The Long Tail

Physical space has been one of the largest bottlenecks when it comes to shopping and what is available in the market. With use of the internet a new market has appeared, one that can collectively overtake the sales of best sellers and blockbusters, this is various niche markets. This has allowed things to be available in a market that previously weren’t because they were not popular enough, and therefore did not make up enough profits, to take up physical space or time. Now that we do have these ‘niche’ products available to buy through the internet, it devaluates blockbusters. For example clothing internet shops are seen everywhere, such as ASOS which if it was a physical shop it would have to be the size of a warehouse to stock all its clothes. These web shops are allowing people to express themselves in extensive ways, just as Book Depository, an online bookstore who in its title advertises ‘Over 9,000,000 Books available,’ allows people to purchase books that wouldn’t otherwise be available in bookstores.

Chris Anderson came up with the term the long-tail and explains it with reference to the economic graph of the demand curve (as shown in this picture). In his wired article, he discovers that Amazon makes a significant proportion of its sales from opaque books that aren’t purchasable in physical stores such as Barnes & Noble. The long-tail has power to make things available; it surpasses the restraints of geography, distribution and scale. The consumer gets what the consumer wants, no matter how popular or niche. 



  1. I enjoyed reading you blog post. I particularly enjoyed your Amazon example as I recently read an article about Amazon and the way in which they market to and decode their customers ( I never realised how much they sold until I read through this article.
    It’s interesting how online clothes stores are becoming more popular these days. Not only stores like ASOS and The Iconic, but existing brands like General Pants, Sportsgirl etc. I’m a true believer that going out and physically shopping is therapeutic ( and so I worry about this transition that is currently taking place from physical shops to online shops.

  2. I think that its an awesome idea to have recommendations – who is this hurting? if your not interesting simply don’t click it! But I have definitely found some things I never would have looked at because of recommendations. Its crazy to think how many online stores there are and there increasing popularity – one day they may take over shopping malls all together with there convenience. But I wonder if they will every fully take over or not…

  3. This post explains the long-tail effect very well and I like the use of Amazon. I have experienced first hand the long-tail effect because I used to enjoy a show called Veronica Mars which didn’t have a very big following (especially here in Australia). Anyway the show finished after three seasons and I wanted to buy them on DVD, they were nowhere in Australia and finally I imported them from Amazon US. I think it is great that society has the kind of access to movies, shows, video games, clothes etc.. that we never had in the past.

  4. A bottleneck is a good metaphor to describe the Long Tail. When you pour a drink, there’s a lot of liquid trying to force its way out of the bottle but only a small amount will be able to hit the glass. Similarly, there is a surplus of products, movies and music being produced at an incomprehensible rate due to mass amateurization. Some quotes from other sources would have made your blog stronger.
    An article you may have looked at is Daniel Cull’s ‘Let’s Pin the ‘Long Tail’ on the Conservation Donkey’. He explains that the Long Tail is another method of collaboration which results in the further development of what would have originally been a preliminary idea or concept .As Cull states, the law “makes use of all possible contributions, no matter how small, a model that would be economically untenable for any institution.” Furthermore, he breathes some fresh air into an otherwise dense topic by suggesting that this contribution allows room for experimentation and an “element of play” within our methods.

  5. I’ve personally adapted to the whole online shopping experience. I think online stores have done a fantastic job with their extensive range of products being available from anywhere, at anytime. Since discovering online shopping I very rarely visit actual stores (unless it’s for basic items). Physical shopping has limitations with regard to trading hours and clothing styles and sizes (less chance of this occurring with online products as they often come directly from a warehouse). Online limitations would obviously be that you can’t try on/check the quality of the products, and you have to wait for it to be shipped to you. I guess it comes down to individual preference – I choose online shopping because I don’t have hours to spend wandering about a shopping centre… online shopping is quick and easy. And as you stated, online stores have an extensive market, there is only selected products available in the physical store.

    I remember once in high school I wanted a specific pair of jeans, I had to call every store in the Wollongong/Sydney region to hunt them down. Eventually, they said the only place the ones I wanted were available at the Melbourne warehouse. Luckily (and coincidently), I was travelling to Melbourne for my birthday that year, and tracked them down. Thinking back I cannot believe I went to so much trouble.

  6. I agree with Nicole. There is nothing wrong with providing recommendations. It is up to the will power of the customer to not add them to the ‘cart’. The long tail when it comes to online shopping is something that is killing to retail sector of Australian stores. It is almost second nature to purchase all my items online. Why? The retail stores simply do not have the range that online stores that offer both mainstream and niche products. Here is a great article that highlights the positive trend of the long tail and the fashion industry –

  7. Even though many years ago I promised myself I would not buy into the online shopping craze I have found that I have adapted quite well. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s very convenient (although I may have to start hiding my credit card). I agree with the Amazon example because I myself have order many a book/movie/TV series (Including Veronica Mars) from there simply because I can’t find it anywhere in Australia. Although it does frustrate me that I have to get it shipped from the US or UK, better late than never right?

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