer seemingly infinite inventory, and the result is the "shattering of the mainstream into a zillion different cultural shards." These "countless niches" are market opportunities for those who cast a wide net and de-emphasize the search for blockbusters. It's a provocative analysis and almost certainly on target—though Anderson's assurances that these principles are equally applicable outside the media and entertainment industries are not entirely convincing. The book overuses its examples from Google, Rhapsody, iTunes, Amazon, Netflix and eBay, and it doesn't help that most of the charts of "Long Tail" curves look the same. But Anderson manages to explain a murky trend in clear language, giving entrepreneurs and the rest of us plenty to think about. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Citing statistical curves called "long-tailed distributions" because the tails are very long relative to the heads, Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, focuses on the tail, or the development in the new digital world of an infinite number of niche markets of any size that are economically viable due to falling distribution costs and in the aggregate represent significant sales. Although the author considers primarily media and entertainment companies, he also shows the long-tail effect at eBay, KitchenAid, Legos, Salesforce.com, and Google. His nine rules for successful long-tail strategies include lowering costs and thinking niche (one product, distribution method, or price does not fit all) and giving up control by sharing information and offering choices. In this excellent book, Anderson tells that "the story of the long tail is really about the economics of abundance--what happens when the bottlenecks that stand between supply and demand in our culture start to disappear and everything becomes available to everyone." Mary Whaley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
When you want to eat ice cream outside your home, do you go to a store that offers only chocolate and vanilla . . . or do you go where there are many more choices? Most people will do the latter. That's the basic point of this book. If you're satisfied with knowing that point, you don't need to read the book. Instead, you could settle for Mr. Anderson's article in the October 2004 issue of Wired.

But if you are like the growing legions of people who enjoy knowing more about the quirks of micro-economics (such as those who were intrigued by The Tipping Point, Freakonomics and Fooled by Randomness), The Long Tail will provide much entertainment.

Let me explain what a long tail is. If you plot the popularity of various products (say, books on Amazon) with the most popular products at the left, the left part of the curve will be very vertical (the head) and there will be a long list of items to the right that will have relatively few sales (the tail). Mr. Anderson's point is that as it becomes economically viable to produce and distribute more low-volume products (such as print-on-demand books and e-books), there will be more items available to purchase at any outlet . . . and the length the tail to the right will grow. As more outlets can afford to make these items available, the thickness of the tail will also grow.

A physical store will only distribute a small percentage of the items, stopping where the offering no longer adds to its targeted rate of profits. An on-line store will have far more items (such as Amazon), appeal to more customers and sell lots of its volume in relatively unpopular items. The author estimates that 25% of Amazon's book sales volume, for instance, comes from outside the 100,000 top selling books.

Here's where Mr.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Un bon livre mais pas assez d'informations utiles March 3 2010
Format:Paperback
Le livre d'Anderson est intéressant: il aborde en profondeur un sujet qui se développe rapidement et qui influence la vie des individus et des organisations. Un bémol cependant. L'auteur donne un très grand nombre d'exemples de la manière dont la longue traîne se manifeste. Mais il aurait été intéressant également qu'il fournisse plus de stratégies de la manière d'exploiter ce principe à travers l'Internet et les nouvelles technologies, sujet dont il est supposé être expert.
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Format:Paperback
I have been waiting for this book since I ordered it in January or February. I don't mean to give it a score of one, but what else can I do since I am getting impatient.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Note: The review that follows is of the revised and updated edition of a book that was first published in 2006. It offers essentially the same information and insights except that Anderson has added a new chapter on marketing, one in which he explains "how to sell where `selling' doesn't work." More about this chapter later.

In the October 2004 issue of Wired magazine, Chris Anderson published an article in which he shared these observations: "(1) the tail of available variety is far longer than we realize; (2) it's now within reach economically; (3) all those niches, when aggregated, can make up a significant market - seemed indisputable, especially backed up with heretofore unseen data." That is even truer today than it was when The Long Tail was first published years ago. The era that Anderson characterizes as "a market of multitudes" continues to grow in terms of both its nature and extent. In this book, Anderson takes his reader on a guided tour of this market as he explains what the probable impact the new market will have and what will be required to prosper in it.

According to Anderson, those who read the article saw the Long Tail everywhere, from politics to public relations, and from sheet music to college sports. "What people intuitively grasped was that new efficiencies in distribution, manufacturing, and marketing were changing the definition of what was commercially viable across the board. The best way to describe these forces is that they are turning unprofitable customers, products, and markets into profitable ones." Therefore, the story of the Long Tail is really about the economics of abundance: "what happens when the bottlenecks that stand between supply and demand in our culture start to disappear and everything becomes available to everyone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing and insightful book April 6 2011
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Chris Anderson is an editor-in-chief of the Wired magazine, and the eponymous article 'The Long Tail' appeared in that magazine a couple of years ago. This has been one of the most influential and read articles about the 'new economy', and rightfully so. In a few succinct principles it describes and explains the essential aspect of the several new successful business models, including Google, Amazon, eBay, Netflix, to name just a few. The basic mechanisms behind the model, however, have been around for a long time, but the advent of the Internet has spurred it on to previously unimaginable successes. This book builds on the arguments from the original article, and adds the material from Chris's blog. It's highly informative, yet eminently accessible and readable. A warning is in order, however: after reading the book you might start seeing long tails in all sorts of places. Consider yourself warned.
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