Why the Long Tail Exists

A Decreasing Rank on Bricks and Mortar Demand


Wired magazine editor, Chris Anderson, was one of the first to notice this trend and his book The Long Tail is a must read for an in-depth understanding of the topic. It originated out of this Wired article back in 2004.

In the book, Anderson identifies three fundamental forces for why the Long Tail exists (p. 54-58):

  1. Democratize production – The tools to produce content have become easier and easier to use and thanks to Moore’s Law much more affordable. As we saw with the Social Technographics profiles last chapter, younger demographics are much more likely to be Creators. Which means they can publish blog content, make music, cut videos, and upload online for next to nothing. This reason is why the tail get very long.
  2. Democratize Distribution – The web removes geography as a constraint. So, we no longer need a physical store location which drives down cost. We can instead set up a store inside Amazon or eBay to sell our goods and have access to a market around the world. The economics of cheap distribution means its more affordable to reach more people and thus more niches pop up. This reason is why the tail gets fatter.
  3. Connect Supply and Demand – Google connects us to these new goods and content and in turn drives demand farther down the Tail. iTunes would be another example for music. Consumers talk amongst themselves via reviews and forums and discover new things. We see that all this diversity causes a growing fracturing over time, as ever more targeted niches pop up. This demand only increases and flattens the curve, shifting its center of gravity to the right.

What This Means for Digital Marketing

For the digital marketer, it means that the opportunity to connect and draw users into your brand ecosystem is in the Long Tail. It is now cheaper than ever to produce content and have it available for free. Which means, chances are there is an audience that would be interested in consuming it (the Spectators that make up 75% of online adults in the U.S.). When all these potential customers are aggregated together, it can make up a sizable market. In fact, it can easily dwarf the big “hits” on the front of the curve when the distribution channel of the web is fully tapped.