“The Long Tail”, Chris Anderson

Becky Hogge
9 July 2006


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"The Long Tail"
by Chris Anderson
Hyperion | July 2006 | ISBN 1401302378

Recommended by Becky Hogge: When Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief at Wired, wrote an article called "The Long Tail" for the US tech lifestyle magazine, it was clear he had captured something crucial. Two years later, and the long-anticipated book is finally on the shelves. More importantly in the context of the book, it is listed on the next generation of retailers it describes – book retailers like Amazon with endless storage space who together with their counterparts in music and film, are changing the way we consume culture.

The Long Tail captures how the new distribution mechanisms of the internet are turning us all into niche culture enthusiasts. It centres on the shape of one graph, a graph which captures the hire and purchase patterns of books, songs and films at online retailers like Amazon, Rhapsody and Netflix respectively. The graph has a large "head" (stuff that gets bought a lot) and a very, very long "tail".

The head shows the hits – Titanic, *NSYNC, The Da Vinci Code – and, Anderson argues, is all we've ever been able to access up until now, thanks to the economics of the physical constraints of bricks and mortar retailers. The tail is the new frontier, an untapped market of cultural oddities that online retailers, with endless storage space and sophisticated peer-produced aggregators for searching through it, are exploiting for the first time.

The book is a must read for both artists and entrepreneurs. The Long Tail is not just a neat, unsubstantiated theory: those two years were spent talking to executives from a host of new and old business and pouring over sales figures, some of which have never been published before. But the book is never over-empirical. Anderson's snappy West Coast style glides with ease and grace, from philosopher Walter Benjamin's paper The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction to British rock band Bloc Party's smash hit singles. If anything, the book is too American-focussed, especially as one can expect much of the niche culture that resides in The Long Tail to come from outside the US. Despite this, its status as a reference work for the early 21st century, alongside Yochai Benkler's Wealth of Networks and Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture, is assured.

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About the author: Chris Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Wired magazine, a position he took in 2001. Previously he was at the Economist, Nature and Science magazines. He has worked as a researcher at Los Alamos and served as research assistant to the Chief Scientist of the Department of Transportation. He can be reached at www.thelongtail.com.

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