review


From starting flash mobs to retrieving lost cell phones, the power of organization is limitless. With the technology revolution that has swept the globe recently, coupled with the integration of the internet, those that have harnessed this organizational power have been able to accomplish amazing things that would have been impossible just a short time ago. Those that have felt the wrath of these organized technology users have had a rude awakening to this fact, whether it is the corrupt Belarus post-USSR government or the head of Northwest Airlines. No one would be wise to take the power of organization lightly.

The most startling realization about this organizational revolution is that it can be accomplished without actual organizations. Individuals can carefully get the ball rolling and a few blogs, message boards, and text messages later a flash mob is marching in protest in front of a government building. Like minded individuals can now become like minded groups. Anyone who see’s an injustice arise can use these organizational tools to transform their individual desperate cry into a deafening roar of a mob.

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The world as we know it is changing around us. Methods of communication and the explosion of the web have led to a revolution in the way people create content. As the web becomes more accessible, the rise of blogs, message boards, and other content outlets increase; changes occur in economic markets as well as individual and cultural traits. The impact of the internet is vast. The Wealth of Nations, published in 2006 by Yale University Press, Yochai Benkler analyzes and explains the changes and impact on society.

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“THE TREND IS DEAD!!!!!” On May 7, 1996, anyone who bought Pantera’s against the grain album heard those famous words belted out. An album that proved a band could make a popular record without the help on MTV, the radio, or any other main stream distribution had arrived, much to the delight of fans who were sick of music that they were “supposed to be listening to”, according to the aforementioned sources. This album, and Pantera’s previous release Far Beyond Driven proved that people wanted something other than what was being shoved down their throats by mainstream media. This niche fan base did whatever it could to get more and more of bands like Pantera, despite the fact that it was not likely to be found in trendy, easy to access settings.

This example of purchasing against the trend illustrates the points that Chris Anderson makes in his book The Long Tail: purchases being made outside of what is considered popular and mainstream, the “tail” of music sales so to speak. The difference between 1996 and now is that the internet has become a booming market for sales of items found in the tail. With the rise of online market sources such as Ebay, iTunes, and Rhapsody, it as never been easier to find obscure items outside the realms of what is popular and mainstream.

Anderson explains in this text how the tail of the market has come into play now that customers are not limited to what is provided by bricks-n-mortar stores. With shelf space not being the last frontier for purchasing items, customers can now find virtually anything through online shopping, no matter how far down the tail an item may be located. Anderson properly analyzes these findings as well, explaining the many findings he came across while studying the Long Tail theory.

Anderson also makes his case with the water cooler theory, explaining that as we have more options to choose from, we move away from the hit-driven market of the 90s. When we can tivo our favorite shows or simply download them online, we are far less likely to be viewing the same things when we get off of work in the evening. Thus the water cooler age is coming to an end as we have less in common to talk about at work the next day, since it is unlikely that we watched the same thing the night before.

Anderson’s claims are backed up through several examples given in each of the most popular long tail markets, mainly music and movies. Since these markets can be distributed digitally and stored to almost infinite capacity, they are good examples to illustrate his points. The movie industry is moving from box office sales to DVD sales, making what did well in the theatres a less relevant number to follow in the market. Anderson points out that what was causing the demand drop off for movies was actually the cost of traditionally offering them. With the long tail market available, demands are able to grow throughout niches as people are able to more efficiently find what they want to watch, not just what used to be offered via the box office (130).

To show how the study of the long tail is essential to online marketing, Anderson gave an example of two up and coming artist from a few years ago, Bonnie McKee and My Chemical Romance. Since radio is no longer the only factor in launching a successful album, labels are using the internet to jump start young artists careers. Knowledge of how to appropriately use the internet to market talent is the difference between a bust (McKee) and a popular, selling artist (MCR) (103). Anderson also explains how using the internet’s tools such as filters and recommendations allow customers to delve further down the long tail and into niches to find exactly what they are looking for within a market.

These theories were all explained in an way those not familiar with economic theory or lingo could understand the points Anderson was trying to make. His many examples were both relevant and helpful to garner understanding from the charts and other information Anderson provided, making this an easy read while not compromising its make up. Anyone wishing to understand how the internet is changing the way we look at the market forever would be wise to read this book. The Trend is indeed dead, and knowledge of the Long Tail can explain how and why this came about, and where it is going from here.