Is the Internet A Long Tail Ghetto ?

Chris Anderson did a masterful job of identifying and defining The Long Tail back in 2004 in a Wired Article. What i havent seen yet is a definition of when content crosses over from being part of the long tail, and onto the Vert Ramp (The perfect term to steal from skateboarding).

I think trying to define where the Long Tail ends and the Vert Ramp begins is critical, because the fact of the matter is: No Content Creator wants to be on the Long Tail. Anyone who has ever created content realizes that there is a very thick bar a bit above the the base of the Vert Ramp that acts as a content ceiling (thanks to Oliver Luckett for the term). that they are desperately trying to break through in order to get off the long tail and on to the Vert Ramp.

The illustration reflects my horrendous paint skills, but illustrates the point.

The concept of the content ceiling recognizes that there is a hierarchy that each content creator tries to work their way up.

First content providers, whether podcasters, vloggers, bloggers, movie makers, writers, poets, whatever the content type make the decision of the creation of the content is about love or money. Is the goal of the finished product commercial, or purely personal ?

If the goal is commercial, whether to make money directly or indirectly from the content, then the battle to fight through the Content Ceiling begins.

The bottom line is that people want to get paid for their work. Creators have a vision. They think there is something special about it, and they want to get rewarded for their effort. Its a simple goal in concept, but its incredibly difficult to achieve.

Very few commercial content creators aspire to get 10k aggregate views from all the videohosting sites. Very few bands are happy with having 10k free downloads , or even 10k friends on Myspace as their endgame. Very few commercial content creators aspire to see their creations end up on Community Access TV. All content creators recognize each of these as a way to create incremental demand for their content, in hopes of breaking through the Content Ceiling, but none of these will reward the content creator with direct revenue. For content creators trying to make a living from their work, they all just represent the Long Tail Ghetto.

The first step towards the Vert Ramp and up the hierarchy is to get paid. More and more sites like Revver are creating opportunities for video creators to make money, just as sites like WeedShare.com and CDBaby.com have been doing for music for years. The reality however are very, very few make minimum wage for their work.

If a content creator gets paid for their work, that by itself put them out of the longail of the longtail. Thats how difficult it is.

The next step up the hierachy comes from breaking out at least once. You got paid enough for your work to think you or your company have a chance to create content full time. It may be a one time reward, or just the first of many rewards. But as long as its just one so far, you are still in the long tail. Still underneath the content ceiling looking up at the Vert Ramp, but at least you lost your financial virginity.

Its for those that have gotten paid that the content ceiling really becomes an issue. At this point, the content creator has had a taste of some level of success and the pressure is on not only to recreate that success in some manner, but also to gain financially from it. Are you a 1 hit wonder, or a meal ticket ?

At this point, in order to fight through the content ceiling almost all content creators look to Big Money for help. Big Money is/are all the people and companies that control distribution and have big bank accounts. They are the people who can elevate the content creators from fearing their lights will be off when they get home, to buying a new house.

For all the talk of the internet changing distribution, the reality is that in order to break through the Content Ceiling and to climb the Vert Ramp, 99.9 pct of content creators are going to do need OPM (Other Peoples Money). The internet alone is not going to get the job done. You can put your content everywhere and anywhere the net allows you to be hosted, but for most people the amount of revenues for that content you had before you started the hosting process will be the exact same as what you have after the hosting process.

This is exactly why media celebrates when someone is discovered on Youtube, or when a contest winner is given a budget to produce a broadband show, or possibly even a TV show for a cable network. They broke out from poverty to primetime. This is exactly why they said yes to production deals and financing. They know that they cant break through the content ceiling without the help. Revver and its peers are working hard to change this, but its far from there.

Its not that signing a deal with a Big Money company guarantees that you will sell enough of your content to break onto the VertRamp. It certainly doesnt. There are plenty of failures with Big Money behind them. However, regardless of content type, if Big Money invests enough of their money and distribution, you chances of being on the VertRamp have increased exponentially.

If you do a deal with Big Money, AND your content sells enough to be on the Vert Ramp of content sales in your genre, you have broken through the content ceiling. The chances are very good that BigMoney will want to work with you again. They have made money from their investment in you. Success breeds success. They will probably come back to you and give you another shot to stay above the content ceiling and climb higher up the Vert Ramp

Once you as a creator have broken through the content ceiling and are on the Vert Ramp, the rules of the game get interesting. In fact, the success of your work, is far more dependeng on Big Money than it is on you. The further up the ramp (unless you reach the very top), the less influence you have in the success of your content. The competition on the Vert Ramp is cut throat. Big Money vs Big Money with enormous stakes. They dont want your help. They want to be Big Money and do what Big Money does. They try to make as much money as possible.

