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The Long Tail makes big waves

A few days ago, I wrote about The Wrong Tail, an analysis by Slate of Chris Anderson’s last book. Since then, there were hundreds of other comments about this book, including the own Slate’s long tail which confirmed Anderson’s views about the distribution of cultural contents. But, in It May Be a Long Time Before the Long Tail Is Wagging the Web, Lee Gomes, from The Wall Street Journal gave some strong arguments against the Long Tail. And of course, this started another controversy…

So let’s start with Julia Turner’s analysis of Slate’s readership on July 18, 2006. This online magazine is now 10 years old, and the 33,000 articles in their archives are freely available to everyone — including to search engines. And this is explains why the traffic at Slate follows a long tail scheme.

On that day, Slate got about 1.9 million hits, but Turner reduced this number to 659,378 page views after eliminating specific hits on the page. And here is what she discovered.

I figured out that 8,903 articles attracted at least one page view that day. The 13 most popular articles accounted for 50 percent of Slate’s traffic, and the top 100 articles accounted for 86 percent. But our least-popular stories got plenty of notice. Seventeen percent of our traffic was generated by pieces that got fewer than 1,000 hits, 8.7 percent was generated by pieces that got fewer than 100, and just under 3 percent was earned by pieces that had fewer than 10.

If you read Turner’s article, you’ll see a diagram showing “a nice-looking tail.”

But if the concept works fine for Slate and its large catalog of old indexed articles, it doesn’t seem work so well for other companies mentioned by Anderson in his book. Here are some excerpts from the article mentioned above from Lee Gomes.

Let’s start this discussion where Mr. Anderson starts his book, with his discovery of what he calls a paradigm-changing statistic. In the introduction, he tells how he learns from Ecast, a music-streaming company, that 98% of its catalog gets played at least once a quarter — much more than most would predict

But this “98 Percent Rule,” as Anderson named it, is far to be “universal,” as he notes in his book. Here is one Gomes’s comment about it.

Ecast told me that now, with a much bigger inventory than when Mr. Anderson spoke to them two years ago, the quarterly no-play rate has risen from 2% to 12%. March data for the 1.1 million songs of Rhapsody, another streamer, shows a 22% no-play rate; another 19% got just one or two plays.

And here are two other examples showing that the Long Tail phenomenon — or at least the “98 Percent Rule” are not always valid — to say the least.

Bloglines, the widely used blog-reading tool, lists 1.2 million blogs; real ones, not computer-generated “spam blogs.” The top 10% of feeds grab 88% of all subscriptions. And 35% have no current subscribers at all — there’s clearly no 98 Percent Rule in the blogosphere.

At Apple’s iTunes, one person who has seen the data — which Apple doesn’t disclose — said sales “closely track Billboard. It’s a hits business. The data tend to refute ‘The Long Tail.’”

Of course, this article, published by one of the most prestigious newspapers – and not by a blogger – was heavily commented. But as I don’t want to be too long, here is one from Ed Sim, at BeyondVC, “How long is the Long Tail?” Not only Sim delivered his own comments, but his post contains links to an Anderson’s reply and a long comment from Gomes.

After reading all this, do you think that the Long Tail concept is valid — even for contents distribution? Please tell me what you think.

Source: Julia Turner, Slate, July 24, 2006; Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2006; Ed Sim, BeyondVC, July 26, 2006

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One Response to “The Long Tail makes big waves”

  1. Todd And - The Power to Connect Says:

    […] The Long Tail Makes Big Waves (Roland Piquepaille/Blogs for Companies) […]

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