Explaining the “Long Tail”

Explaining the “Long Tail”

Ok, maybe that title is a little misleading! There are complete books written to explain this phenomena (if you are looking for good example, take a look at this one by Chris Anderson – the  man that coined the phrase in 2004).

But (for some reason) I was thinking the other day about my five favourite movies. For the record, they would be:

  • Princess Bride – Best on-going theme/line – “My name is Inigo Montoya,  you killed my father, prepare to die.”
  • Don Juan Demarco – An old Marlon Brando paired with a young Johnny Depp – need I say more!
  • Only You – Positano at night and Marisa Tomei in that gorgeous white outfit.
  • It Could Happen To You – Ignore the fact that Nicholas Cage is in the movie – I like the story.
  • Serendipity – Because John Cusack is the most underrated actor and he’s paired with Kate Beckinsale – enough said!
  • Bonus film (I don’t want you to think I am a total sap) is Monsters Inc. – not for the story, but for the amazing world they conceived!

If I was to shop for any of these films in a store (if a store even existed today), I wouldn’t be able to find many of these films – because they are not exactly on the top of most people’s viewing lists!

And that is what the Long Tail is all about.

In the past, when we relied entirely on bricks and mortar, the ability for a store to respond to my specific choices was limited entirely on the “commonality” of my decision-making process and my preferences. If I wanted popular or current – the store would most definitely have it. (In fact, Anderson writes that for Walmart – while they had 4,500 CD titles in stock, the top 20 lists accounted for 90% of their music revenue).

Without the Long Tail, retailers focused on the largest (read – most popular) part of the sales chain – forcing outliers and oddities into the longer end of the tail. In store, it was literally impossible to accommodate all of the Long Tail requests.

Without the limitations of square footage and storage, however, online retailers can feed the Long Tail. To put it another way, in the past, retailers focused on selling one item to one million people to stay afloat. In the Long Tail, online retailers can sell a million options one at a time to individual customers – adding variety and access to the retail process.

In my situation, I would doubt that I could find even two of my five favourite movies in the old stores, but I can guarantee I can find all five of these with a simple search online. And I can probably find both new and lightly used copies of these films as well.