The Long Tail: A Lesson Learned in Web-Economics - Book Summary

The book the Long Tail or my edition the Longer Long Tail by Chris Andersen is a fantastic read (buy it here). I guess I read it probably ten years too late, but if you can get a hold of it I could not recommend it any more. This is the book that will show you how the internet and web is actually a good thing.

In everyday life we complain about the death of certain things. My personal complaint was with the music industry, but for me I think I held too much in vain against piracy and peer-to-peer sharing. I felt it destroyed my chances of getting into the music industry, and although those beliefs haven’t been diminished – the long tail offered me an alternative view.

“For too long we’ve been suffering the tyranny of lowest-common-denominator fare, subjected to brain-dead summer blockbusters and manufactured pop. Why? Economics. Many of our assumptions about popular taste are actually artefacts of poor supply and demand matching – a market response to inefficient distribution.”

Lets analyse this quote.

The death of 90s pop is a good thing. No one liked it really, there just wasn’t access to anything else – there was no myspace, soundcloud or youtube then. The only way to hear new music was the radio. But the introduction of the internet opened new windows just from those three (by all means not all) dedicated social sharing sites changed that. They suddenly put the tools to be a master in the consumer’s hands. [Those three sites aren’t the first and they won’t be the last.]

“When the tools of production are available to everyone, everyone becomes a producer”

What has the long tail taught us? Well as the subheading on the book cover says, “Endless choice is creating unlimited demand.” Feels a little off to be quoting the book cover of the long tail. But it is true. The best example of this is maybe the oddest story I can pick out. Chris Anderson shares a piece of research he did on jam and it’s varieties. He writes about a specialist jam shop. You’d think that this would go out of business right? Wrong. This jam shop specialises in keeping the most odd jam you could possibly imagine, and it actually has people from all over the U.S. visit the store. Incredible right?

Studies used to suggest that choice causes some sort of paralysis, but the study mentioned in the book, seems to project the opposite. The results show that choice allows the customer to feel in control, like they have weighed every possible option and come out on top with a personal decision they are happy with. So in turn they have chosen the product and not had to settle with an alternative. They come away feeling in control.

We can all find ourselves in this book, in some way we seek alternative choices and particularly selective about what we purchase. It really is eye opening to read this book and it’ll change your outlook on the internet, and why it is so great.

My Biggest Takeaways from The Long Tail

Learning that the more niche you go the better. I think as sales people and marketers, you tend to have a thought “the more audience I can reach, the better.” Not True. There is no magazine for everyone. You see magazines on; fitness, cars, fashion, weddings and fishing etc. If you are interested in one of these you would not buy a general magazine as it doesn’t appeal to your tastes, at least not enough content to appeal to your tastes. The same applies to designing a product. Know your market, know their problems, know their perceptions – then you have a product.