Booknotes on The Long Tail

I’ve been reading “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson, a fascinating look at how the Internet is changing the world. Before the Internet, products were confined by constraints of the physical world that created scarcity economics, a world where only the big hits were accessible. But now an abundance of products can be offered digitally at low expense, providing a huge amount of choice that leads to small but still productive sales to niche markets. We’ve seen this happen with Amazon.com, the online bookseller, and Netflix, which delivers movies to your home. No longer bound by the cost and constraint of a building or a geographic location, they can offer far greater choice, and people buy some of all of it. The amount of choice could be overwhelming, except they offer information that helps consumers make decisions.

Yet they still deal with physical products. Music is the area that has really been changing, as it can exist in digital form. Same thing with podcasts, which are simply audio files, and video podcasts which include video, that you can download. (Booked.tv has a helpful explanation of the differences.) Among other things, I’ve been exploring the possiblities of podcasts by listening to presentations by Tony Robbins at TED Talks, and a podcast about podcasting at Grasshopper New Media (I thought the jokes were great, Chris!) Lifehack.org has a post that says David Allen will be presenting Best Kept Secrets for Personal and Team Productivity, on Tuesday, October 10, 2006 1:00-2:00 PM EDT. It’s pretty exciting to have free access (at least in some areas) to many excellent online learning options that are available to you at your convenience, and the only travel involved is the trip from your kitchen for coffee to your desk.

With a personal computer and minimal equipment, anyone can make a book, video, or audio file. Many choose to do so, and some real talent shows up. In the introduction to the book, the following statistics made me sit up and take notice: most of the fifty best-selling albums of all time were recorded in the seventies and eighties, and none of them in the past five years. Hollywood Box-office revenue was down by more than 6% in 2005, despite a growing population. The top-rated TV shows are also from the seventies and eighties, as TV viewers scatter to cable or satellite channels, or spend their time on the Internet instead. TV produces more content than any other media industry, but it is limited by a 24/7 window and the number of available channels. Only a tiny fraction of this is available to you, even if you record some of it.

With social bookmarking tools like del.ic.ious.com, it’s possible for anyone to organize sites using the tags they choose with an unlimited amount of words. It’s far different in the physical world where there is only one predetermined space to place an item. In a world of abundance, with the tools to find what we are looking for, the options are many and time is an ever more precious commodity.

Here’s the original article from October 2004 in Wired Magazine.

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