Every Big Money company wants everyone of their products to reach the very top of the Vert Ramp. To be #1 in sales, ratings, viewers, whatever their critical metric is. This is an important definition at this point in time. With all the discussion of the value of views and listens on the internet, it raises the question of just how valuable is a view or listen to a product/company with a product on the Vert Ramp.

The first distinction that needs to be made is a view/listen that Big Money creates versus one that a user creates for Big Money content. Big Money created views/listens are controlled to the liking of Big Money. You only see or hear what they want you to see or hear. So we dont have to identify value there. They do that internally before the content is posted.

User Created uploads of Big Money content , infringing content a user uploads content that belongs to someone else on to a hosting site for open consumption is a different story.

A lot of people feel that user uploads of infringing content is always a good thing. its new or incremental viewership. Its a new fan for a TV show. Its possibly a revenue share o
f advertising. All would seem to be positive. However they are not always positive.

A revenue share might seem great, until you realize that the videohost selling advertising around The Daily Show is competing with the Comedy Central sales force that is selling ads on the TV show, in the cable VOD, on the ComedyCentral.com website, on the mobile distribution of the show, etc, etc. It may also be competing for viewers, with the revenue per user from their website split being lower than what they earn for ads on the TV show itself.

This is a simple example. You can find examples of how it helps and how it hurts for any piece of infringing content. But the real question is; At what point does the copyright owner, usually Big Money, step in and say that they dont want their content being uploaded by users ? Here is a way to get an idea when.

I think there is a correlation between the Vert Ramp and the value of “views” on video hosting sites, or listens on illegal download sites. In fact they are inversions of each other.

Each company has an expectation of where their content will fall on the Vert Ramp. They have a point they consider failure. They have a point they consider break even. They have a point they consider good, not great. They have a point where its a success. Each is a higher and higher point up the Vert Ramp.

If we were to graph that point on the Vert Ramp, the higher up the Vert Ramp the performance is, the less value there is to views of infringing uploaded content . In addition, the higher up the Vert Ramp the performance is, the more likely BIg Money will go after the infringer or host to take down the infringing content. The reason is obvious. The more successful the content, the more confidence Big Money has in its ability to optimize the value of the content to their organization.

The more control Big Money wants over every aspect of the content. Infringing content creates risk to them that can negatively impact value (an exclusive interview on a super popular syndicated talk show that airs at different times around the country). Its not that they always will. Maybe Fox likes the idea of American Idol videos around the net. I dont know. But i do know that they likelihood that they will have questioned it is much higher than say from the producers of a tv show that is underperforming or at risk of cancellation. The more expectations of performance are achieved, the less value a view or listen online is.

On the flipside of course, the lower on the Vert Ramp, the more value of every listen or view. Big Money content that is not meeting expectations lets users do whatever they want with their content in hopes of increasing their metrics past the failure , then break even points. So it wont be unusual to see one company allow content from one show to slide under the radar in terms of copyright violation, while pumping out takedown notices for another show.

I think its an interesting discussion. What is the long tail. What happens when content gets off. What happens to the people who are on it. what is the impact of the internet. Is the only way out of the Internet Long Tail ghetto to work with Big Money ?

Time will tell.

48 thoughts on “Is the Internet A Long Tail Ghetto ?

  1. I suspect that most content creators wish they didn’t need the money, yet money is necessary to live in our modern society. So unless you have already achieved your personal definition of financial freedom, then at least a certain percentage of your waking hours must be focused on earning a living.

    Amidst the world of content creators, I think many content creators would prefer to focus the bulk of their energies on creating the content they enjoy producing. Thus, the natural evolution of this would seem to be to try to market and profit from your favored content.

    The trouble in all this is that the content marketplace is not famous for allowing a large middle class to peacefully co-exist. People like stars, and people like being stars, but there can only be so many stars. As a consolation, I think that there have been many examples of people becoming stars and joining the vert ramp, without the help of big money.

    Comment by Milan Cole / FlatFeeMLSMarketing.com -

  2. The long tail is a very interesting concept and one that we have identified as a great biz opportunity. We are the leading African American sports website and created a good advertising business by offering a very targeted and desirable online consumer market attractive to advertisers.

    Comment by Deke O'Malley -

  3. Internet is changing by leaps and bounds. As my husband and I found out when we created internet radio stations that operate like regular radio stations except we go out around the world. We have maintained for 2 years on the small start up and the advertising sales we have had. We are at a point that is requiring us to look for investors to grow more. Thank God the internet is so popular. We had 3.6 Million hits on our site in November. The internet is the new way to advertise and will eventually put paper print out of business.

