ADVANCE and the ‘Long Tail’ revisited

longtailWelcome to the new ADVANCE format. We are constantly striving to make our emerging media content easier to use, and optimizing for content portability. We hope the re-design of our newsletter will contribute to this (let us know what you think).

Our team is working to create a virtual space that is as exciting as our state-of-the-art, physical space in Los Angeles. From daily blogs and monthly newsletters, to expert P.O.V.s and white papers, we provide in-depth marketing insight and emerging media know-how to leverage in your business. One topic that got us talking and the blogs wagging this month is a new study refuting Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” theory, which captured the online world’s hopes for the niche market. Here’s what two members of our team have to say about the study:

“The biggest problem with Chris Anderson’s Long Tail theory is its proponents violated its most basic tenet—that is, they made it bigger than it really is.

Anita Elberse of Harvard, who ran the deep statistics apparently invalidating the theory, did a fantastic and overdue job; Anderson himself congratulates her. But what both of them are still missing is that nobody ever really thought some tech whiz in the Ukraine would ever unseat CNET, or that even one of the would-be bands looping their demo tracks on MySpace could possibly book a concert at Madison Square Garden. Hits will always be hits, and consumer psychology is rooted in very, very old behavioral patterns—which the Web reflects rather than changes (although the rise of the “1-star review” on Amazon has actually changed the way we buy things in fundamental ways).

That being said, are there not little niche e-tailers out there grossing $100K and making a nice little living for themselves? Are there not bloggers with 50,000 uniques per month, getting bundled into Google AdWord buys purchased through big syndicators like Federated Media? This is the Long Tail itself in action, working just fine as far as these folks are concerned. Think of it more as that little grocery store on a New York street corner: No, it’s not going to pull in the rollers from 5th Ave.; but those 500+ apartment-dwellers in that 4-block radius would sorely miss it if it went away… In this sense, the Long Tail has always been around; it just took a “hit” book to call it out.”

–Michael Ball, Media Lab Account Lead

“I think the study misses the point.The changes coming are less about personal motivation and more about social niche. The Internet, specifically the Web 2.0 aspect, has largely changed people’s functional distance. People who have niche interests are able to find others with the same interests despite geographical distance – currently the only real barrier is language, and perhaps to an extent, time zones.

As those social groups change, so too will content consumption change as far as niche content. Instead of looking at what movies or music they purchased, the study should have looked at what YouTube videos they watched. There’s always going to be a demand for water cooler content — general enough that everyone watches it. Additionally, because of the cost of production for TV and film at least, blockbusters aren’t going to be hedged out by indies anytime soon. But the change is more in the day to day stuff – where users get their news and information. As the media landscape converges, I think we’ll start to see an increase in niche purchased content. But currently, I don’t know that there is enough quality niche content produced in order to make for a balanced study — it’s easy to determine the outcome between giving a rabbit a choice of a carrot or a steak. But that doesn’t mean that should the same rabbit face a decision between a carrot and lettuce, that he will still choose the carrot.”

-Josh Lovison, Media Lab Gaming Expert

If you have thoughts on the Long Tail theory, or any other emerging media matter, we hope you’ll share your comments with us. As the Lab’s new Senior Content Manager—I’m eager to dialogue on all things content-related. I’ll also be writing about editorial strategy and how businesses and brands can more effectively communicate their message in the emerging media market.

And one more thing, as the Internet is opening up, so are we. We’re bringing our newsletter one click away from digging into our blog and virtual world. We hope you enjoy the newsletter and look forward to hearing from you.