I just read Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail.  I can save you about 250 pages and $15.95 by explaining the main point: the Web removes the constraints of physical stores and narrow distribution channels (like movie theaters and CDs).  Sales and production don’t need to be tied any longer to a small number of hits.  There’s money to be made in the ‘long tail’ of the demand curve.  45% of the music sales of Rhapsody come from tracks not available in the largest physical stores.

Where the product is virtual, like music, sellers in effect have no storage and distribution costs, and can therefore offer everything.  Industries based on creating hits will just have to adapt.  And as eBay shows, physical products can approach this ideal surprisingly closely. 

There’s some exciting aspects to this… I’m fascinated by the democratization of production, for instance.  Conlanging, for instance, is nearly irrelevant to the publishing industry.  (Klingon was a freak hit, but it’s 23 years old now and no one’s done as well since.)  But I think there’s a market there, albeit tiny.  Traditional publishing didn’t serve it, but print-on-demand sell-via-Amazon publishing can.

So Anderson’s idea is interesting; but what do you do with it?  If you’re a minor musician or writer, you produce things, maybe with a slightly larger possibility of minor success– but you knew that already.   But for business people, the problem would seem to be that the obvious applications are already taken.  You’re not going to start a new iTunes, Amazon, or eBay. 

One side effect that will probably be a big battleground: copyright and trademark protection.  The big media companies effectively want permanent copyrights– Disney never wants Mickey Mouse cartoons in the public domain.  For Long Tail producers the benefits run the other way: e.g. a prolific YouTuber would like to be able to adapt other people’s videos, and doesn’t make money anyway so isn’t losing sales through piracy.  I’d expect the legal balance to swing more toward the interests of the aggregators rather than the hit-makers.  (Useful comparison: Viacom, which includes Paramount and Dreamworks, has revenues of $13 billion.  Google, which includes YouTube, has revenues of $22 billion.)

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