The Wrong Tale: A Checklist for Long-Tail Implementations

futurelab default header

by: Guy Kawasaki 

1. Make everything available.
2. Help me find it.
Chris Anderson, The Long Tail

I love authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Chris Anderson. They’re writer’s writers: digging through mounds of research, conducting interviews with famous people, crafting their text, and then publishing tomes with cool titles like The Tipping Point and The Long Tail. And they do this while holding down day jobs at pubs like the New Yorker and Wired.

Before I go any further, let me tell you that I highly recommend Chris’s current book, The Long Tail. My three reasons for this recommendation are:

  • First, it provides a fresh perspective that will help you understand success stories like Amazon, Google, Lego, RealNetworks, Netflix, and iTunes.

  • Second, it provides a framework that will help you more fully grasp the Dilbertian cluelessness of some companies in businesses like books, music, and movies.

  • Third, it may even help you create new companies and businesses that change the world. It’s one of those rare books like Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm where you think to yourself, “This can help kick butt.”

Essentially the book explains how the market for lots of items that sell a few units is often as large as the market for a few items that sell a lot of units. Furthermore, the profitably of selling a few units of a lot of items may exceed the profitability of selling a lot of units of a few items. All this is possible because the Internet and other modern technologies have driven down the costs of production and distribution.

I love this “democratization of commerce” stuff. Other people will love the book too, so for quite a while you’ll find lots of positive stuff about Chris and his book. Just click here to see what I mean. From an author's perspective, there is no such thing as too much praise, but I'd like to address a different orientation: the tactical requirements of implementing a long-tail business.

“A very, very big number (the products in the Tail) multiplied by a relatively small number (the sales of each) is still equal to a very, very big number. And, again, that very, very big number is only getting bigger.”

The Long Tail is going to catalyze as many new businesses and new business units, God help us, as “Web 2.0” and “social networking.” The pitches for these businesses will go like this:

  1. Big companies are only serving 50% of the market.

  2. They’ll never serve the other 50% because they are too big, dumb, rich, and lazy. (Chris Anderson is going to make a shiitake load of money speaking to these big companies, though.)

  3. 50% of the market is such a big number that all we need to do is get 1% market share.

This line of reasoning is going to work for a while; it may even accelerate if an established company buys a long-tail company for $500 million or so (MyTail?). But it’s one thing to write about, or read about, a successful company after-the-fact and analyze how it achieved success. It’s another to build that successful company from scratch. Everyone knows that the innovator’s dilemma is to find a tipping point in order to cross the chasm. The question is not “why?” but “how?”.

Original Post: