Book Review of The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson (editor of Wired Magazine and Founder of TED), has been bouncing around bookshelves (and now tablets and reading devices I suspect) for quite some time. In brief, the book is the end result of the author’s search into how the digital economy has changed business forever, and why this is important to entrepreneurs, artists, businesses, and individuals like you and me. Actually, I shouldn’t say “end result”, as he and others continue to debate the impact of The Long Tail on both markets and the world in general.
The Wikipedia entry is a great start for those unfamiliar with the origins of the terms, and while some of what’s included there is really boring and probably not pertinent to understanding what’s written in the book, it does nonetheless serve as a good reference.
In this short review of the book however, you will not see me trying to argue who coined what terms and to which statistics the modern day definitions are best attributed to. My goal is to convince you, that as an entrepreneur who like me is probably constantly on the lookout for new opportunities, that this book is worth the few hours if not but to provide a spark in your business-minded soul.
Anderson explains very broadly how one might set about making their mark as part of The Long Tail (in music, in pet toys, in lego, etc..) by drawing heavily on references from the “niche culture”. He props up all the hopeful entrepreneurs, dreamers, designers, and salespeople who don’t quite believe in their idea and tells them that their is a market for their art. That, if produced, presented, and filtered in such a way (online of course) that you make it easy enough for your fans or potential consumers to find you – that they will. That business, or forums, or tastes in music or strawberry jams can find an audience online somewhere in The Long Tail amidst the millions of domain names and billions of pages of content.
Anderson also argues that what were once considered “hits” (TV shows, Movies, Books, Songs, etc..) no longer enjoy the overwhelming support from mass audiences forced to choose from 3 television stations or 1 of 2 movies playing at the local theater. That abundant choice (and infinite shelf space) and easy acquisition of whatever might suit your fancy shortens the head of the tail if you will, and lops quite a few notches out from what used to be considered far and away a “hit” and the sub culture offerings of growing niches. Rightly so.
Most importantly, he is just as quick to point out that while one can find success (definition of success here VERY broad) in The Long Tail, that tons of crap exists out there – and that if you plan to have an impact and a lasting effect on your audience, that you better make sure your shit is up to snuff. True dat! WARNING! Shameless self-promotion forthcoming…Heelatch can help make your stuff not crap.
Chris also describes that you don’t necessarily have to be selling something or inventing something to have a successful business online. Like Seth Godin will often allude to in his blog posts, Anderson offers up the notion that tons of opportunities (they do!) exist for those willing to get their hands (and feet, and face..) dirty and dive into some of the muck that exists in small-medium sized niches and provide a forum or platform that helps makes sense of it all. That cleans it up. Filters out the crap is perhaps another way of putting it. Sure these filters exist (right down to local trade specific directory sites), but the surface hasn’t even been scratched. The best way to identify if there is a need for things like this is when you yourself have struggled to find the information only minutes earlier you were convinced was just a sentence away in the Google search box. Not so fast! There is in fact still (expect even more) a ton of crap out there.
A friend of ours, Etienne Garbugli of Kotsego, said to me that he’d not bothered finishing the whole book as Anderson seemed to have 12 different ways of saying the 1 same thing – which I guess Etienne might have summed up as : Tons of choice, Room for everyone and then some, and here’s a couple dozen samples that prove my theory.
Sure the author shares some statistics in the book, and coincidentally they all seem to support his theories. Isn’t that how college students write thesis’? Find the authors and references that support their theory and ignore the rest…?
What I can and for sure will say is that the book serves as an awesome eye-opener. Especially for those not yet as deeply immersed in the digital world as Anderson and the majority of his followers may be. It will spur some on to explore (and search for) their hobbies online, and others into getting a website made up, contracting out some basic SEO, and trying to sell those hobbies (or ads on a blog that relate to those hobbies).
The book isn’t a recipe for a get-rich-quick scheme, nor do I feel it is a pure business or marketing book. Maybe a tagline like “Introducing the New Digital Economy” would be sufficient to best describe what potential readers can expect. It’s become somewhat of a “classic” in the digital world, not quite akin (I don’t think) to Cluetrain Manifesto, but heavily read from all reports. I’ll be reading it again in the near future. You probably should too…