The Register has an article on a study on the long tail that puts an additional chink or two in the armor of the popular digital distribution theory. Economist Will Page (of the MCPS-PRS Alliance), his colleague Gary Eggleton and Mblox founder Andrew Bud looked at tens of millions of transactions and came to conclusions that are odds with Chris Anderson's long tail teachings.
The transactions had a log-normal distribution, not the power law distribution common in long tail theory. The trio found a relatively concentrated head and a "rather poverty stricken tail."
"They discovered that instead of following a Pareto or "power law" curve, as Anderson suggested, digital song sales follow a classic Log Normal distribution. 80 per cent of the digital inventory sold no copies at all - and the 'head' was far more concentrated than the economists expected."
Research by Anita Elberse, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, has similar findings about the concentration of hit titles and consumers' lack of interest in the obscure. "Light users have a disproportionately strong preference for the more popular offerings," she wrote in a reaction to Anderson's rebuttal to her study.
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I like the idea of people being able to adopt from the miscellaneous as a kind of democratic, and i think ethical, free access to the 'primordial soup' that is what exists out there in internet land.
When i say primordial i mean it too, the internet is new and just because the world hasn't changed now doesn't mean that these markets wont open up.
But i still prefer the idea that this area of the internet is open and un-commercialized and talking about it by way of sales figures and profit margins is kinda missing the point of why the internet became successful in the first place.
I think that was Andersons error, talking about the 'long tail' as a exploitable marketplace when it might be better to talk about it as just a realm for free expression, innovation and experimentation and everything else is just a side effect.