Monday, September 25, 2006


My Favorite Long Tail Bits and Pieces

Let's take a trip down the long tail of long tail resources.

For only $15, fans can see Lawrence Lessig and Chris Anderson speak at the New York Public Library this Thursday. (This is cheaper than the convenience fee on a ticket to the Rolling Stones)

A little further down the tail is a neat article in this month's Wired about Netflix Presents. Netflix is distributing new films (like The Puffy Chair) that would otherwise not reach their audience. In Convergence Culture, the chapter Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars brings deeper and more complex Long Tail issues alive when considering the emancipation of amateur film. I was struck by Elizabeth Durack's criticism of controlling fan works:
It has been observed by many writers that Star Wars (based purposely on the recurring themes of mythology by creator George Lucas) and other popular media creations take the place in modern America that culture myths like those of the Greeks or Native Americans did for earlier peoples. Holding modern myths hostage by way of corporate legal wrangling seems somehow contrary to nature.
Chris Anderson's LT article was published in October 2004. We've had a few years to digest the article and even a best selling book. I see three particularly important effects.

First, the LT is important as a meme so that we can collectively discuss the transformation that is happening.

Second, LT forces are recreating the gift economy, although I don't believe Anderson's book explicitly acknowledges this until the very last of his 9 rules (Understand the power of free) on the very last page of his book:
Ultimately, in abundant markets with loads of competition, prices tend to follow costs. And thanks to the power of digital economics, costs just get lower.
Third, it exposes how increasing inventory size reveals the dirty little secret of survivorship bias and self-serving attribution bias of major media. Making it on a store shelf is like passing a school admissions test. Admissions officials of top schools often wrongly conclude that since those who were admitted were successful after school, the admissions criteria were good indicators. However, in How We Know What Isn't So, The Fallibility of Human Reasoning in Everyday Life (1991), Thomas Gilovich writes
information about how well the rejected group would have performed is absent, so there is no baseline against which to evaluate the effectiveness of the selection criterion. In addition, the competitive advantage that stems from being in the accepted group serves to artificially raise each person's score on the outcome criterion.
Gilovich notes that this reasoning can make a completely worthless selection criterion appear to have some value.

Gary Hoover's What Happens After All the Categories Are Killed? (1996) gives a much deeper history of pre-web LT retailing. Hoover founded BOOKSTOP in 1982 in Austin, TX. After initially opening with 20,000 live titles, within a few years Bookstop stores carried 35 to 40,000. Compare this to his predecessors B. Dalton which was lucky to have 12 to 15,000 live titles and Waldenbooks in the ballpark of 8 to 10,000. In 1989, Hoover sold BOOKSTOP to Barnes & Noble for $41 million which benefitted from Hoover's Long Tail insight that the other bookstores were not carrying the right books and they would never know because they never tried carrying them. BOOKSTOP and then Amazon learned what really sells by offering more. Post-filter versus pre-filter.

Finally, don't miss Peter Savich's insightful and entertaining Long Tail Rising essay and podcasts (April 2006). Savich reveals that the long tail of producers is community and the power of free among many other insights.

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