Last night's NYPL featured Chris Anderson in conversation with Lawrence Lessig. With a book cover styled like the Tipping Point (did anyone else notice that the paperback features a paper match, while the hardcover sports a wooden match? nice), The Long Tail has been beach reading for all those Crackberry dads spending "quality time" with their kids at the playground on Saturday mornings, and now a full-fledged bestseller. Being an "I haven't read it yet but I've read all the reviews"-kinda guy on this one, I figured that actually seeing Anderson do his stump would give me one more credential before actually standing in line at Barnes and Noble. And good thing.
Anderson started out by arguing that the age of the "hit" was actually an anomaly; that culture was always fragmented by geography. We were a balkanized culture, with connective tissue provided by traveling troubadours and the like. It was with the rise of technology (first high-speed printing, then national newspapers, then photography, recording technology, radio and ultimately TV) that we stared to become synchronized as a nation, then as a world. "Broadcast."
After tracing the declines in just about every media, we got a crash course in Pareto's curve (ubiquitous in just about everything; wait, that's redundant.) Anyway, witness the long tail, where some things sell a lot (the head), and LOT of other things sell a little (the tail). But when you add up all those littles...well, you get the idea. Cue the Internet.Read the book for the data on all this, but Anderson's 5 Long Tail Lessons are these:
1. Don't confuse limited distribution with shared taste
2. Everyone deviates from the mainstream somewhere
3. One size no longer fits all
4. The best stuff isn't necessarily at the top
5. The Mass Market is becoming a mass of niches
After Anderson's deck, Lessig took the stage for some back and forth, and then, (bonus!) performed his own PowerPoint, offering an "RO vs. RW" paradigm (Read-only vs. Read-Write) for understanding some of these new phenomena. This was a great way of framing user-created content, and the discussion quickly--perhaps predictably--moved to issues of copyright, creative commons, and DRM. Great questions from the audience capped the evening, and then everyone scattered onto the street.
Last word to Anderson: "I've never argued that the hits are dead; the monopoly of the hit is over." And one more: "I can live with the irony that my book on this topic has become a best-seller."
Allan Chochinov is a partner of Core77, a New York-based design network serving a global community of designers and design enthusiasts, and Chair of the new MFA in Products of Design graduate program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Allan lectures around the world and at professional conferences including IDSA, AIGA and IxDA, has been a guest critic at various design schools in including Yale University, IIT, Carnegie Mellon, Ravensbourne, RMIT, University of Minnesota, Emily Carr, and RISD. He has moderated and led workshops and symposia at the Aspen Design Conference, the Rockefeller Center at Bellagio, Compost Modern, and Winterhouse, and is a frequent design competition juror. Prior to Core77, his work in product design focused on the medical, surgical, and diagnostic fields, as well as on consumer products and workplace systems. He has been named on numerous design and utility patents and has received awards from The Art Directors Club, I.D. Magazine, Communication Arts, and The One Club.