Long Tail chat

September 20, 2006


I may not be in Dallas this week – but I did just watch Long Tail author Chris Anderson give a talk at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. 

Most of the talk was Chris covering familiar ground for me (I read the original Wired article and kept up with his blog and articles over the years) but he managed to articulate a concept that I’ve been finding difficulty articulating myself.  The culture created by the media landscape is increasingly desynchronized. 

In the past – chances were good most of us watched the same TV show last night – read the same newspaper this morning –  listened to the same radio station on the ride in to work and found many people around the water cooler with which we could have superficial conversations about all these things we “shared”.  The culture was synchronized around HUGE hit shows, songs and news sources.

These HUGE hits were not an accurate representation of the tastes of the people  – but rather a consequence of the limits the delivery systems imposed on the market.  When there were 3 shows to watch – most of the country was watching 3 shows.  In other words – the hits of the past and the shared culture around them were an anomoly.

Bring in the explosion of choices today- and while many of the most popular outlets are still “most popular” (big 3 networks for example) far fewer people are synchronized around them.  A trip to the water cooler no longer means discussing the show everyone watched last night.  They’re all watching different stuff now – and even then many are probably time shifting it from it’s original airing. 

What’s the point?  Today’s “hits” are hits among smaller groups of people.  And this is going to continue. 

There will always be anomolies – but the overall trend is moving towards preference for OTHER to equal and eclipse the HITS.     


Ramsey gets Godin on Radio

August 23, 2006

Mark Ramsey has one of my favorite blogs Hear 2.0– let alone “radio blogs” and today is an excellent example why –  he interviews Seth Godin about radio.

Solid Mark.

Long Tail as our Farm League

July 26, 2006

Yes – it’s a day of Long Tail news – what can I say – the idea has legs AND from it spawn lots of other great observations and ideas.

The latest of which come from tech geek Uber blogger Robert Scoble (the guy who LITERALLY wrote the book on corporate blogging)

In THIS post Robert ponders the Long Tail as a staircase for talent:

I’ve been listening to a LOT of “anyone media” and I can tell you that the Long Tail will NOT roar here. Most video blogs and podcasts just aren’t high enough quality to get a large audience. But, don’t write them off cause of that. The Long Tail does have a huge positive aspect:

The Long Tail is a stair system to the head!

Someone who does have talent can use it to walk up the curve from where only family and friends will watch all the way up to main stream media where millions are listening.

Seeing as how there’s almost ZERO systematic development of young new talent in radio anymore, the “anyone media-sphere” is probably going to be the place to go to find new talent.

Here’s the thing though. It’s unlikely you’ll find ready made talent in the “anyone-sphere”. Talent has to be nurtured and developed. Radio in general isn’t about that. Radio is about – “where else is this working / what other stations are airing it / what’s it’s ratings record.”

We currently have no system in place to look into the “anyone-sphere” – pick out POTENTIAL talent and work them into the next generation of Radio Stars.

Think about that. For an industry as OLD as radio NOT to have in place a tried and true systematic talent development scheme boarders on . . . .

You tell me?

Truthiness of The Long Tail

July 26, 2006

Wall Street Journal online puts some stats on The Long Tail and claims it’s mostly bunk.

Just a taste:

By Mr. Anderson’s calculation, 25% of Amazon’s sales are from its tail, as they involve books you can’t find at a traditional retailer. But using another analysis of those numbers — an analysis that Mr. Anderson argues isn’t meaningful — you can show that 2.7% of Amazon’s titles produce a whopping 75% of its revenues. Not quite as impressive.

Another theme of the book is that “hits are starting to rule less.” But when I looked online, I was surprised to see what seemed like the opposite. Ecast says 10% of its songs account for roughly 90% of its streams; monthly data from Rhapsody showed the top 10% songs getting 86% of streams.

It’s entirely possible the Long Tail is the beneficiary of a degree of Truthiness (the desire for something to be true independent of it’s objective truth-fullness).

One interesting thing about the Long Tail is how it has all the components any good story needs to spread.

