Bibliolescence: The Long Tail

Long TailThe Long Tail is the title of at least three things by Chris Anderson: the article, published in Wired in October 2004; the book, published in July 2006; and the blog, which is frequently stocked with fresh content.

The Long Tail thesis is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. It has been illustrated many times, by many people, using an image similar to the one I took from Chris’ blog. The long tail is of course the yellow part of the graph.

Is the book obsolescent? One could argue that it is, on grounds including the following. Even before the book had appeared, the Long Tail meme proved an effective replicator. For example, reports from conferences included groans that yet another presenter was going through the long tail model.

In the book, (p. 73) Chris refers to the Wikipedia entry on the Long Tail as “well written and thorough,” 1,500 words long, and written by people other than himself. The combination of the Wired article and the Wiki entry, then, may have pre-empted the book.

Those wanting something more recent than the book can go to the Wiki entry, which has been edited many times since Chris wrote approvingly about it. Or they can of course go to Chris’ blog.

Having said that, I don’t think that The Long Tail book suffers from bibliolesence. The book adds a lot of value above and beyond that provided in the article. In this, it differs from the many business article/book combinations in which the article gives you most of the meat in the book, and the book includes a lot of filler of dubious nutritional value.

Does Chris overstate, or overapply, his thesis? Perhaps. Even so, the Long Tail does yield important insights on the way the web affects business (and more), and many of these insights are well-developed in the book. Finally, and although it may be obvious from the original article, Chris writes really well: his prose is a pleasure to read.

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