Did the Long Tail Beget Social Design?
A conversation I had today rewired the idea of the Long Tail for me.
The Long Tail, or the death of the product shelf (where shelf space becomes irrelevant when content is digital) brought on tremendous change in the economics of distribution. Netflix rents most of its movies from the catalog of past movies, not from the current list of blockbusters. Same with Amazon and books, iTunes and music. Christopher Anderson goes into a lot more details in the book he wrote on the subject: The Long Tail.
When content is digital, a public good, it is freely distributable by electronic means. It is infinitely copyable at 100% fidelity. Moreover, as the Long Tail shows, libraries of content can be built cheaply which provide value for the long term. Once Google digitizes all the books in the world they won’t ever have to again.
In other words, all content is available at all times.
What does this lead to? The Paradox of Choice! There are simply too many things to choose from. Which of the thousands of movies on Netflix do I rent? Which of the books on Amazon do I read? Which of the songs on iTunes do I listen to?
In the past, we listened to either the creator or the distributor for help. Since choice was limited, they would steer us to something in their limited selection. You either went to one of the movies at the local theater, or you didn’t watch a movie. You either bought a book from the book store or checked one out of the library, or you didn’t read. If you were lucky enough to be near a creator (like a rock band) you either went to the pub to listen to them or you went without live music.
The creator and the distributor, however, had a problem. They were always and forever biased…
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