Bob Baker's Artist Empowerment Blog

Are You Profiting From the Long Tail?

Still think being an independent solo artist, writer or performer means you're small potatoes? Think again. An article in the October 2004 issue of Wired magazine has been causing a stir and forcing people to rethink the realities of modern entertainment marketing and sales.

Please read the article, by Wired's editor in chief Chris Anderson, and get a grip on the way indie, small-budget and self-produced products are weaving their way to end users -- while turning a profit!

Here's the gist of the article: The old way of marketing and distribution was based on physical scarcity. Entertainment products (music, books, film and video games) were primarily offered to the public through retail locations. Due to costs and space limitations, only the top-selling titles were stocked in stores. If a title couldn't justify its shelf space, it was eliminated. Hence the creation of lowest-common-denominator hits and bland superstars.

Many creative people and products obviously still found an audience via other means (live events, word of mouth, creative marketing), but the mainstream sales channels were mostly unavailable to these "fringe" players.

However, in recent years successful Internet-based companies such as Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and others have turned the old business model on its head. While all three of the aforementioned web sites indeed sell the "hits," they also see the value in also offering lesser-known titles to their customers. And by doing so, they've seen some interesting results ...

People are willing to explore and try new things. Using posted review comments, ratings charts and personal recommendations, consumers are discovering new music, films and books they would have never found in a retail store.

And -- gasp! -- these fringe titles are profitable. Sales reports indicate that nearly one-third of these sites' revenues come from selections that fall well below bestseller status. Anderson has used the term "the economics of abundance" to describe this development. That's a phrase that resonates with me. Without the limitations of finite shelf space, "scarcity economics" is melting away and giving consumers more choices ... and creative people more opportunities to find an audience.

It's a fascinating read. Again, read the article here. Anderson is working on a full book on the subject. Read his Long Tail blog for updates.


  • An absolutely riveting concept for an artist trying to make sense of the new world of eCommerce. It is very difficult to cut loose from the "old" concept of charts and #1 hits and remember that the audience is enormous and an artist only needs a small part of the whole to be a financial success. Thanks, Bob, for your insight.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 12:52 PM  

  • Hey Bob,

    Thanks for linking to this. It was most definately a good read.

    Maybe I'm playing devil's advocate here, or maybe it's just my glass-half-empty mentality speaking, but I can see a problem on the horizen with this.

    Aside from my worries about what exactly will be done to employ all the people who will get laid off in the midst of this change (retailers, etc), I also worry that money talks, and that it would only be a matter of time before the desperate record labels see that people are actually looking at and using the "recommendation" section. They, then, will attempt to throw enough money on the table to be able to buy "recommendation space". Recommendations (whether they be done by computer algorithms or human editors) will only work if they are legit. But the moment they become treated like ad space in a magazine, the value of them will decrease and nobody will pay attention to them. Then how do the obscure bands get a fair chance? They are burried deep within the Long Tail with their only oppotunity to get out cut off.

    I was actually really impressed by the Long Tail theory when I read the article, and I can see how it does has the potential to help out music, but ONLY if the companies who provide this service hang onto their morals and don't give in to the loud voice of record label money. Because you know it'll be there.

    Just my thoughts,
    Matt R.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 5:27 PM  

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