  • It’s an original idea that captures people’s imagination.
  • It’s message speaks to a person with a certain worldview (internet is changing everything)
  • It’s fairly easy to understand, repeat and tell others.
  • The teller sounds smart by telling others about it and therefore more likely to spread it around.

Perhaps the biggest lesson about the Long Tail is not in the theory itself – rather that it’s a living example of Seth Godin‘s point in “All Marketers Are Liars” – it’s the story stupid.

UPDATE:  Long Tail Author Chris Anderson replies to the WSJ point by point on the Long Tail blog here

A taste:

As I wrote in this post, trying to define “head” and “tail” in percentage terms is meaningless in a market with unlimited inventory, because the denominator can grow infinitely large. Let me give you an example of why this doesn’t work:

Let’s say you have 1,000 items and the top 100 (10%) account for 50% of the sales. Then you add another 99,000 items to the catalog, and the sales of that top 100 fall to just 25% of the total, while it takes another 900 items to make up the next 25%.  I would say that demand has shifted down the tail, because those top 100 items have dropped from half the market to just a quarter of it and the rest of the demand is spread over more items.

But by Gomes’ math, we’ve gone from a market where 10% of products make 50% of the revenues to one where 1% of the products make 50% of the revenues–in other words, it’s become more hit-centric. I think this is simply a misunderstanding of basic statistics, and I’m disappointed that Gomes, despite many emails from me and at least one economist to him on this point, chose to simply say that I don’t agree with that approach (but not why).

And the final lesson is this – no longer is the critic OR the market the final voice.  The internet enables dialog – conversation.  And everyone can participate.

Old to New may not have a Tipping Point

July 25, 2006

So says Robert Paterson (consultant who is responsible for helping NPR re-create it’s entire organization that I blogged about here)

In his latest entry Robert says:

Until very recently, I thought that the rules of the adoption curve or the Tipping Point would apply and that eventually everyone would “get it.”

I no longer believe this to be true.

I see no signs of any airline other than AMR going the Southwest Culture route. I see no signs of the US or Israeli military matching their asynchronous opponents. I see no signs of the Commercial media other than Murdoch making a shift to true participation.

In fact I see all the signs of the establishment of Inquisitions and the choice to fail rather than to change.

This is really the way I feel when I read or hear people almost blindly defending our old methods – or using any out of context “research” or “study” to telegraph to the general radio community “everything’s ok the way it is – go back to scheduling your 10 song sets“.
Robert continues:

I think that the context that fits best for me is that of the religious wars of the 17th century. Is not Fundementalism a response to the modern commercial world? What compromise do we see there?

So this is why I see the choice so starkly. If you stay with the old, you will inevitably be destroyed by those that use these new rules.

These new rules have emerged and are now clear. So you get it or you don’t. For those that get it, you can now compete on the basis of culture and not money. You have the clear advantage.”


I’m not one to see things so starkly – truth is often vantage point specific.

I also think those that don’t currently “get it” – while at a disadvantage, when faced with extinction will change their tune and find enlightenment.

Sometimes we just need to get our asses kicked before we start self-defense training.  Yes I’m aware that’s often too late.  And that is human nature.
And while not without Fundamentalist proclivities – Business is all about the cash.  As long as there’s money in a system to be extracted – business will extract it until it’s empty and then move on to “discover” the next thing.

Yes I’m aware that’s also very often – too late.  Again, human nature.

The current system is at an . . . uh . . . what’s the word . . . . PRECIPICE. ,-)

The OLD ways are still throwing off WAAAY too much cash for most people responsible for collecting all the money to even THINK about changing a thing.

But – as Robert points out – new ways are emerging that are changing the old systems – and in many cased killing them off.  Like it or not there’s no stopping it.

I admit I’d feel more comfortable if I thought the radio industry as a whole will suddenly “get it”.  I know there’s lots of ground troops in radio that “get it” – so the question is really put to the commanders.

More Long Tail re:movies

July 9, 2006

From the prestigious New York Post ,-) – an article which puts a few digits into the “Rise and Fall of the Hit” conversation HERE & HERE as it pertains to movies.
Some quotes:

Only eight films this year have grossed more than $100 million, the traditional barometer for a breakout hit, and industry insiders believe the rest of this year’s slate doesn’t have the muscle to match the 19 films that topped that figure in 2005, even though that was the lowest total to reach $100 million since 1998.