    Comment by Sheila Tucker -

  4. Zach’s (Post #1) and others take exception with the premise that “No content creator wants to be on the Long tail” and I think that disconnect between these readers and Mark’s article results because the rules of the long tail as proposed by Chris Anderson are not directed at content creators but those that can package up and deliver long tail content. The long tail says to offer everything, sell it cheap, and have a great recommendation engine that helps shoppers find other items down the tail. The recommendation and distribution system may be a benefit to others on the long end of the tail, but the theory in general is directed at content aggregators, not content creators. The Long Tail says that there will always be content on the long tail, that it has its place, and that the opportunity for Big Money is to help folks find it and to offer it at an affordable price (vs. e.g. a limited edition print run where each copy might be unaffordable).

    Comment by Scott Meade -

  5. Interesting post…

    I think it would be a great dissapointment to many if the reality turned out to be that only the only avenue off the long-tail remained ‘big-money’ as you call them.

    What we’re seeing, I think, is a legacy of the dominance of old media companies as they struggle to maintain control in an online, new media world. They’ve got the money – but only from their old distribution models that technologically were out of reach of the small guy.

    The fundamental change is that distribution costs are going down. While being able to spend a heap on marketing still of course helps – the example being set by those small one hit wonders that made it into the vert ramp is that the old distribution methodology is no longer completely dominant.

    What we can do, of course, is support those sites that help the individual off the long tail. I think revver.com is a great example of this. We too have developed a revenue share site http://www.infectiousvideos.com that has set as its mission the purpose of breaking the back of ‘big-money’ by means of revenue sharing. Cause let’s face it… big money needs ‘big-margins’ and with a substantial amount of the revenue going back to creators and individual distributors like bloggers, the big-money isn’t going to be able to live off the fat-of-the-land like it once did.

    What will happen is that revenue share will become a matter of the following – being a single distribution point that can attract mass audiences… but can give as much as possible back to the users. The point of differentiation will be who can afford to give the most back? Certainly not the ‘big-money’ types…

    Comment by Dan Haggard -

  6. Here’s an upcomer that is creating a network of Social Media Sites that will pay members to create content and invite friends to view it. They even pay for aggregation of content ……. valuepay2.com — Our revolutionary online system – comprising of Piggy2 and a netowrk of Web2.0 websites, shares the wealth we make with all our members. Members can earn money every time they create and share their content – homepages, videos, audio, photos – with their friends! People who often use sites like Myspace, YouTube, Digg, Blogspot, Orkut, Flickr, Podzinger etc., stand to benefit the most. Over the next few months we will be launching our own branded network of social media websites which will be more feature rich than most similar sites out there today. By creating content on these websites, members earn money everytime someone visits their content pages.

    Comment by Valuepay2 -

  7. just a note to let you know i referenced this in a post about experts vs. social filters for music.

    Comment by Patrick -

  8. I think the most important point about the Long Tail that Chris Anderson is making is that as 1) distribution costs for digital content reach zero; and 2) inventory/space is no longer a limitation, consumers will actually be able to pick a favorite out of the WHOLE distribution, not just the VertRamp.

    Right now, the VertRamp is the way to go if you want to make money and Marc is right about that. Hopefully, Chris will be right about the fact that consumers will actually be interested to discover content beyond the VertRamp.

    There could be many scenarios as a result. One very unlikely could be the demise (oh no!) of Big media companies as intermediaries between artists and consumers. Another (more likely) could be the creation of user communities who actually promote certain labels/artists and Big media could sponsor these or use them as an advertising vehicle (myspace?).

    Comment by Vidizer -

  9. yea same thing i said in the googtube post on this blog

    the future is in plastics ER UHM video collage for mobile devices as a fun artvertisment of window, ER UHM, media shopping for content and a revenue generator, obviously this would start as a service that would encourage users to create and submit their own collages, the service would tag them, and again, the more advertising budget the content holder has the less incentive and or deals for it however, we all know way too much crap is made and things get forgotten fast, however, a mere glimpse fragment ,,.. bit, and vivid recollection unfolds, i know it, you know it, been saying this shit for fucking years already bipple is what you type on youtube, akshav is what you type on myspace

    Comment by bip -

  10. Yeah.. I’m a graphic designer who’s been unemployed for 6 damn months.. Only maknig ocassional couple of bucks on the side, of course I spend a lot of time to practice.
    And that’s exactly why I practice and get better – to get out of the long tail OF the long tail. That’s my primary motivation. Because money is quite what you think of all the time if you get none.

