TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 June 2007
I did not get to this book until recently and regret that because I then found it to be one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in recent years. As calvinnme "Texan refugee" explains in an excellent review posted on Amazon's US Web site, the title refers to "the colloquial name for a long-known feature of statistical distributions that is also known as `heavy tails,' `power-law tails' or `Pareto tails.' In these distributions a high-frequency or high-amplitude population is followed by a low-frequency or low-amplitude population which gradually `tails off.' In many cases the infrequent or low-amplitude events--the long tail--can cumulatively outnumber or outweigh the initial portion of the graph, such that in aggregate they comprise the majority. In this book the author explains how due to changing technology it is now not only feasible but desirable in business to cater to the `long tail' of this curve."
Others have their own reasons for quite properly praising Chris Anderson's book. Here are a few of mine. First, when analyzing an especially complicated subject - what he characterizes as "a market of multitudes" - he expresses his insights with exceptional brevity and clarity. For example, consider this sequence: "Increasingly, the mass market is turning into a mass of niches...The new niche market is not replacing the traditional market of hits, just sharing the stage with it for the first time...Think of [falling distribution costs] as a dropping waterline or receding tide. As they fall, they reveal a new land that has been there all along, just underwater. These niches are a great uncharted expanse of products that were previously uneconomic to offer."
I also appreciate the meticulous care with which - throughout the narrative - he examines relationships between and among "the three forces of the Long Tail": democratizing the tools of production, cutting the costs of consumption by democratizing distribution, and connecting supply and demand "by introducing consumers to [new and newly available goods] in terms of new producers (Chapter 5), new markets (Chapter 6), and new tastemakers (Chapter 7). "Think of these three forces as representing a new set of opportunities in the emerging Long Tail marketplace."
As do many other authors of business books, Anderson also includes mini-case studies to illustrate his key points. In Chapter 13, he examines five examples (i.e. eBay, KitchenAid, LEGO, Salesforce.com, and Google) of the Long Tail wagging outside of media and entertainment. Anderson's mastery of concision is again evident in Chapter 14 when he reveals the "secret" to creating a "consumer paradise": make everything available and readily accessible, and, help people to find it with both speed and convenience. The three forces serve as the basis of nine "Rules" that, Anderson is convinced, should guide and inform the collection of a huge variety of goods and makes them available to find, typically in a single place (i.e. "the infinite aisle"). These "business aggregators, include Amazon, eBay, iTunes, iFilm, Google, Craigslist, Wikipedia, MySpace, and Bloglines.
Opinions vary as to what the "secret of success" in business will be in years to come. Credit Chris Anderson for a brilliant achievement as he explains why he believes the future of business is "selling less of more." Others advocate selling more of less (i.e. a limited selection of superior products) and for some companies, that model may be appropriate. At a time when change seems to be the only constant, I am reluctant to predict anything as I await developments. Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out Richard Ogle's Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas, Seeing What's Next: Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change co-authored by Clayton M. Christensen, Scott D. Anthony, and Erik A. Roth, Scott A. Shane's Finding Fertile Ground: Identifying Extraordinary Opportunities for New Ventures, Frans Johansson's Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation, Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant co-authored by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.