The internet was supposed to bring vast choice for customers, access to obscure and forgotten products – and a fortune for sellers who focused on niche markets.
But a study of digital music sales has posed the first big challenge to this “long tail” theory: more than 10 million of the 13 million tracks available on the internet failed to find a single buyer last year.
The idea that niche markets were the key to the future for internet sellers was described as one of the most important economic models of the 21st century when it was spelt out by Chris Anderson in his book The Long Tail in 2006. He used data from an American online music retailer to predict that the internet economy would shift from a relatively small number of “hits” – mainstream products – at the head of the demand curve toward a “huge number of niches in the tail”.
However, a new study by Will Page, chief economist of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, the not-for-profit royalty collection society, suggests that the niche market is not an untapped goldmine and that online sales success still relies on big hits. They found that, for the online singles market, 80 per cent of all revenue came from around 52,000 tracks. For albums, the figures were even more stark. Of the 1.23 million available, only 173,000 were ever bought, meaning 85 per cent did not sell a single copy all year.
[Click to continue reading Long Tail theory contradicted as study reveals 10m digital music tracks unsold – Times Online ]
Turns out the Long Tail [wikipedia entry] received so much press because reporters wanted the theory to be true, and because Chris Anderson made a plausible case for it. Scientific Method, hunh, what is it good for, absolutely nothing (when it comes to selling books). I’ll say it again…
Mr Page and Mr Bud believe, however, that their findings seriously undermine Mr Anderson’s thesis, which came with subtitles such as: How endless choice is creating unlimited demand and Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.
“I think people believed in a fat, fertile long tail because they wanted it to be true,” said Mr Bud. “The statistical theories used to justify that theory were intelligent and plausible. But they turned out to be wrong. The data tells a quite different story. For the first time, we know what the true demand for digital music looks like.”
Mr Page, who carried out the economic modelling for Radiohead’s In Rainbows album, which was released free on the internet1, said: “The relative size of the dormant ‘zero sellers’ tail was truly jaw-dropping. Rather than continue to believe the selective claims of ‘here’s another great example of the long tail at work’, we wanted to find out how longtail markets should be analysed, plotted and interpreted.”
- actually, pay as you wish. I paid $5 i think [↩]