Long Tail = Dead End?

I ran into Will Page a couple of weeks ago at FutureMusicCamp. Will’s not just the chief economist of PRS (and a really nice DJ). Actually, he more or less singlehandedly convinced me, that collecting societies don’t necessarily look and act like grumpy relics from the shellac age, but that their people can vividly think outside the box.

Especially one part of his keynote got me thinking. After some extensive numbers crunching, Will declared Chris Andersons Long Tail as wishful thinking. According to his numbers, the idea of the Internet opening the floodgates for a huge diversity of content to make it on the market is just wishful thinking, a mere virtual myth.

What Will did, was analyzing We7 and Spotify in the UK – and comparing this data with a Long Tail curve. Have a look at his April interview in TechDirt. There’s a nice graph right in the middle, and some good explanation on the how’s and why’s.

Now, the interesting part is this: why differ the curves of We7 and Spotify?

… We7 has a strong editorial with excellent artist promotional campaigns, whereas Spotify is editorial free and allows the consumer to graze the field at their leisure. Consequently, you can see that We7 (blue line) is more hit centric with a 90/5 rule and Spotify (green line) is more democratic with an 80/5 rule which, when you step back, is common sense made complicated but it’s nice to see the math adds up!

Right. And this most likely explains the not so long tail of the curves. It’s mostly a matter of user interfaces. Compared to any physical store, all net-based services share one thing: the depth of their catalog. Just imagine your local music dealer (if he still exists), blown up to the size of an IKEA warehouse. Anything, which can be licensed, can be bought.

The problem is: we’re not IKEA talking here, where you stroll through nicely decorated storage areas. A typical media store on the net is more the equivalent of a 20 square meter booth. Yes, there’s this giant warehouse attached. But the shelfspace is rather limited. Look at iTunes: either you know, what you are looking for, and you directly search for it. Or you rely on the best sellers and recommendations.

To unleash the long tail, you would either need a user interface, which IKEA-like unlocks the secrets of your warehouse. Or you find an affiliation model with the original rights holders, which offers curators and resellers some bit of a better cut than relying on a retailer sharing a bit of their slice with you.

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