    Funny how similar this is to all the kids dreaming to get to NBA, while most of the simply won’t have the skills or the luck or one of the many other factors..

    Comment by Mykola -

  11. Mark you of all people should love this book, the long tail represent everything that is great about the internet, Ebay for the little guy who was told by the brick and morter retailers sorry your product would cost to much on our limited shelf space and it would only sell about 100 units a year, itunes and other music download sites for musicians told again they don’t have the space or the sales volume. mysapce and youtube for actors muscicians comedians.etc no more talent scouts saying no you will never make it, these sites for almost zero dollars put you or your product out in front of the world to decide. And amazingly the books research found by god people do want more to choose from. big fffing surprise u mean not everyone wants what has been prefilter and choosen for them. everytime a new site comes out on the net and becomes popular it more than likly has found a new way to exploit THE LONG TAIL of the internet. Peaacccee Mark u still rock

    Comment by David W -

  12. While most people don’t want to be on the long-tail, it still means you’re on the map, and if you can monetize it, it can be a sustainable business.

    Comment by wailea -

  13. “In short, the Long Tail is not a ghetto, it’s a community. One where groups of interested people can come together around a topic and support financially those who create benefiting that area of interest.”

    Or a bunch of small communities. Zach is right, most of this content couldn’t become massively popular because they only appeal to their small community.

    It takes less money to make content available on the internet. Almost anyone can get something on if they want. And the good content becomes more popular. The “ghetto” long tail may be the trailing end of the long tail, but the there is a long stretch of tail between that and the “vert ramp.” You can still be amazingly popular (relative to others in the long tail) and not have millions of viewers/listeners. Has TWIT (this week in tech) ever gotten over one million downloads on a podcast? No, but the cost of production makes having less than a million viewers/listeners completely viable for those who want to make content full time.

    You can be a full time content maker just in the long tail.

    Comment by WADemosthenes -

  14. You are missing the whole point of the long tail. Instead of making a video or whatever content that lots of people with like, you focus on a niche audience that will LOVE your content because it is tailored to thier needs more specificly. The long tail is effective because the total audience is so much larger than in the past. Instead of making a movie that will try to bring in 1,000 people in 5 major cities each (like at a theater) I may target 10 people in 100,000 different cities all over the world. So if I make content that just 10 people in each city will LOVE, then I will be much more successful than the BIG MONEY strategy that tries to bring in a critical mass audience all in one place. You are not fighting the long tail, and trying to move up it, you are loving the long tail and fighting to move down it, to keep it going.

    Comment by John -

  15. Response to Mark Cubans, Is the Internet a Long Tail Ghetto? located on http://www.blogmaverick.com.

    First allow me to state that many of the following ideas stem from ideas and concepts put forth in The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.

    This is all posted at http://economics-of-life.blogspot.com/

    Mark, I think your first and most egregious error in thought occurs when you state, the fact of the matter is: No Content Creator wants to be on the Long Tail. Creators in a niche market generally understand that the content they are creating is in fact niche content and as a result its consumer base will be inherently small, relatively speaking, therefore preventing their content from ever breaking through the content ceiling and onto the vert ramp of widespread social acceptance. I understand you are driven to turn 1$ into 2$ and 2$ into 20$ and so on, and you have proven yourself rather adept at such endeavors, it seems as if that is your calling of sorts. What you seemingly fail to realize is that MANY other individuals have callings that have absolutely nothing to do with increasing their financial bottom line. Many content creators create their content simply for the self expression of the ideas inside them and if they are able to provide their content to a market, niche or otherwise, they will happily do so. If given the opportunity to earn a buck or two in the process, then all the better but first and foremost many create for the love in what they do.

    Secondly, you equate turning content into a meal ticket with breaking through the content ceiling and in turn needing big money to do so. You are overlooking the microstructure in the long tail. As Chris Anderson eloquently pointed out, the long tail is essentially a fractal made up of many smaller long tails. The 20 year old mom and pop corner store complete with milk, eggs, lunch meat, non-perishables and the like is a provider of content to its consumers. They certainly use this business as a meal ticket. While they assuredly do not make quite the profit that national supermarket chains make, they quite possibly may be the leading corner store in their neighborhood, financially beating the likes of WAWA, 7-11 and any other family owned and operated establishment. In this example they are the biggest and most financially profitable provider in their neighborhood which is essentially a niche market. They exist at the top of the vert ramp, well above the content ceiling. The may fall well down towards the bottom of the long tail nationally or globally speaking but their niche market is satisfied with their ability to provide and they are satisfied with the consumers ability and willingness to consume. All the while there is nothing that requires this mom and pop shop to seek out big money. They are able to provide for their niche consumers, turn their efforts into a reliable stream of income (if any income can ever really be termed reliable) and support their family. Their corner store is a meal ticket. They dominate their small fractal of the national/global market.

