Lee Gomes in his 7/26/06 Wall Street Journal Portals column questions the theory of Chris Anderson's best seller The Long Tail, that, if infinite shelf space is available on the web, the "tail" of niche products will add up to approach or equal the sales volume of hits. Music downloads/plays are often used as the example. Previously this blog had commented on the the Long Tail. Gomes bases his challenge on data indicating that the percentage of no-play songs, those songs not listened to during a month has increased from 2% to approximately 20%, that 10% of blogs generate 88% of subscriptions, or that 2.7% of Amazon titles generate 75% of revenue.
All of these statistics are not surprising but I think miss the point. I believe the Long Tail is most applicable to physical products whose niche nature, size, or complexity make it difficult for physical retailers, rep firms or even catalogs to take them on. Here the online research, direct sale from the manufacturer, via innumerable specialty web stores or to locate that one local physical store who may carry the product have created Long Tails in just about every industry. And for those larger firms testing new products, product platforms, and sub brands the web can provide low cost integrated marketing vehicles and store fronts to evaluate the mass potential.