Infinite Shelf Space–Endless Shelf Life

the-long-tail.jpgLadies and gentlemen…Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers!”  The collective “WHO?”–that came from the large Generation Y group watching the Super Bowl in our house–made me think about the power of the “Long Tail.”  To quote Ken Hoffman of, “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have never had a No. 1 record. Only three of their songs ever made the top 10.  It’s been almost 20 years since they’ve had a hit single.”  Has the “Long Tail” kept Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers commercially alive?

In “The Long Tail,” Chris Anderson states that 98% of inventory available online will sell at least once per quarter.  He says, “That mass of niches has always existed, but as the cost of reaching it falls–consumers finding niche products, and niche products finding consumers–it’s suddenly becoming a cultural and economic force to be reckoned with.”  “The invisible market has turned visible.”  He also says, “Because the goods are digital, they can be cloned and delivered as many times as needed, from zero to billions.”  Consequently, the tail of the demand curve has become endless–keeping niche products alive and available on demand.

A “Long Tail” occurs when what Anderson describes as, “one or more of three powerful forces coming into play.” 

  • Democratizing the tools of production (people have the ability to produce their own goods).
  • Cutting the costs of consumption by democratizing distribution (because of the Internet, people have access to distribution channels–Ebay, Lulu, etc.).
  • Connecting supply and demand (word-of-mouth recommendations, customer reviews, blogs, etc. serve as vehicles to bring customers to new and existing products).

Efficient and innovative companies continue to create trails to the tail.  In other words, utilizing “filters” (customer reviews, customer lists, links, metadata on buying patterns, etc.), companies tap into ways in which to lead niche buyers to products, based on what their peers like (“peers trust peers”)–and what they have liked in the past.  Products will gain exposure and will be desired.  By harnessing the power of the “Long Tail” and using ever-growing digital databases, companies like Amazon, Netflix and Rhapody attract customers, create community and establish a marketplace where typical bricks-and-mortar businesses cannot compete.  (Sales from products only available online make up 25% of Amazon’s business, 21% of Netflix’s and 40% of Rhapsody’s.)   “A best-seller and a never-seller are just two entries in a database; equal in the eyes of technology and the economics of storage.”  Many products now have infinite “shelf space”–because they take up none at all–and endless “shelf life”–because they can always be accessed.  Fueled by trusted peer recommendations, filters or even a fond memory, demand never completely dies–creating an enduring “Long Tail.” 


~ by eTechnorize on February 5, 2008.

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