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The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson

I was skeptical when I picked up The Long Tail a few weeks ago. I figured I already read Chris Anderson’s original Wired article, I get it, I buy into it, and so what’s the point of reading an entire book about it? Well, to begin with, there’s a lot more important information in the book than he covered in his article. The 220+ pages of the book simply enable Anderson to drill down much deeper and cover more product segments than a magazine article could ever allow.

Regardless of what business you’re in though, you need to read this one. This is one of the few books I’ve read in years that really made me stop and think about how things apply to my job, business, etc. Yes, it’s a great (and easy) read, but you’ll get much more out of it than just a simple explanation of what the long tail is and what it means to business today.

I already mentioned one of the most important concepts covered in this book: Anderson’s reference to “Pro-Am collaborations”, where professional journalists need to work together with amateur bloggers, for example, to provide the best coverage of a story. Newspapers, magazines, etc., that don’t embrace this concept are really limiting their potential.

Here’s a great quote from page 199 where Anderson is talking about the TV/video industry: “I suspect that the thirty-minute show is the newspaper of television – a format born of distribution scarcity that is now past its prime.” Right. Newspapers are starting to feel like a relic, built around the need to physically distribute the news. YouTube and other sites are starting to make the thirty-minute TV slot seem like yesterday’s format as well. I admit that I’ve even started using my DVR less, going to YouTube to see something I might have missed.

Chapter 14, Long Tail Rules, is worth the price of the book all by itself. It’s there that Anderson lays out the nine rules followed by successful long tail aggregators. He opens the chapter with two very simple but important statements: First, make everything available and second help me find it. Sounds simple, right? But think about how people like Amazon, NetFlix, eBay and others have come up with innovative ways to implement these items.

In hindsight, arrogance along with Napster and other peer-to-peer (illegal) sites helped trip up and reinvent the music industry. That same arrogance and a variety of upstarts are doing the same to the newspaper business. As Anderson points out, the television industry could learn from these other industries, but they have their own, somewhat unique challenge as well: Rights issues could be the key stumbling block for TV/cable networks, preventing them from unleashing their extensive archives and propping the door open for the likes of YouTube and anyone with a digital video recorder.

Read this book. You won’t regret it.

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