On The Long Tail
I’ve been fascinated by Chris Anderson’s concept of the Long Tail and how it is relevant to magazines. Anderson, the editor of Wired, author of the newly-published book, "The Long Tail," and subject of this issue’s cover story, uses the theory to demonstrate the new economics of supply and demand in the world of digital content and digital retail. He mostly uses books and music as his examples. The basic premise is that demand for products extends far beyond the capacity of traditional distribution channels, and that blockbuster hits are not required in order to make money. In his original October 2004 Wired article on the subject, Anderson writes this: "Look at Rhapsody, a subscription-based streaming music service that currently offers more than 735,000 tracks. Chart Rhapsody’s monthly statistics and you get a demand curve that looks much like any record store’s, with huge appeal for the top tracks, tailing off quickly for less popular ones. But a really interesting thing happens once you dig below the top 40,000 tracks. Here, the Wal-Marts of the world go to zero;either they don’t carry any more CDs, or the few potential local takers for such fringy fare never find it or never even enter the store. The Rhapsody demand, however, keeps going. Not only is every one of Rhapsody’s top 100,000 tracks streamed at least once each month, the same is true for its top 200,000, top 300,000, and top 400,000. As fast as Rhapsody adds tracks to its library, those songs find an audience. This is the Long Tail." For magazines, the Long Tail speaks directly to the new world of search and blog traffic, and how to monetize it. Communities define themselves, and members hit your site not on the front page, but on topics relevant to them, from hundreds of different sources, all defined not by timeliness but by relevance. Your opportunity is to maximize this dynamic to generate traffic (more traffic equals more ad inventory and ad revenue) and extend roots much more deeply into your served market. Don’t underestimate the power of blog networks. With interlocking links, even relatively low-profile sites generate a ton of traffic. Folio: produced a recent seminar on e-publishing, and one of the speakers, Scott Karp, an executive at Atlantic Media and publisher of the Publishing 2.0 blog, demonstrated this. His outstanding blog (publishing2.com) has spikes that push it beyond the foliomag.com site at times. Humbling, yes, but a valuable lesson. That’s the impact of the Long Tail on magazines.