The long tail is here – now what? 10:47 on Monday

Novel tools for finding information will be an interesting area to follow — again. Search used to be hot, then tags and other forms of “social filtering” used to be hot. But what’s next?

My friend works in the games industry, and last week he was telling over coffee how some of his iPhone game developer friends have been disappointed in the sales through the iPhone App Store. The problem is not demand, the problem is getting noticed.

Interestingly, this is the exact same problem that music industry has been facing: digital distribution makes it possible for small players to add their products to the inventory available to consumers, entering the long tail at the end or the middle. The problem is that only the head of the long tail is within easy reach for the consumers, the rest of the tail is in the databases of the digital stores. You either need to browse the database — and who has time for that — or you need to search the database, which means you need to know what you’re looking for. The small players lack the resources to market their products, which would push their offering towards the “visible” head of the long tail while pushing their profits up.

Entering the long tail with niche products

And this will be a problem for many fields to come: movies is an obvious candidate. The same happening to books should not be far with all the possibilities for self-publishing.

So, what will be the “killer app” of not search, but find? How do you effectively and effortlessly find things you don’t even know exist?

Inspired by these links (in Finnish):

3 Responses to “The long tail is here – now what?”


  1. Panu Says:

    Sender11 blog just discussed something related about apple’s appstore. http://sender11.typepad.com/sender11/2009/01/appstores-the-blind-marketeer.html

    In general, I guess there are no free lunches. If you want to get yourself known, you must pay for it.

  2. Janne Says:

    I think the Long Tail needs an open ecosystem and competition to work in the first place. App store is not open nor competitive (in the sense that there are no easily accessible alternative ways of buying stuff for your Apple things). This means that your discovery is almost totally dominated by whatever Apple chooses to do – and Apple is not that hot on social stuff. Apple’s power is to strengthen the relationship between you and Apple, not between you and your friends.

    You can compare this with the regular PC/Mac software ecosystem, which is both open and competitive. Yes, the head still gets the most attention, but there is money in the niches, and if one way of getting to the user’s desktop does not work, you can try others.

  3. Niko Says:

    I don’t think Apple Store’s closedness is making it more difficult for consumers to find things. If anything, it is making it easier, by limiting choice and offering one destination for discovery. Whether the actual purchase happens within the Apple Store’s walls, you can promote iPhone/iPod software in the same way as you can promote desktop software (and this is being done).

    Another thing (which probably deserves its own blog post) is that I feel a “working Long Tail” is falsely seen as a way for niche markets to make money. I like the wording at the beginning of The Long Tail Wikipedia page, calling The Long Tail a niche strategy of businesses … that sell a large number of unique items, each in relatively small quantities . It’s a business strategy, but not for those in the niches, but for those who aggregate the niches.

    I’m not ready to compare the Apple Store ecosystem to the regular software ecosystem. I think the Apple Store and the music business have qualities that make them different from the regular software ecosystem: lower barrier to entry, cheaper prices, and more competition compared to market size.