23 December 2008

The Long Tail Is Officially Dead

Thanks to Professor Joe for this link. I will admit that I am late to this part of the debate. I also have to say I have never been a big fan of the Long Tail idea. It goes against the grain in my head that says:

few big customers = good
small, lots of customers = difficult and bad.

Oh yes and I am a big believer in the Pareto 80/20 rule

So it seems that that on November 17th 2008 Anderson (the editor of Wired Magazine and writer of the now infamous book on the subject) finally gave up the ghost with his end comment in an article in the Wired Blog that appeared that day:

"I'll end by conceding a point: It's hard to make money in the Tail."

At which point he got skewered royally around the web for the volte face. For example:

So the idea has finally fallen prey to reality. Hey it was nice while it lasted.

For more from Professor Joe go to his blog:


You might also want to go and look at a rather stimulating debate going on here:


There are a lot of people out there making money from trying to persuade people that the Long Tail is a good idea and those who are actually trying to make money out of the Long Tail itself. Just Google "Travel+Long Tail" and you should get between 650-700 hits. You will see what I mean. Both categories need to have a serious re-think.

As Eric Schmidt of Google put it (and this is probably what really sparked the debate):

"And just to be clear, it’s a 90/10 model. We love the long tail, but we make most of our money in the head, just because of the math of the powerlaw."

He does however hold out some hope (and if nothing else it is an OK self serving statement):

"But you need both. You need the head and the tail to make the model work."

So another myth debunked, a dream shattered, another dose of hard reality.

These are sobering times



Anonymous said...

Appreciate the shout out, Professor!

I don't necessarily agree that the long tail is totally dead but always had a hard time buying into the idea that this is where the big money can be made.

The web has enabled a long tail to be formed in the first place by allowing small players a presence - my modest blog is a case in point - where, pre-web could I have possibly had a platform to express opinions? Certainly not in the print trade press.....!

In travel, it has allowed small suppliers a presence but you need to be found to make a sale and that happens if you can move up the tail towards the head, usually by being aggregated.

Professor Sabena said...

Travel has always been an interesting category. The pyramid is flat in most categories - a few very big players and then loads of people in the small to medium category.

I agree that there IS a long tail but as Anderson put it - making money ain't easy. How many travel agents in the SME actually made money in the pre-Internet world? How many companies make money today out of agency operations rather than say their GDS incentive fees?

But this is one of the reasons we love this business. It drives innovation in some weird and wonderful ways. I think we will still see people showing up with creative ideas next year. Bless 'em. It keeps me gainfully employed!