    Thirdly, you state The further up the ramp (unless you reach the very top), the less influence you have in the success of your content. Most content creators would not create if they did not have control over that which they are creating. The foundation behind expression and creation lies in the ability of an artist to create without compromise. This is only an assumption, but I could easily envision a scenario in a bottom line driven environment (big money) in which a content creator is asked to change their content to better fit a desired model. Any creator who creates for the sole purpose of making money will happily adjust their creation, BUT there are many more creators who create for self expression and most of them would not even think about compromising their artistic integrity to enhance a financial bottom line.

    In conclusion, I dont believe the internet is a long tail ghetto. Its inhabitants goals and desires span a very large make up, from the money driven and those trying to break the national or global content ceiling, to those happily dwelling in their more remote niches, and those simply casting garbage into the world. All of which have merit, even the supposed garbage. I think the Internet is simply a global market, consisting of the large head and the long tail, full of many niches (fractals) and with a wide range of quality.

    Comment by gerard l callan II -

  16. Awesome Blog Mark
    I have been listening to you for some time and from it I have heard this. Although Youtube / Google will be the go to for videos. People will begin to look elsewhere to find the specific content they want.

    Example being the business model / market I’ve chosen to target. And that is Paintball with 5 original shows. Aside from allowing people to upload ther eown paintball and comedic content, we will focus on the Paintball market.

    Again listening to what you say and my observations, the success comes in the partnerships and alliances. No mater what industry you want to partner with someone within the industry to gain instant credibility through association. Weve partnered with the http://www.NPPL.tv (National Professional Paintball League) to distribute our content throught there website and distribution channels. Naturaly the larger vendors wthin the market are following.

    In order to provide absolute value and address a mention from above, there is not enough value in just web traffic. And when your content is posted elsewhere, the host makes the advertising revenue not you. SO to offset that and ensure excellent numbers were having our shows distributed through mobile carriers (VCast, ROX Mobile, Pocket PC users), VOD libraries (Time Warner, DirecTV, Xhaled.com), but also broadcast / satelite syndication (MAV TV, America ONE, HDNet). Were also producing all of our shows in HD for future viewing.

    I do a lot of I do because of you Mark! You’re my mentor!

    Coolassmike!
    http://www.Xhaled.com

    Comment by Michael Bowers -

  17. This is a great blog, and this was a very thoughtful post. I think there is a good deal of the net – probably MOST of it – that is a ghetto. But that is irrelevant to the Long Tail. The concept of the Long Tail is that everything in it is useful to someone at some point in time. Unlike the PLT (pre-Long Tail) era, marginally useful content does not have to go into the dumpster because there’s no room on the shelf, or because the shelf has to be cleared for better-selling merchandise. The Long Tail shelf is infinite.

    Not every content creator does so for payment. That’s completely untrue. People have many reasons for doing things, far more than I could recount in this comment. Some folks crave attention, others are passionate for an idea, still others want to save the world. There are all kinds of motivations for human behavior besides money.

    Even someone who is seeking money might make content merely to build a reputation or draw attention to some other activity which IS for profit.

    As fare as audience size goes, as this month’s WIRED notes, even a tiny niche on the internet can keep a microbusiness afloat these days.

    Comment by Mister Snitch! -

  18. You’ve missed the point about money in the Long-tail – its not about individual contributions moving from obscurity to fame (although the mechanisms for promoting content in the long tail increase the chances of a few talented individuals who might be otherwise ignored).

    The whole point of the LT argument is that content aggregators can make money out of niche vertical markets – because they can aggregate a lot of niche markets and expose them to a wide audience.

    The niche markets expand in size a little – wider availability – but for organisations like Amazon – where there is effectively a zero cost of stocking for display – they can afford to promote the niche markets without having to impinge upon the vertical ramp – and subsequently make money from them. This doesn’t happen with high-street retailers because they can’t afford the stock-risk associated with those little niches.

    Initial figures from Amazon sales and a handful of other internet based music stores show that long tail sales are tending towards the magic 68.2% of possible sales. This suggests that the LT represents 1 standard deviation of sales if sales follow a normal distribution. Which leaves the top 10 – 50 items with around 32% – or < 1% of content produces 1/3 of all sales.

