Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Long Tail Study Questioned

The Long Tail theory, is basically that the internet has made holding inventory less costly, so instead of having a couple of top brands, you can make more money catering to a large number of niche buyers. The example is iTunes, where much of their sales is in small bands. Narrowly-targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream ones, so it's the long tail that we should care about.

Anita Elberse, a marketing professor at Harvard's business school, has found this isn't true, that brands are just as important online as anywhere else (Long Tail author Chris Anderson has a response here).. There's a neat WSJ article on this, and the author notes:
Some of the reasons for the popularity of the Long Tail were as interesting as the idea itself. For one, it flattered its readers, many of whom were in the tech industry, by suggesting (yet again) that the Internet was changing everything. What's more, since many in the tech elite have a contemptuous view of traditional cultural gatekeepers like record labels and movie studios, they were predisposed to appreciate anything that predicted an erosion of those institutions' cultural power.

Ah, the old 'flatter the audience trick'. Appeal to their vanity by showing, empirically, they are The Vanguard, and they will tell their colleagues, in all sincerity, 'this guy is a genius', because he is saying what they are doing is important.

Many successful books are filled with disingenuous flattery disguised as thoughtful analysis. I was reading an awful business book, and it was blurbed by famous Nobel Prize Winner X. X remarked on what a beautiful and important book was in these covers, even though it was basically a taxonomy of ideas from the eighties, with tables of data from the past 10 years. Coincidentally, there was a 2-page, irrelevant, aside about the brilliance of X's work stuffed within the book. I wonder how many book blurbers are in tit-for-tat mode (either for gratuitous veneration within the book, or as payment for future blurbs from this publisher)?

The secret is in flattering your audience without appearing to do so, a skill to be sure.

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