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Debunking the “long tail”

It’s not an attractive thing,  I-told-you-so-ism. And the joy of being proved right by an academic study (“and it took $100,000 to prove X Y or Z, when anyone with an ounce of common sense could have told you!”) is usually dimmed by thinking about the good things one could have done with a similar amount of money.  But I am relishing the reports about how the “long tail” idea so eloquently promoted by Chris Anderson of Wired magazine is being shown up for the fantasy it is. It never made sense, any more than the crazy stock market or the price of houses. No limits, endless wealth, just keep believing.

The question people didn’t ask when an author like Anderson came out with a new pronouncement about how we’re all going to make scads of money in the new economy was simple: “Who benefits?” The author benefits immediately, with book sales and substantial speaking fees. In Anderson’s case, he secured Wired magazine, too. It was great because it was explicitly not a get-rich-quick scheme but a get-rich-pretty-fast scheme. A wonderful package. I spoke just after Anderson at Digital Now last year and felt a bit out of step, as a realist, telling people they’d better make sure there was a demand for online community, or something in existence, before going out and investing in what a couple participants described as a place you could hear the crickets chirping.

I guess that’s what you can hear in the long tail these days. Here’s a bundling of comments about the death of the long tail, at the New York Times.

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