    Comment by John -

  19. IMHO this essay is a victim of survivorship bias, or some deriviative. This bias occurs when you witness a skewed sample of reality. There are many people making real money on the Internet that you never hear about, but because you have never heard about them, you do not use them in your sample set. Therefore, skewing your opinion.

    Thought exercises such as this essay are useful. But seeing some data would be even better.

    Comment by Alex Pooley -

  20. I really am going to sound like a groupie but, seriously, you and Jason are the best new media business reads, evah.

    Long tail ghetto … brilliant!

    Comment by Liza Sabater -

  21. The Long Tail isn’t new. It’s just more visible than ever. Every generation spawns millions of hopeful artists: the wannabe novelists and painters, actors and singers. And as always, only a very small percentage manages to rise through to the Vert Ramp. Only now, today, with the Internet, the “squalor” of that artist’s struggle is available for all to see: yet another mediocre short film with great production values; another band releasing a song on MySpace I coud never listen through even once. Content creation has traditionally been about access–the “choke point” that allowed distributors (e.g., TV networks) to keep content creators out of their business, or alternatively give them the golden ticket. The big change that has favored artists is not that MORE artists can suddenly make a living from their art. It’s perhaps that the playing field has been leveled allowing artists to get their content to the masses to find an audience or die on the vine. Up until very recently (and perhaps still today) a feature filmmaker needed to live in Hollywood. That’s where the “choke point” was. You had to beat down the doors, so to speak, until someone let you not only make a film (because cameras and equipment were rare and expensive) but someone also had to let you DISTRIBUTE your work. We’re now straddling these two worlds: the old world dictated by a few people in one place, and a new world where access is open to all and talent simply wins out (while mediocrity is ignored as it generally has always been). And it is only because we straddle the two worlds that Big Money is still part of the equation. When Internet video distribution is, practically speaking, only a couple of years old, how can it be expected to have matured into an effective machine? Big Money is old money and has a huge upper-hand in strategy, capital and talent resources. But I just can’t see why someone in Springfield Missouri couldn’t create a web portal that provided a Vertical Ramp for artists, right from his living room–NOT with big money but with unprecedented word of mouth via the Internet. What will ALWAYS be necessary to hit the Vert Ramp will be ENDORSEMENT: trusted “distributors” or “filters.” But I don’t believe they’ll require big money at all. And these new distributors will probably come and go much more quickly (lose your finger on the pulse for a moment and someone else has swept in to take your place). In the meantime, “talent will out” as Barry Diller as said. Talent will find its audiences somehow.

    Comment by skip90291 -

  22. Found gems in those last three comments, and to,

    “Of course professional content creators want to get paid for their work, but that doesnt keep them from doing spec (free work with hopes of being paid in the future) work and it doesnt keep them from working on their content-oriented passion even in the ABSENSE of committed capital.”

    Amen. Some of that type of spec or even pro bono work is the best work I’ve seen in a long-ass time.

    Comment by JM -

  23. I haven’t read all the comments here in depth, so this point may have been made:

    You’re all looking at it from the perspective of the little guy who has two readers. The fact is, 95% of everybody is in the long tail. They make two cents each. Google cashes in on everybody’s two cents’ worth.

    Comment by Larry Blumen -

  24. I realize your post concentrates on content, but commerce is the underlying point. And when considering e-commerce, the long-end of the tail is where transactions get done most efficiently.

    No one is more qualified than a long-tailer who searches for say “Bellagio Hotel Las vegas weekend offers” vs. “Vegas” (which is clearly in the vertical). The more specific a search, the more likely the person has moved down the puchase decision making process and is ready to breakout their credit card.

    Companies have created hundreds of millions of dollars capturing these long-tail customers, TripAdvisor being one of the more famous examples.

    Big Money is just waking up to this fact; many realize they need to double-up on efforts to pursue the tail because they cannot conduct an efficient Google adsense campaign. Others are simply looking at conversion data and becoming Believers.

    Means those of us in the tail are certain to see more competition with time, but also higher valuations related to our efforts.

    Comment by Tom -

  25. I would say that I am living proof that you don’t need big money to do ok. I certainly started off as just about as long tail as one could be (while flat broke)…I turned down being officially published, VC funding, etc. and make far more than most people do.

    Comment by aaron wall -

  26. In the right nice with the right optimization 10,000 visitors can produce more income for a web master then the average median income in the United States.

    Mark, you are one of the business people I follow closely and learn a great deal from but you are missing the point of the long tail here for the majority of your readers.

    What you write is quite true for the person looking to be the next billionaire but many individuals and small businesses alike make a very good income from the long tail.

