Book Review: The Long Tail: Chris Anderson

Posted on May 2, 2011

Whenever I see a book about business or the internet, I check the¬†copyright¬†page to see when it was written. Generally if it hasn’t been written in the past 3 years, I just won’t pick it up. For example, would you read any ‘internet marketing’ book that didn’t include Twitter? Well ‘The Long Tail’ was written in 2006, but I picked it up for two reasons. First, it was written by Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine. Second was this quote:

Anderson’s insights influence Google’s strategic thinking in a profound way. READ THIS BRILLIANT AND TIMELY BOOK.”

-Eric Schmidt, CEO, Google

This is the first time I’ve ever read a book based off of its own recommendation and I couldn’t be happier. It’s no secret that the internet has changed the way selling has been done, but it was only until I read this book that I truly understood the why and the how of it.

Take a gander at the graph that I’ve added. What you’re looking at is popularity on the y axis and products on the x. Anderson uses bookstores for most of his examples and so will we. If you were to go to Barnes and Noble, you would have seen just about every product that was in the head section of that chart. The most popular books, that is. But what Anderson focuses on is the long tail.

Here are a couple of cool things about the long tail. The first is that that tail extends infinitely (infinitely compared to the tip of the head section). That means that there are tons and tons of unpopular books. BUT people are still going to buy them. In the ‘brick and mortar’ days, it just wasn’t worth the shelf space to house every book. It just wasn’t going to happen.

I’m really only scratching the surface here, this was one of those books that I took chapter by chapter.

This internet revolution has me pretty conflicted. On one hand, I’m the child of someone who works for a locally owned and operated bookstore. So, I want to believe in the power of small business. However, this book revealed the inner irony of that. The best way to run a brick and mortar is to sell the best hits. If you want your niche stuff, go online. The shelf space that is saved alone means for very reduced prices.

Regardless, this is a must read for anybody who is doing business these days. I’ve always believed in the power of a lot of little things adding up to something big. “The Long Tail” just puts that idea in another perspective.


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