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BLOG REPOST FROM http://lashawnbarber.com/archives/2007/10/10/the-long-tail-of-independence/
The Long Tail of Independence
The Internet has revolutionized retail. It’s also changed the way people work and play. To be sure, the Internet has its drawbacks, but that’s the risk of
revolution. The good news is that we’ve only begun to reap the benefits of a world untethered from traditional selling, marketing, buying, and consuming.
The Long Tail
In a book I highly recommend called The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, wrote about a statistical model called the long tail. The head consists of best-selling products, also called “hits,” and the long tail is “non-hits,” products that sell in smaller quantities. Products in the head may sell millions per year; those in the long tail may sell only one or two a year.
According to Anderson, the culture and the economy are “increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of ‘hits’ (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.”
For example, a large portion of online retailer Amazon.com’s book sales consists of books not found in traditional book stores. People still buy the hits, but demand for non-hits has grown, thanks to the Internet.
(Read the article that started it all and Anderson’s blog.)
http://longtail.typepad.com/the_long_tail/ If you are marketing at all on the internet you need to read this!!
While blockbusters still exist, the era of the hit was driven by scarcity. The Internet has opened up a seemingly infinite world of niche goods and services that may or may not be available in brick-and-mortar stores. Because storing products on shelves and in storage rooms costs money, brick-and-mortar retailers tend to stock only those products that sell well. This leaves little room for niche market products. But technology has made producing, storing, and distributing products cheaper. Online retailers can store more inventory and offer consumers a wider variety of products. The long tail, says Anderson, is where future growth resides.
Anderson writes, “In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.”
Anderson predicts that the aggregate size of niche markets – songs that don’t get radio airplay, movies that can’t be found in brick-and-mortar stores, osbcure books, etc. – one day “may…rival that of
the existing large marketing goods.”
Jennifer LopezThere are three forces driving the growth of the long tail. The Internet has: 1) “democratized” the tools of production; 2) “democratized” the
distribution of goods and services; and 3) helped consumers find niche market goods and services (in the form of search engines, recommendations, rating systems, etc.).
Anderson uses online music service Rhapsody as an example of how the Internet expands the niche market. On the web site’s front page, you’ll see mainstream artists like Jennifer Lopez. Click on her
name, and her music page comes up. In a sidebar you’ll see a list of “similar artists” and “influences.” Keep drilling down, and you’ll end up with a list of obscure artists whose CDs you wouldn’t find in a brick-and-mortar record store.
Online music services like Rhapsody and DVD rental and download services like Netflix offer the standard blockbusters, but they’ve opened up a world of
non-mainstream and obscure music, movies, and TV shows. No matter how eclectic or weird your taste, you’re bound to find something you like in the long tail.
Free Music, Independent Bands
Bands become independent for a variety of reasons. Record labels may drop them because of poor sales, or they can’t get signed by a record label in the first
place, or they rebel against a record label’s fixation on marketing and CD sales at the expense of the bands’ artistic integrity.
While there is risk in going independent and disentangling oneself from a capital-rich, big budget record label, rapidly changing technology has made the
jump less scary. Production and distribution of music are relatively cheap. Independent bands own the copyright to their music, can sell it directly to fans, and keep all the profits. The middle man is eliminated. But that also means the band must do its own marketing and publicity and/or hire a publicist. This is a plus for fans, as independent bands must be fan-focused to retain the fan base and attract new listeners.
Radiohead - Even if you only scan news headlines, I’m sure you’ve seen the name “Radiohead” recently. People are buzzing about the English rock band, who
announced last week that it will allow fans to download the digital version of its latest album at whatever price (including nothing) they want to pay. Two more independent English bands followed suit. Jamiroquai (pictured below) and Oasis are offering free music downloads. (Source)
JamiroquaiIn response to Radiohead’s bold move, EMI record exec Guy Hands told employees that the music industry has to change or suffer the consequences. The industry
needs to embrace “digitalisation and the opportunities it brings for promotion of product and distribution through multiple channels, the industry has stuck its head in the sand.” (Source)
Musicians still have to eat, so Radiohead hopes the publicity surrounding its “free” downloads will result in higher merchandise and concert ticket sales.
Additionally, Radiohead is offering an $80 boxed set, which includes the hard copy version of the digital download, another CD with new songs, two vinyl records, digital photos, artwork, and lyric booklets. If you order the boxed set, however, you get the digital downloads free anyway.
What Radiohead, Jamiroquai, and Oasis are doing isn’t new. Offering fans free or set-your-own-price music is not a novel concept.