    Tail traffic can be the most targeted of all, the issue is not the ammount of traffic in the tail but that it is becoming more competed for at a faster rate then it is growing.

    Why? Because there is a lot of gold in the tail. More like the gold that is mined by the small time prospector then the commerical mining opperation for sure, but lots of gold none the less.

    That said I hope everyone listens to you and abandons the tail to the few of us willing to work it agressively. That would be just fine by me,

    Jack Spirko

    Comment by Jack Spirko -

  27. My gf started blogging recently and she gets discouraged because her wide-ranging music-related site gets 50 visits a day and she’s making bupkis on Adsense (she looks at my niche site and wonders how I get so much traffic… the answer is niche).

    I tell people not to be the next Boing Boing or Instapundit, but to find a niche that you enjoy writing about and slug away at it. It’s far more rewarding and the audience you do build will be more energetic about visiting your site often and subscribing via RSS for updates.

    Comment by Stephen VanDyke -

  28. What you’re talking about is the “Fat Middle”. It’s where all the volatility happens and it’s the most interesting part of the graph.

    You’ve got entries constantly moving up into the Short Head and fading back from there. And you’ve also got entries appearing out of the Long Tail on their way up and ones that didn’t make it and are disappearing.

    I think “Fat Middle” is an easier to understand term than the Base of the Vert Ramp.

    From a commercial angle the Fat Middle is the home of the “Nice Little Earner”. It’s where, if you keep your costs down and operation small, you can make a bunch of money from relatively simple sources like advertising. And in a way that is sustainable rather than the big blow out of an exit route. It’s often about being number one in a medium size niche. It’s Last.FM rather than MySpace.

    Comment by Julian Bond -

  29. yes. money is required. marketing is very important and is difficult to accurately quantify. Wide-scale marketing is thus inordinately expensive, and thus dependent on typical prospects for previous iterations of content in question (spider-man 2’s budget can be determined based on the success of spiderman 1, etc).

    in short, wide scale content delivery is a case of the media companies telling its audience what to like and enforcing it trough positive reinforcement. it tries a lot of shit because the insular nature of the industry means that it’s out of touch de facto. it uses music as an indicant of what’s happening in pop culture because young music groups tend to represent cultural movements rather accurately.

    this is why this supposed movement online isn’t as big a deal. it will merely provide a more standardized medium for discovering new talent, the needle in the haystack that has the management acumen to produce in-demand content on a schedule and a budget.

    the difference between robert rodriguez (el mariachi) and robert rodriguez (desperado) is a budget – a marketing budget and some cash to clear up the limits in his work due to cash shortages. the reason rodriguez is a hollywood commodity? A studio can cut him a check, and he delivers a final cut and ancillaries on time, in satisfactory condition, and on/under budget. the difference between el mariachi and desperado in terms of return is marketing.

    you need the money – because you need the marketing. marketing is the single most important aspect of any non-essential product in my opinion. marketing creates or exposes insufficiency and provides the answer to said insufficiency in the form of their product. the difference between jackass and the guys online doing arguably cooler and more dangerous shit is the millions MTV has to plaster their face all over the place.

    Comment by blyx -

  30. mark:

    one of us is confused. since you’re the billionaire i assume it’s not you. but here’s the thing; i understand the central thesis of long tail to mean that:

    1) the cost of creating on the net is falling to $0
    2) the net is an efficient distribution conduit for content
    3) the result is a low-friction, low-cost environment for content
    4) the result is sliver-casting (a show for every viewer)

    i’m driving at the holy-grail of e-commerce: mass customization. this time is may actually happen too, because the point of the long-tail is that the internet isn’t about content in search of an audience but rather an audience in search of niche-content. and finding it one member at a time.

    of course if the long-tail thesis is correct content providers and aggregators like hollywood, yahoo, television networks and producers, lexis-nexis, the courts, etc., will lose traction because consumers can readily become producers and cut out the middle-man.

    if you get a chance please tell me where i went wrong. thanks.

    Comment by m. hedayat -

  31. Well, please remember, there was a time when Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, etc. had more viewers than anybody could ever dream of having today. It wasn’t necessarily because of their inevitable mass appeal; they were simply the only game in town.

    So the advent of cable created a long tail of sorts. But somehow, consumers and content creators eventually enjoyed a much more fruitful set of circumstances; more programming, more diverse programming, more interesting programming, but far fewer viewers per capita.

    Ultimately, the Internet’s “long-tail economics” issues are like any other “new medium”; time, along with a series of failures and successes of all kinds, will eventually figure it all out.

