Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Trying to Answer: What is The Long Tail?

In his newest post, Chris Anderson tries to come up with a “pithy definition” for The Long Tail. Here are his attempts:

A) The Long Tail is the infinite shelf-space effect–the new mass market of niches that rises when the existing bottlenecks in distribution that favor hits are removed.

B) The Long Tail is the myriad of niche products whose collective market share can rival the blockbusters.

C) New efficiencies in distribution, manufacturing and marketing are resetting the definition of what’s commercially viable across the board, turning sub-economic customers, products and markets into economic ones and creating a Long Tail of demand.

D) The Long Tail is 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.

E) The Long Tail is the story of how formerly sub-economic products and customers are suddenly becoming the biggest market of all.

F) None of the above. Please try harder.

Anderson asks for input, and he has gotten plenty (26 comments as of writing this post). I, of course, added my two cents and gave this as a definition (or part of a definition):

The Long Tail is the other 80 percent of information/data/goods/the world, which before digital technology was near-impossible to archive/store/sell/distribute effectively.

I left all those possible words because I’m not quite sure which is appropriate (or if limiting to one word is appropriate). I really feel as though the long tail is about more than just goods. I think it can extend to information (on blogs) or pictures (via a digital camera) and a myriad of other places. Really, what the long tail is all about is flipping traditional economics on it’s head. In fact, the first definition I wrote up was this:

The Long Tail is the story of how unlimited digital space has flipped traditional rules of hit-driven economies on its head.

I don’t know if that’s a better definition, though. Is it? Does it make more sense? Now that I’m reading through it again it really seems to communicate the main points very effectively. In essence it’s about taking that other 80 percent that isn’t available in hit-driven economies and getting them to the masses. Because of the massive numbers online, aggregating the sales of non-hits becomes more than a viable business plan, it becomes a great way to make a whole lot of money. Make sense?

January 7, 2005