Is Web's 'Long Tail' Really a Tall Tale?

Harvard prof questions theory that Internet fuels boom for niche commerce
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 14, 2008 4:23 PM CDT
Chris Anderson of "Wired" is left.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – The "Long Tail" theory of the internet—that the Web's boundless democracy is enabling a boom in niche culture and commerce—is coming under fire just as its author releases the paperback version, Farhad Manjoo writes on Slate. After reviewing data that should back Chris Anderson's theory, a Harvard professor concludes that while obscure media sales are growing, they're still obscure.

Anita Elberse concluded that, for instance, 91% of songs on digital music services are purchased fewer than 100 times. So, while we have access to an endless buffet of esoterica, we’re still more likely to go for the popular. "There is no winning this technical debate," Manjoo writes. "Even if Anderson is right and Elberse is wrong, the shift from hits to niches is obviously slight—we are not entering an era devoid of blockbusters."