The $100 million blockbuster benchmark came about during the 1980s. For a film to gross $100 million in 1980, it had to sell 37 million tickets at the average price of $2.69. At today’s average price of $6.41, selling 37 million tickets amounts to $238 million.


Given that, BoxOfficeMojo. com’s Brandon Gray said $200 million is a more accurate threshold for blockbuster status. And by that measure, 2006 is shaping up to be the worst year for blockbusters in a half-decade.

this too . . .

So far, only two films have grossed $200 million or more this year. “Superman Returns” and “Pirates” will likely get to that mark as well, for a total of four by the end of July. Since 2002, no year saw fewer than six movies reach the $200 million plateau.

I don’t want to get too hung up on the movie business because it’s not totally analogous to radio – but we both share the same NEED for hits to keep our businesses prosperous.

The Long Tail observation regarding the decline of the size and influence of the hits as time marches on makes this a conversation in which we need to keep participating.

Forests, Trees and Long Tails indeed

July 9, 2006

One of the great things about the Long Tail observation is how much dust it kicks up. I love it. At heart it questions what’s in store for the future of mass entertainment. If radio can get past letting it put on us the defensive I think there’s great conversations to be had around it.

Over at Hear 2.0 – Mark Ramsey weighs in on the Wired Mag article “The Rise and Fall of the Hit” which I originally wrote about here.

Mark takes issue with some of the specific examples in the article.

Overall I don’t think Mark is wrong. But just as he wonders if Chris is “seeing Long Tails behind everything” – I wonder if Mark is glossing over some of what Chris’ ideas might mean for radio – even if Chris’ examples about radio are flawed.

Mark says –

“But wait…just because 60% of TV’s were tuned to Gunsmoke in 1960 and 18% to American Idol in 2006, does that mean the hits are “falling”? Or does it rather mean that the definition of a hit is changing?

I think the definition of a HIT is the same as always – HIT= MOST POPULAR.

What’s changing over time is fewer people are behind whatever is “MOST POPULAR”

Moving forward, the HITS (in general ) just wont command the kind of mass attention they used to. Does this mean their power and influence over culture diminishes? Or does it mean their power remains relative to the non HITS?

Mark seems to imply the later is true. I’m not convinced.

How far down the curve would this idea hold true? If 18% of the audience today is still as good as 60% 30 years ago – what about 8% of the audience 10 years from now?

Is that still going to be as powerful? Either way I don’t thing we’re talking about growth – but treading water.

Thats what the Long Tail throws into chaos – the very model of MASS – the 1 stop shop that the world’s greatest brands (P&G) were built on – the TV INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX Seth Godin talks about – it’s power is diminishing.

There was a time when the #1 radio station in any given city enjoyed double-digit audience shares.

Aren’t shares at MOST #1 stations these days down into single digits?
Isn’t this trend expected to continue?

I don’t know anyone in radio that can say that today’s #1 stations have the same power, influence and reach into the culture they did “back in the day” when they had XX shares.

Since broadcast radio is forced by the sheer economics of the medium to be HIT machines – what does the future of radio look like?

Mark points out that The Pirate movie is a HITthe biggest single day sales record.

Abstracted, it indicates all is well! Wag that indeed!

But placed back into context of several YEARS of diminishing returns for the block-buster movie business doesn’t reverse the trend – they’re still at a NET LOSS on a slew of big budget BOMBS and will end the year (at best) up only slighty over a pathetic last year. Clearly the trend for the block-buster movies business has been moving in the opposite direction – Johnny Depp notwithstanding.

I also don’t think anything in the Long Tail precludes monster hits from EVER happening.

The Long Tail isn’t so much about the DEATH of HITS – but about their marginalization within the larger totality – about the rise of OTHER.

But let’s get it back to radio –

Since broadcast radio is forced by the sheer economics of the medium to be HIT machines – what does the future of radio look like?