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Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The Long Tail: Define "Head" and "Tail"


Fascinating post by Chris Anderson responding to a Harvard Business Review analysis of sales patterns in the music and home-video industries to see if they support or undermine the Long Tail theory.

In short, depending on your definition of "head" and "tail", the data could be used either way. A somewhat obvious point to make about any stats, but nice to see the pro's slanging it out, and good ammunition for responding to use of "Long Tail" buzz words in pitches.

The slightly longer version is that HBR finds that the "blockbuster theory" holds even for e-commerce:
"A balanced picture emerges of the impact of online channels on market demand: Hit products remain dominant, even among consumers who venture deep into the tail. Hit products are also liked better than obscure products. It is a myth that obscure books, films, and songs are treasured. What consumers buy in internet channels is much the same as what they have always bought."
Hence, even online businesses should focus their resources on promoting hit products rather than obscure products.

However, Chris Anderson points out that:
""Head" is the selection available in the largest bricks-and-mortar retailer in the market (that would be Wal-Mart in this case). "Tail" is everything else, most of which is only available online, where there is unlimited shelf space."
Using that definition, the data supports more "tail heavy" consumer demand on the sites analysed.

View or join the ongoing debate!
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