The Long Tail is a Myth

Behind the music: Is the long tail a myth? | Music |
The study discovered that, of the tens of millions of tracks available for sale on the web, 80% sold no copies at all – and that 80% of the money spent on the 20% that did sell went on just 52,000 songs. As Andrew Orlowski pointed out in his excellent Register article on the subject, the typical inventory of a conventional high-street record store is around 4,000 CDs, or 52,000 songs.

Judging by’s end-of-year top 100, there doesn’t seem to be much of a long tail there either: the list reads Coldplay, Radiohead, MGMT, Coldplay, Coldplay, Radiohead. And this is a site where the customers don’t have to pay for their music.

So how did Anderson get it so wrong?

And the article in the Guardian ends with this:

Maybe the reason why the internet hasn’t brought about a long-tail era for music is simpler than all the above. The internet gives the customer an infinite choice of tracks, but perhaps the pool of genuine talent is as limited as it’s always been.

Related links:
Chris Anderson is wrong
The Long Tail – Not
Remix for the Hybrid Economy
Most Music didn’t sell a single copy

The Long Tail – NOT

Study Refutes Niche Theory Spawned by Web
Faithful readers of this column might recall its own skepticism about the idea when the book first hit the stores. In retrospect, “The Long Tail” seems to have followed the template of many Wired articles: take a partly true, modestly interesting, tech-friendly idea and puff it up to Second Coming proportions.
(Via ~C4Chaos)

The article also says this:

In addition to her data crunching, Prof. Elberse reminded readers of substantial bodies of qualitative social research that suggest “The Long Tail” may have been wrong in its description of what makes consumers tick. The book implies that readers and movie viewers are eager to cast off the shackles imposed by physical inventory so they can frolic among the thousands or millions of titles in the Long Tail.

I have always thought that the notion that everyone was just waiting to search for new content was nonsense. There is TOO MUCH content on the net and we need is EDITING.

Read the whole article here.

And here is another article refuting Chris Anderson – this one is regarding his notion that free is the future of business.

RE: The Long Tail

Music: Tomatito – Agua Dulce
Mood: upbeat

Comment posted by Victor at 01:35:32 PM
Well, I’m not a “real” musician so I don’t know if this will be an “intelligent conversation” but… The one thing we’re not going to see is all music distributors getting together and agreeing on pricing that garuntees the quality musicians will survive. What we might see is cheap manufactured music along with the newbies who are willing to work at a loss on one side selling songs for say 25 cents a pop and the quality musicians on the other side selling for say a dollar. It’s sort of like the $25 wine vs. the $5 wine, with maybe a few $50 bottles thrown in. But the point is that it will only work if the public is willing to pay for quality. I don’t see any way around it if the marketing mechanism changes as it appears to be. I mean, we could talk about the goverment subsidising the arts or charities for the arts but who wants to go there? I mean, the heart of the matter is nurturing a culture that values art over a cheap “consumables”.

I agree with every word you write, Victor. Other options include corporate sponsorship, which could become pretty nauseating. Hm, but maybe Prada could sponsor me. That would be cool!

Let’s face it we could return to the age of the classical composers, many of whom were sponsored by the wealthy, the blue-blooded, or the church.

I have to say that I perceive many Americans as having a strained relationship to art. I believe it might hail from ye old Puritans… a distrust of art having any real value. There are some European governmments who annually spend more money on the arts than the governmant of the mighty US of A. Those governments believe that Art adds to their cultures and fosters their societies. For example don’t you think that Americans would prefer corporations paying less taxes and maybe sponsoring some art rather than corporations paying higher taxes and the government creating art programs. People seem to trust Exxon or Mickey D more than they trust their own Congress people. True or false?

The Long Tail

Many have already linked The Long Tail in Wired by Chris Anderson, but I have to call attention to it as well. This is a brilliant article, IMHO, which pounds a nail squarely through the wood. The biggest, most successful businesses on the ‘net are the ones which have exploited this, including eBay and Amazon, and Napster and its brethren, iTunes and Rhapsody and the like… There are doubtless other businesses waiting to be made out of the long tails in other markets.

Final comment – pricing. The article opines that pricing for the long tail should be kept low. But I think this is a perfect opportunity to let the market decide. Since the incremental cost of providing goods is essentially zero, the price is related to the demand. A niche product may be very valuable to the small number of consumers which want it. Many models may emerge, including subscriptions, “channels” of varying content, usage-based pricing, etc. There is a lot of business model evolution left!
(Via Critical Section.)

The price relates to cost of creating product and demand.

And that could very well mean the death of acoustic music performed by trained musicians on expensive instruments and recorded by expensive engineers in expensive studios.

Good-bye Satriani, good-bye classical music (already less and less music is recorded for classical labels because the cost of recording an orchestra, around 1 million plus, guarantees a loss….), good-bye the next Beatles… and hello Midi, laptop recording, turn-table jamming, and lots of rapping!

… UNTIL everyone gets sooooo sick of hearing the same samples taken from Earth, Wind & Fire and James Brown records, and repeated ad nauseam…

At that point, who knows, maybe there will still be some musicians around…

Wired doesn’t get it. The whole internet intelligentsia doesn’t get it. And most musicians are putting their heads in the sand. There has been plenty of dialog between the BoingBoings, Itos, Lessigs, and DJs, but I have yet to hear one intelligent discussion involving “real” musicians.

One solution might be something you wrote in an email to me, After all we do not have one price for all books – indeed, maybe we should not try to stick to one price for all music CDs. Maybe we need to differentiate between different types of music. After all a bronze statue has a higher base-price than a pencil drawing, yes?

What Long Tail?

Where Did the Long Tail Go? – by Ted Gioia:

When I first heard people predict the rise of the Long Tail, I was amused. Not only did it seem wrong-headed, but it ran counter to everything I saw happening around me.

It pains me to say this—because the Long Tail was sold to us as an economic law that not only predicted a more inclusive era of prosperity, but would especially help creative people. According to its proponents, the Long Tail would revitalize our culture by expanding the scope of the arts and giving a boost to visionaries on the fringes of society.

Alternative voices would be nurtured and flourish. Music would get cooler and more surprising. Books would become more diverse and interesting. Indie films would reach larger audiences. Etc. etc. etc.

Hey, what’s not to like?

But it never happened. More to the point, it was never going to happen because the story was a fairy tale. I knew it back then because I had been hired on a number of occasions to analyze the Long Tail myself. But the flaws in the reasoning are far more obvious today, even to me.

I remember when Chris Anderson wrote about the Long Tail in Wired Mag – he also wrote the book “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More” – and I remember thinking it was nonsense then, a decade and a half ago. This link will open a list of my posts on this blog about “The Long Tail”, starting in 2004.

Check out the above quoted and linked article by Ted Gioia.

Found on the Music of Sound blog.