Here is another book I consider a classic. Hopefully you’ve already read it.
The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, by Chris Anderson (Hyperion, 2006) was written by the editor of Wired magazine. His new book (2009) Free is getting plenty of press and controversy. I have only scanned the new one – I am sure I will disagree with some points and agree with others – but I consider The Long Tail one of the most important books about marketing and customers to come down the pike in years.
The basic idea is that there is a huge diversity of interests, tastes, and demand out there. But before the internet you couldn’t really “mine” the tails of the normal distribution.
I know from experience that if you had 12AAA feet, if you wanted to find 1920s road atlases, if you wanted a nice piece of software to create Islamic geometric designs, you were out of luck at Macy’s and Sears and Kmart.
Maybe there were 20,000 people worldwide that needed those 12AAA’s, but they were spread all over the globe and no store could justify carrying the inventory. Or maybe just one tiny, unique store in New York City or London, if you were lucky.
All of a sudden, with the Internet, if you were selling 12AAA’s, you could get to all 20,000 – or at least enough of them to profitably offer the product online. A great table in the book shows that “’best-selling books” – the 420 titles that each sold over 100,000 copies in 2004 – sold a total of about 100 million copies. But the 67,000 titles that sold 1 to 5 thousand copies each – books often not found in bookstores – sold a total of 149 million copies!
When my friends and I created one of the first book superstores with BOOKSTOP in Austin in 1982, we were beginning to flow down the long tail. But with amazon, eBay, abebooks, and niche websites the world changed.
Books are just one example of the Long Tail. I believe that for many – maybe most – businesses, there are greater opportunities in being narrow than in being broad. More money in niches than in building “general stores,” general hospitals, “supermarkets of financial services,” or whatever is the equivalent in your industry.
In order to fully understand the enormous opportunities – and challenges – that result, read the full book. It’s well-written and not that long. The edition shown at the right is both updated and discounted – how can you beat that?