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The Long Tail Feeds Publishers


You have certainly heard the term “the long tail” in the years since thinker Clay Shirky popularized the concept in 2003 and Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson coined the term to describe it in a 2004 article and later book. Shirky wrote of power-law curves in 2003, which showed the distribution of attention among Web sites, and defeated the notion that blogs distributed attention in any kind of even fashion. The most-popular blogs, he found, became progressively more popular, because that’s where people increasingly linked and spread their popularity.

Anderson noticed something different about the same sort of data. Looking at product availability, such as making every book in print equally available for order without barriers put in the way, he didn’t find that bestselling books sold fewer copies in what he called the “big head” (the short steep part of the curve at the left of the chart). Rather, the “long tail,” or the millions of less-popular books, started selling copies in modest quantities where they were effectively unsellable before, because they couldn’t be put on a physical bookstore.

My friend David Sifry, at the time the head of the Technorati blog and trend tracking site, released numbers in in which he looked again at blogs and found a big head, a long tail, and a “magic middle” (my Wi-Fi site fit in there). A substantial middle section of blogs with significant traffic, and which sustained a role between very popular sites and ones that people visited hardly at all.

In my reading of the Anderson’s book, The Long Tail, in which I’m quoted about special-order books and my stint in the early days of, I found a missing piece that I’m reminded of in light of the numbers released by TuneCore about revenue coming from iTunes Match.

Talk about the distributon among its artists
Good for TuneCore (we don’t know its cut)
Good for artists: sort of. Found money
But not a way for most artists to make a livin

Not sure where this is going.

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