The False Hope of the Long Tail

9/7/07 - Vail, Colorado – While attending the Technology Leadership Forum sponsored by Pacific Crest, I had the opportunity to hear yesterday afternoon’s keynote presentation by Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine as well as the author of the very successful book The Long Tail. Most of Chris’ presentation was sort of a rehash of the book, but he did touch on his passion for global photographic mapping and briefly discussed his upcoming new book, entitled Free, indicating that he hoped most of its distribution would, in fact, be just that. Free.

When I read The Long Tail several months ago, it all made sense to me. But after hearing Chris speak (and, in particular, how he answered certain questions from the audience), I’m starting to see that while technological advances are lengthening the tail of almost everything we buy and experience and thus making it a terrific time to be a consumer of product, the dynamic of the Long Tail really sets up false hope for aspiring producers of product. To the point, while it is now so much easier to get your product out there in the market place, and that the tremendous increase of choices now diminishes the ‘highs’ of the blockbusters and spreads the wealth of purchases a further bit downstream, in reality, it really doesn’t change things for the aspirers. In the music world, as almost any other business enterprise, much of what we define as success is the same today as it was pre-Internet. Arguably, today’s and Youtube and iTunes makes it slightly easier for cream to rise to the top. Or does it?

One of the people in the audience challenged the current state of unimaginable choice on the Internet, and the preponderance of crap, and suggested that people are already starting to reject it and that the pendulum was swinging back to previous/older/more traditional standards. After Chris repeatedly took a shot at Barry Diller who one time said that “people with talent won’t be displaced by the 18 million people” who put their shit on YouTube or MySpace or wherever (Chris suggested that Diller was old-school, myopic and just didn’t get it), the questioner said something like this: “Hey, I’m getting sick of the crap on CitySeach, I’m going back to Zagat; isn’t there the beginnings of a backlash?”

Chris Anderson wasn’t buying any of it. The Kool-Aid has been imbibed.

Anyway, as critical as Chris is of the “insanity” of interrupted media (aka TV commercials), I would like to suggest that the wasted time of vetting through all the crap on user-generated content sites can also be insane. Wasted time is wasted time. There is tremendous opportunity on the Internet to raise the bar and making ‘viewing’ much more satisfying to the individual.

My ending thought on this: just because you are a producer of product and you’re part of the Long Tail, BFD. The revenue generated by the aggregate of the tail for a particular product may be huge, but each individual piece of that tail doesn’t pay the rent. And thus, the false hope of The Long Tail.