How the Internet has extended (or even resuscitated) the life of many niche products
The Longtail theory is an important aspect of economics; to understand it, we must be aware of consumers giving up their fixation with the hits at the head of the tail, in order to explore the niche products along the end of the tail.
Is the reason that the life of products can be to “eternity” and their cost reduced good enough?
The abundance of niche products means nothing if they fail to attract a substantial market. It’s easy to reveal the value and demand of products within the long tail, but first, the avenues of exploration should be made accessible. These avenues include ratings, rankings, and recommendations; which contribute a lot into drawing attention towards the end of the tail. It is when we see these “charts” that we are able to tell apart the hits from niche products.
The democratization of the tools of production such as the computer, digital camera, and software provided us with a platform for creativity. Due to an influx of creative material from enthusiasts, the end of the tail stretched. Another factor impacting the Longtail is that access to the niche end of the tail is now cheaper, which is a ripple effect of the democratization of the tools of production and the internet.
The internet became a catalyst for reducing the cost of access to niche products. This meant that thousands of niche creations, which otherwise would not be heard or seen by anyone other than their makers, were now accessible to anyone in the world for next to nothing. Before we knew it, the consumer had become the producer and, a collaborative effort between professionals and amateurs came to life.
Users now collaborate in the production of their goods
Unlimited access to tools of production made creative expression a game for everyone, and anyone could take a shot at the market share. Amateurs are a pivotal part of every market. It was an amateur astronomer who discovered the first Supernova since 1604. Amateur musicians also brought us punk rock. With no rules thwarting the creative process, there is no telling what will come out, that is the beauty of it.
This era of productivity means that you don’t need to be an authoritative source to share information. Wikipedia, for instance, is a self-repairing, easy-to-update encyclopedia which boasts millions of entries from professionals and amateurs. The downside to this is that this makes it a probabilistic source of information, which you would have to scrutinize before accepting.
How the long tail works
The head of the long tail is mostly reserved for professionals, but, that is not indicative of the fact that the market share at the bottom of the tail is not lucrative. Let’s consider Chris Anderson’s analysis of Lulu.com, a self-publishing site which is considered a niche. Most impressive about Lulu.com, is the fact that the top 5 books at the head of the tail sold between 5000 and 50,000 copies each, which is a good amount when taking into consideration that most books at the bottom of the tail sell 99 copies on average, along with the fact that 98 percent of the profits go to the author, unlike with mainstream publishers. It is important that we note that not everyone who publishes a book does it for money.
A big part of the long tail thrives on the reputation economy
This means that the absence of monetary profit doesn’t mean that the book is of no value. The reputation economy is what fuels most creation. People often use self-publishing as a means of developing their personal profile, immortalizing their thoughts, and sharing ideas with their peers.
In the future,
The market may be small along the end of the tail, but it is chipping at the mainstream market share, which is huge.
We will struggle to tell apart the works of amateurs from those of professionals. These are the precious spoils ungoverned craftsmanship and unlimited access to the tools of production. We, therefore, need to rework our operations to accommodate the chaos of overflow and make ourselves into eligible beneficiaries of niche abundance in a world that fetishizes hit culture.