I posted back in 2004 about the idea of ”the long tail,” advanced by Wired magazine’s Chris Anderson. The gist of his theory was that emerging (primarily Internet) distribution models were dramatically altering the revenue potential of non-blockbuster material. In other words, while space-limited retailers like Walmart and Best Buy had to focus on selling massive quantities of very few things (ie, Madonna CDs, blockbuster movies, best-selling books), there was a world of opportunity in selling low quantities of lots and lots of things (specialized music, fringe films, niche or low-selling books).
The ”long tail” refers to the recurring graph of sales in a given industry, where the top few items sell like hotcakes and grab most of the total revenue, and the remaining 80 to 90 percent trail off in a long tail, among them sharing the lesser percentage of revenue. Anderson suggested that as the cost of storing and distributing content approaches zero (it’s only disk space and bandwidth, after all), there would be increasing opportunity to mine the non-blockbuster, and that some of the wind would go out of the blockbuster-focused marketplace.
I’ve often browsed Anderson’s weblog on the subject, since it’s so essential to the arts. Now he’s published a book that’s at the top of my reading list (if I ever get to actually read). Here’s a review in the New Yorker if you want the quick perspective.