The Long Tail by Chris Anderson


The Long Tail is one of those bestsellers that comes every few years and announces new trends and how the world has changed forever. Interestingly this book talks about niche markets. How niche markets are becoming more prominent with the advent of internet-based technologies enabling a virtual and infinite store space, coupled with the ever-lowering costs of production.

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

The book refers to the usual sales volume curve for all items in a given category, say books. The top 2-3% of bestsellers will form the biggest volumes of book sales. And then the sales start dipping for the rest of the books. The least-selling books form a long tail if you plot the data as a graph. Most of the physical world stores, because of limitations of the space that they have, tend to store only the most popular titles. This tends not only to support the sale of popular titles.

But it actually also contributes to the non-accessibility of non-popular titles. Eventually, the phenomenon leads to the fact that popular titles sell more. And the non-popular ones do not get a platform to sell. Hence remain non-popular or at times Niche.

Platform and Shelf Space

What the author is trying to say through this book is, that it’s not that there is no or little market for niche items. But they do not have a platform or shelf space for the same. If all the niche items are provided an equal shelf space, they also have a market. Which may not be as big as the mass items. At the same time, the market for a lot of niche products put together can be a huge market. And may not be worth ignoring.

Searching and Reaching

Next, he talks about the internet-based selling phenomenon. Which has provided virtually infinite storage space for a lot of items like books and music. In the virtual stores, all items have an equal shelf space with no prioritization. Next is the capability of searching and reaching the item that you need, which is again a limitation in real-world stores, where you have to go through aisles and aisles to locate things. There is a fair chance of you not locating what you want. In the internet space the search capabilities, strengthened by user reviews make the reach and choice of niche products easier.

The Long Tail: How Endless Choice is Creating Unlimited Demand by Chris Anderson

He also quotes data comparing the sales data of real and virtual stores. Where the percentage of niche item sales is much higher in the latter. He also gives interesting data on how the niche products are actually more profitable as they are not mass-marketed. And people who want to buy those products are actually willing to pay more.

Cost of production for Niche products

He also claims that the production of niche products is on the rise as the cost of production has gone down for a lot of IP-based items like books and music. Anyone can self-publish a book for a marginal cost. Anyone can create music and videos and distribute them through the internet at no cost. Interestingly he says all the music online has sold at least a few copies, there is hardly anything that has never been sold.

He has taken a lot of examples from Google, E-bay, Rhapsody, Amazon, and a few other internet-based marketplaces, which have become the key catalysts in production as well as the sale of niche items. If you plan to be in any such space for dealing with niche items, this is a good one-time read… Otherwise, you can easily skip this book. For me, I guess I read it at the right time.

Thanks, Sarang, for gifting this book to me.

Buy this book – The Long Tail: How Endless Choice is Creating Unlimited Demand by Chris Anderson at Amazon India.

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