Insights · June 5th, 2008
In the digital ecosystem, it’s the head that gets the hits: the most popular and visible players garner the most attention, and therefore revenue. Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, has drawn attention to the rest of the animal in his book, The Long Tail. Anderson proposes that the smaller entities—likened to a long tail streaming down from the top—have a vast and largely untapped potential.
Indeed they do. In a situation where it’s possible to digitize everything that has ever been recorded; to make content available without the packaging, storage and distribution of traditional media; and to give access to smaller producers and artists who previously would have come in under the radar, we get an idea of how long the tail could really be. But one question in our minds is not the potential of this long tail in its aggregate, but how well individual producers themselves may fare.
If small producers are able to benefit financially on their own, and not by being swallowed up into “long tail businesses,â€ which by themselves might be enjoying success, then perhaps the tail will become fat as well as long. But will the individual producer who moves a small number of copies see any appreciable difference in their income? Digital outreach continues to increase; the sheer audience size may make for an interesting return—or we may see a market develop where constant turnover of new contributors becomes the nature of the beast.
The concept invites other questions as well: can you climb up the spine? Can you lop off a tail and use it to grow a head all of your own? Can you make it as a disembodied tail? “The Long Tailâ€ is an intriguing theory to describe an important and potentially very exciting dynamic in the developing digital world. But like any theory, as this creature comes to life we will see a greater complexity than can be summed up in its name alone.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, consultant, blogger, internet TV show host and founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.