The environment and the Long Tail
Two quite unrelated but equally interesting topics to bring you in this post. I liked Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail – a new economic model applied to consumer consumption, which suggests that low demand/low sales items (or niche items) collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the popular bestsellers. So for example you walk into a bookstore and you see thousands of books and think “ah, choice!”. But booksellers have limited shelf space and they offer only a small percentage of books that have the broadest possible appeal to readers. The majority of books are in the “long tail” with many different genres, obscure authors and appeal that don’t fit into the mass market. Anderson’s Long Tail (LT) theory examined online music retailers and suggested that the internet economy (with its vast choice of niche markets) would see a shift from the dominance of a relatively small market of mainstream products to the huge market of obscure products, businesses and an untapped audience. Because on the Internet, you need no shelf space. You can read his original article here.
A piece in The Times Online is challenging the LT theory. A study of digital music sales showed that more than 10 million of the 13 million tracks available on the internet failed to find a single buyer last year. So the suggestion is that the big hits still account for online sales success and that the niche music market remains largely untapped. The article doesn’t say what the source was for the data but reports that with the online singles market, 80% of all revenue came from around 52,000 tracks, whilst for the 1.23 million albums available, only 173,000 were bought, meaning 85% did not sell a single copy.
Meanwhile, an article in New Scientist also looks at studies that question Anderson’s theory, with Anita Elberse being one of the dissenters. You might have read Elberse’s Harvard Business Review article, which suggests that the LT isn’t fat with choice but is flat, thin and filled with more and more products that sell few or no copies.
Turning to environmental news, Discover Magazine showcased the top 100 environmental stories of 2008, many of which I blogged about such as the migration of plants due to climate change and the huge population of lowland gorillas discovered in Congo. Afraid many of these stories make for sobering reading.