July 26, 2006
Long Tail Imbroglio
Or maybe it's a full contretemps. Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal questions the data and the premise of the book.
It would be wonderful if the world as Mr. Anderson describes it were true: one where "healthy niche products" and even "outright misses" collectively could stand their ground with the culture's increasingly soulless "hits."
Chris Anderson defends himself on his blog. (The Anderson link is free, the WSJ link is paid).
I'll take it as a compliment that I now warrant a proper Wall Street Journal takedown for crimes of...well, I'm not quite sure what the crimes are. But Lee Gomes has tried mightily to find flaws with the Long Tail theory and deserves a response of some sort. I have no doubt that there are many parts of my analysis and data that could be improved. Unfortunately, Gomes, in his haste to find them, stumbles over statistics and more, and in the end simply makes a muddle of what might have been an interesting debate over the magnitude of the Long Tail effect.
As an impartial observer with an admitted emotional attachment to The Long Tail, I'll have to give it to Anderson on points.
Might he have over-enthusiastically extrapolated data into a trend? That's possible, although I think we have seen countless anecdotal examples of the long tail in action.
Gomes, in my opinion, disproves claims that Anderson did not make. Anderson, for one, does not predict that you're going to make it big with a niche selection on iTunes. But he does describe the changes that enable a small, unsigned player to offer and sell music -- and be found -- on iTunes.
That is a valid trend and Anderson has developed it for years, from his magazine article in Wired, through his blog, and the book. I counsel skepticism in everything, but would dismiss those who are overly dismissive of the long tail.