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Why Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” theory might be all wrong July 14, 2008

Posted by Ana Bird in art, commerce, film, music, tech.
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From: Slate

By Farhad Manjoo

The Long TailNearly four years ago, first in a widely cited articleand later in a best-selling book, Chris Anderson posited that the Internet, with its vast inventories of books, albums, and movies, would liberate the world from blockbuster schlock. Anderson, the editor ofWired, labeled his concept “the Long Tail,” after the shape our digital desires leave on a graph: When we buy stuff online, we can reach beyond big hits and into the “tail” of the demand curve, where we’re free to indulge our most obscure passions. Anderson argued that serving our niche interests could also make for booming Web businesses. This was the thrill of the Long Tail—it seemed to offer a way for art and commerce to thrive side-by-side.

Now, just in time for The Long Tail‘s paperback release, the book has fallen under critical scrutiny. Anita Elberse, a marketing professor at the Harvard Business School, recently examined several years’ worth of American movie- and music-sales data. The entertainment business has indeed seen its inventory shifting toward a Long Tail curve, Elberse writes in the Harvard Business Review. The shift is slight, however, and Anderson’s Long Tail is also “extremely flat.”

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