Hanson - Like Radiohead, the band Hanson is offering free (and immediate) digital downloads of its new album, “The Walk.” Unlike Radiohead fans, Hanson fans must
buy the CD to get the downloads, and they must buy it from the web site. The CD contains three extra tracks not available as digital downloads. Fans can also buy the CD/acoustic DVD combo. The DVD includes live acoustic performances of seven songs.
Zac, Taylor, and Isaac HansonDiehard Radiohead and Hanson fans will buy the bands’ CDs and other merchandise and attend concerts anyway, so there doesn’t seem to
be much risk in offering “free” and/or immediate digital downloads.
In Radiohead’s case, fans can either wait for the boxed set’s release to get the hard copies and the downloads, or pay nothing, a nominal fee, or “full price” -
whatever they choose - to get the downloads now.
If you regularly read this blog, you know I’ve been blogging about Hanson, three song-writing brothers, quite a bit. The group hit it big in 1997 with a
bubble-gum pop song called “MMMBop.” I’d forgotten all about them and had no idea they were still together until I rediscovered them this summer. Being an independent type myself, I was drawn by their risk-taking and willingness to take on so much responsibility. (And they’re kind of easy on the eyes.)
Hanson was under contract with Mercury Records when the label merged with Island/Def Jam Records. Suddenly, the band found itself dealing with executives and producers
who didn’t know the group and tried in vain to mold the band according to its ill-informed vision. The prolific Hansons wrote over 80 songs, all of which Island/Def Jam rejected as unmarketable. The label wanted an MMMBop-sized hit, and Hanson, trying to get away from the teenybopper image, rebelled. After three years, the band managed to get out of its contract. The brothers’ frustrating ordeal is immortalized in a documentary called “Strong Enough to Break,” available as a free download on iTunes.
Hanson has since released two albums under its own label, 3CG Records (which stands for three-car garage, where the brothers first practiced as kids).
PrincePrince - Once the love of my formerly debauched life, Prince has aged gracefully, physically and musically, and changed with the times. Earlier this year, the
prolific independent artist gave away copies of his latest album CD in a UK newspaper and subsequently (and consequently?) sold out 21 shows in London.
One of those Internet drawbacks I mentioned earlier is copyright violation. While technology has made music easier to produce, distribute, and find, it’s also
made it easier for people to share songs and upload copyrighted videos without compensation to the artist or label.
Prince is suing YouTube and eBay over authorized use of his work. I don’t see how he or his lawyers can possibly stop hundreds of people from uploading his videos or
from selling merchandise on sites like eBay. This thing is too big now. Yes, it’s unfair to the artist, but artists need to find a way to capitalize on this instead of suing to stop it. It’s a waste of good money.
The Long Tail of Independence
Under the long tail model, demand for niche products, which include albums by lesser known and independent bands, extends beyond the hit market. There is no “shelf
life,” so albums continue to sell and are easily accessible in the long tail, thanks to the Internet. Indie bands producing and distributing their own music can use the power of the long tail to reach audiences.
I asked drummer Zac Hanson how the Internet has affected the band’s album sales. While he wouldn’t give me specific sales numbers, he acknowledged that the Internet
has changed the way people find and buy music and, more importantly, not buy music. Technology, as wonderful as it is, has made it possible for people to illegally copy CDs and illegally upload and download digital music files.
Regardless, I believe technology helps indie artists more than it hinders them. The long tail and its driving forces (cheap production and distribution and better
filters) favor indie musicians. They have much more freedom and flexibility than those under contract and beholden to a record label, which allows them to change with the times and to experiment with releasing music in different formats.
Record companies, which have been very slow to change, are focused on moving CDs and other merchandise. As this record label guy said, the music industry must be
willing to experiment with the digital format.
An independent musician selling his own music in digital format doesn’t have to worry about storing or restocking inventory. There’s no record label hovering
around to take a cut and no legal department waiting to nix his marketing and licensing suggestions. It’s true freedom, and that freedom does carry risk.
The bottom line is that corporate record labels are in business to make money, and that’s not a bad thing per se. But when the obsession to produce a hit comes at
the expense of an artist’s integrity, the artist has a decision to make: compromise or leave. The risk-taking artist will embrace independence, technology, and the power of the long tail.
And taking risks is what makes life worth living (at least for me.)
Update (10/11): Forgot to mention this. American rock band Nine Inch Nails just left its record label. Said the lead singer: “I have been under recording contracts
for 18 years and have watched the business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate.”
Freedom. And responsibility.
* Wired - The Rise and Fall of the Hit
* Wired - The Infinite Album
* Hanson Takes “The Walk” To Independence
* Hanson Concert Review/Interview
Posted by La Shawn @ 11:18 am Permalink
Filed under: Technology, Entrepreneurs, Pop Culture, Hansonblogging