The Long Tail

Summary Written by Chris Taylor

The Big Idea

There’s a Market for That

"That’s the root calculus of The Long Tail: The lower the costs of selling, the more you can sell."- The Long Tail, page 88

Something’s happening in our retail world. Three things, in fact.

  1. Production costs – from recording CDs to self-publishing books to editing professional looking videos at home – are dropping dramatically.
  2. Incredibly cost effective distribution channels (eBay, Amazon, iTunes, etc.) are suddenly available, giving anyone with internet access the ability to sell virtually anything.
  3. Google, Yahoo!, best seller lists and influential blogs are connecting buyers and sellers with ease like never before.

And here’s the result – the “Long Tail”, as Anderson describes it, is much longer, much thicker and more lucrative than any of us may have initially realized, and it’s getting bigger by the day. From the safety of our offices or living rooms, we are safe to explore new niches, or go deeper into a niche we may have already found. (Did you know Amazon sells over 1200 flavours of jam?) People are tired of buying the same old thing – tired of being lumped together with the rest of their “demographic”. Demographic profiling may help determine broad trends, but it will never reflect the tastes of the individual. There are as many different styles and tastes on this planet as there are people. The proof is in the new niche industries being born every day. Companies dedicated to selling anything from maternity t–shirts to olive oil are thriving. With two billion people online worldwide, there’s a market for just about anything. All those markets are hiding under the Long Tail, and all of them are waiting for someone to capitalize on them. So long as you follow a couple golden rules…

Insight #1

Love in the Tail

"…we’re starting to shift from being passive consumers to active producers. And we’re doing it for the love of it. (The word ‘amateur’ derives from the Latin amator, ‘lover,’ from amare, ‘to love’)"- The Long Tail, page 63

Passion is everything. (We may have mentioned this in past summaries!) What amateur filmmakers don’t have in the way of big name stars or professional polish they make up for in raw passion. As human beings, we’re drawn to people and companies who love what they do. Their enthusiasm and optimism makes them virtually irresistible.

With a virtually endless number of niche markets waiting to be filled, why on earth would you get involved in one you’re not passionate about? Passion can’t be manufactured. If you want to compete with the leaders, you truly need to love what you do. Love for your work emboldens your spirit. It encourages you to experiment, to play. In the past, you could get away with passionless product creation or impersonal customer service, simply because your customer didn’t have a whole lot of alternatives. Those days are gone. They want the variety, and it’s available to them. The important factor to remember is that people want ever increasing personalization and uniqueness. If you’re in a niche that works, don’t water down your message because you think it might attract you a larger audience. Your audience is the people who care as much as you do. They’re out there, I promise.

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Insight #2

Whatever You Do, Do It Well

"At best, a Long Tail marketing strategy, focused on stimulating word of mouth among influential consumers, can just create awareness. If the product is no good, no amount of emailing is going to keep it from being savaged or ignored."- The Long Tail, page 232

The short head of the graph above – the hits – will always exist. There will forever be products and services that have widespread appeal and therefore “head of the curve” sales numbers. What the web is doing, though – and doing remarkably effectively – is allowing us to distinguish the truly exceptional (and therefore genuinely hit worthy) from the highly marketed, both in the short head and the long tail. Through blogs, customer reviews, user feedback and a myriad of critics (both amateur and professional), we’re now able to “pull back the curtain” and understand if any given product truly is worth the hype. “Highly marketable” products are rapidly losing their stranglehold on the head of the curve. With virtually limitless variety available, consumers are becoming more selective. In other words, they’re holding out for better options – options that appeal to them specifically, rather than just accepting a bland, mediocre product because it’s the only one available.

What are you providing to the world? Is it noteworthy? Would you consider your contribution (or that of your company) more “quality” or more “hype”? Better yet, what would your customer consider you? These days, no amount of PR can save you from a lousy product; you’re either providing value, or you’re on your way out.

Joining the ranks of influential business thinkers like Jim Collins, Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell, Chris Anderson uses his revolutionary book, The Long Tail to remind us, yet again, that we live in an unprecedented time of change and opportunity. Change in the way we buy, the way we sell and the way we interact throughout the process. It’s true – a lot is changing, and at an unbelievable rate. And yet… and yet, the fundamentals remain the same. Create something of value; create it with passion, and the world will respond. The classics are forever.

Read the book

Get The Long Tail on Amazon.

Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson is editor-in-chief of “WIRED” magazine, a position he took in 2001. During his tenure, the magazine has been nominated for nine National Magazine Award nominations and has won the prestigious top prize for general excellence three times (2005, 2007 and 2009). At the end of 2009, AdWeek honoured this consistent record of success by naming “WIRED” ‘Magazine of the Decade’. Anderson is the author of “The New York Times” bestsellers, “The Long Tail” and “FREE: The Future of a Radical Price.” He is also one of the founders of, a free online service that connects authors on tour with potential audiences. In April 2007, Anderson was named to the ‘Time 100,’ the news magazine’s annual list of the most influential people in the world. Previously, Anderson was at “The Economist,” where he served as U.S. business editor, Asia business editor and technology editor. Anderson’s media career began at the two premier science journals, “Nature” and “Science,” where he served in several editorial capacities. Anderson holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from George Washington University and studied Quantum Mechanics and Science Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.

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