Long Tail, or tall tale?

A story in the Wall Street Journal this week reviews an article by a Harvard marketing professor in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review which takes issue with the ‘Long Tail’ concept, which says the success of Internet e-commerce models hinges on the idea of selling a few of a lot of things, rather than a lot of a few things (think Amazon and the ability to obtain obscure titles you would never see in a best-seller driven bricks-and-mortar bookstore).

The Wall Street Journal article reports that the professor who wrote the articleand her research team “looked at data for online video rentals and song purchases, and discovered that the patterns by which people shop online are essentially the same as the ones from offline. Not only do hits and blockbusters remain every bit as important online, but the evidence suggests that the Web is actually causing their role to grow, not shrink.”

Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired Magazine, who has made a new career out of coining the term and developing the Long Tail concept, has already responded to the article, saying much of the difference between his analysis and hers involved how hits and non-hits, or “head” and “tail” in the book’s lingo, are measured. Aside from that, he was generous in praising the article, and said he welcomed the sort of rigorous scrutiny the theory was getting.