Ask Dave Taylor: Tech and Business


The problem with "The Long Tail"

I've spent a few weeks thinking about Chris Anderson's Long Tail, the premise of his popular new book and his suggested implications for business in the future. Finally, a few days ago I read Lee Gomes' terrific column in the Wall Street Journal where he debunks some of Anderson's statistical analysis, which really helped me clarify my own thoughts on the book.

Let me say that I don't disagree for a minute with the idea of the long tail and find evidence of it even on my own Web site, but where I diverge from what's suggested in the book is that I find it difficult to believe the premise that "hits" won't be important and that the era of Best Sellers is over.

I believe, instead, that Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point is far more consistent with societal behavior that I see: thought and opinion leaders significantly influence what people decide to purchase or believe, and that by its very nature, these "tipping points" are the antithesis of "the long tail".

What do you think? Are popular hits over? Was the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie a fluke and last gasp from the Hit Machine, or will we always have a society that's built around the desire for a small number of highly popular items?

Dave Taylor runs The Intuitive Life Business Blog and the popular Ask Dave Taylor Tech Support site too. He recently wrote a long essay on The Long Tail entitled Why Companies Can't Profit From the Long Tail.