Book Review: The Longer Long Tail

downloadI’ve just finished reading a great book called the The Longer Long Tail by Chris Anderson.

It’s one of those books I’ve been wanting to read for ages.

Anyone interested in the impact the internet is having on our society whether it’s media, popular culture, business and economics should read this book.

Anderson highlights how mass culture is fragmenting and niche specialist markets are growing. The internet is accelerating this growth of niche culture as the internet allows us almost unlimited choice in what we can consume. There’s now an abundance of choice available to all of us.

Anderson argues that mass culture focuses on ‘the hits’. The biggest sellers, that appeal to the widest audiences. Think of the big Hollywood blockbuster, the most popular TV shows, the biggest selling singers, like Adele or Rihanna.

What about those products or services that don’t sell millions or appeal to the masses? What Anderson calls the misses.

People are still and have always bought the misses – the difference is that the internet is allowing us to consume this market in more numbers.

The mass market is decreasing and we now have a fragmented and diverse market of mass and niche.

To understand the long tail in more detail have a look the slideshow below.

The head of the tail on the left is the mass market – it’s where we find mainstream products and markets. We can call these ‘the hits’ the mainstream.

But when you focus on the tail on the right in yellow, you start to realise how big it is – bigger than the head.

The market for the niche products, what you might call the alternative, the underground, the leftfield is huge. What was seen as unprofitable products and markets are now becoming profitable.


What does this mean for writers and content creators?

The ideas of long tail markets are important for writers, content creators and marketers as it allows us to understand how to produce content for smaller specific, targeted audiences.

The internet has allowed us all to become publishers whether we’re professional writers or amateur enthusiasts.

Blogging is a great example of the long tail with the millions of blogs published, far outweighing the number of mainstream publications found online.

As writers we don’t necessarily have to target the mainstream or try to appeal to everyone. Success doesn’t have to be about whether you’re getting millions of unique visitors each month to your website.

The long tail is about finding your niche audience and creating specific targeted content that’s going to appeal to them.

We’re seeing that many online writers like bloggers have a chance to specialise in areas that journalists writing for mainstream publications can’t do due to factors like time and resources which increasingly aren’t available.

This specialisation allows us to become experts, influencers and authority figures within our chosen niche, industry and specialism. In terms of marketing your business or personal brand this can only help you.

Of course your content has to be good. Just because you’re writing about a niche or obscure topic doesn’t mean you can write rubbish.

If your content is poor, audiences will go elsewhere to find what they’re after. With the abundance of choice on the internet they’ll probably find it.

I thought of an example of long tail content when I read an article recently on the football website Football365.

It looks at the growing number of bloggers who are writing about football finances and the ownership of clubs in English football.

Bloggers Getting Slapped to Save Clubs

As the article points out – there’s a growing interesting in the finances and ownership of English football clubs. A number of clubs are struggling financially, while the ownership and governance structure of clubs remain unknown to many fans.

Many traditional media don’t have the time or resources to investigate how clubs are being run, but a number of well informed fans are using the internet to investigate and write about the ownership of their clubs instead.

Football finances isn’t a mainstream subject that football fans talk about. For most fans it’s about players, managers and results.

But there’s a growing audience for this niche subject within the world of football. One blogger who writes about the football club I support, Birmingham City has an audience of thousands and breaks stories that the local newspaper The Birmingham Mail can’t or won’t do.


What can we learn from the Long Tail?

I think if you’re a writer, blogger, or content creator think about how you can capture the long tail market. We’re becoming used to more choice and variety, we’re open to new products and ideas, as writers we can take advantage of this.

If you’re producing content for the website of a niche product, you’re probably already used to writing for a very specific audience. Even if you’re not you shouldn’t be afraid of creating content that doesn’t appeal to everyone.

I think the long tail is about finding your niche community online, producing content that will be of use and value to that community and which they will want to share with others within that community.

There’s always going to be a mass market. There’s always going to be ‘the hits’ the big sellers the stars, but there’s more room for the niche to compete alongside the mainstream.