The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Just finished reading "The Long Tail - How Endless Choice is Creating Unlimited Demand" by Chris Anderson. In summary, the long tail is about selling small volumes of a vast variety of items instead of large volumes of a small number of "hits". This possible when the cost of distribution to geographically distant customers is low and the cost of storage for stock is not a concern (eg, intellectual property in electronic format, JIT manufacture). Popular companies capitalising on the long tail include eBay, Amazon, Google Adwords and Lulu.

The book has a lot of interesting stories and statistics but tends to repeat itself often. The long tail idea is probably not new to most readers these days, and I think if you're familiar with Amazon, there's little that comes as a surprise. However, I did find an interesting section in the book about the tyranny of choice. Anderson suggests that choice is good, customers want choice, and choice is only a problem if you don't know what to choose to suit your taste. Hence, an important part of a long tail business is helping people find what they want (ie, filter out noise) in all the vast array of choices. He suggests using user reviews, rankings, sorting etc as means to help people find the "best" choice for them. I also hadn't come across Lulu before - looks worth checking out, a site for mini self-publishing.


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One response to “The Long Tail by Chris Anderson”

10 06 2008
Ryan Walker (08:15:19) :

The last part of your comment regarding "..helping people find what they want" is an important one. I have two examples that come to mind related to your post (hope they r useful):-

1. HP increased their sales of PDA devices by an order of magnitude by simply creating a comparison matrix of features across all their PDA models. Before the use of the comparison matrix it was too hard for customers to browse and compare the PDA models that were all on separate web pages. This lead to customers just not buying them, however the feature matrix solved this.

2. The world vision web site had a 30%* increase in online child sponsorships by introducing a button on their web site that randomly selected a child. Prior to the random selection button, users were over whelmed by the large selection of potential children to sponsor and instead left the web site without sponsoring any children as the selection was too emotional. The random selection button instantly removed this pressure.

* P.S. Sorry the above examples are anecdotal. They were told to me by others and I am going off memory. I had a quick look for link references but couldn’t find them. Sorry :)

P.P.S This podcast of Chris's about his new book Free might be also of interest to you.

http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail3328.html