    There are shows on CNBC-primetime with viewers amounting to what many in the Web biz would view as “chump numbers”. But somehow, I assume, a CNBC-primetime producer can get paid more than a Web site with more viewers, one that hasn’t yet figured out how to translate its viewership into consistent revenue.

    We could be, and probably are, experiencing the incipient stages of a micro-niche content playground that pushes “Big Money” toward business models and interests that fly directly in the face of all their previous biz models. They may not be ready for it.

    I recently offered small, non-exclusive — but decent money — television distribution deals to two different successful and independent Web content creators. But they are far more concerned about keeping their Web brand exclusive to them. They had NO interest in getting that “big break” from “Big Media”. One went as far as to say “I don’t care HOW much money they’re offering. Exclusivity’s more important.”

    There’s a trend out there in new media and the “Big Media” companies ain’t ready for it, and probably never will be.

    Comment by Charles -

  32. I agree with much of what Zach says in the #1 post.

    For a definition of when content crosses over to the Vert Ramp, I suggest that content crosses over when that content satisfies the economic-based definition of a hit for any traditional (non-Internet, limited shelf-space) distribution system. Put simply, you hit the vert ramp when you begin to appeal to the masses.

    However, that no content creator wants to be on the long tail is a large generalization. Content creators want to survive and thrive while they create content. What content creators DONT want to do is work at McDonalds in order to supplant what they lovetheyd rather create content, tell stories, do graphics, cut and edit, etc.

    So I have a different sense of professional content creators. Almost everyone I know creating content as a business is currently operating on the service-agency dole meaning that they trade time for money day in and day out. Each of those tremendously creative individuals and companies BALANCE their passion with making ends meet every month. Its not either-or its BOTH and how they manage that. Everyone working on a commercial for an ad agency is doing their documentary after hours; everyone working on Quentins latest film is still working their personal projects on weekends.

    Of course professional content creators want to get paid for their work, but that doesnt keep them from doing spec (free work with hopes of being paid in the future) work and it doesnt keep them from working on their content-oriented passion even in the ABSENSE of committed capital.

    I believe the trap in thinking about anything below the content ceiling as a dead-end, low-value ghetto is predicated on very traditional notions about what is of primary value ($$) in a non-long tail world: in particular, the notion of reach. Reach and vert ramp go hand in hand. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reach_%28advertising%29

    The other side of the reach coin, in terms of value to folks willing to subsidize content, is targeting and engagement. 10k of exactly the right folks engaging with content that is perfectly aligned with their interests is valuable to a number of different parties. A SIGNIFICANT percentage of advertisers on the Home and Garden Cable Channel were never TV advertisers before that more targeted but smaller number of viewers forum existed (fertilizer, tile, plumbing companies).

    At the end of the day, I suspect there will be a new media version of big money that will know how content creators can not only survive but thrive all along the long tail. Wildly valuable and below the vert ramp. Focusing on vert ramp or better will be the tar baby for the traditional media industry that is addicted to “reach” versus “targeting” and “frequency” versus “community.”

    Comment by Kip -

  33. Long tail, schlong tail. I don’t get it. I just want to create work that makes me happy, makes me money and has a positive impact on my clients.

    Comment by Joel Cohen/RestaurantMarketing.com -

  34. Seems to me you’re missing Anderson’s point about the long tail. Here’s a quote from the link you gave to the Wired article, “Forget squeezing millions from a few megahits at the top of the charts. The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.”

    “Future of entertainment” is perhaps ambiguous but I’d say an important part of his argument is that chasing after what you call the “vert ramp” is misguided for very substantial number of creators and publishers. That’s the old and needs not only scads of money (as you indeed suggested) but also a fair bit of luck. Luck is still useful but it can be managed better on the long tail. And money is useful there too but far, far less necessary. There is no ghetto. Yes, the long tail may provide the engine to ramp things up dramatically but even if it doesn’t it’s still a far better market for the smaller creator than is attempting to break straight in at the high end. This is what communication now is about.

    Comment by Murdoch -

  35. I think if you try and make something better than whats already out there or have something new or interesting that hasn’t been done before then you can go up the ramp but when you are geared towards a niche market it can be a long term ghetto

    Comment by Darren -

  36. mark, this is one of your more intelligent posts I’ve read. =)

    Comment by jason -

  37. I believe the floating inflection point from long-tail to “vert ramp” is the Amazon ranking of the hardcover edition of “The Long Tail.”:-)

    Comment by Ed Kohler -

  38. The folks arguing against the long tail being a ghetto are missing the analogy.

    The reasoning is that if your content is valuable to some, it can be valuable to many with exposure. That’s the long tail in a nutshell. Being on the long tail does not mean your content is too niche to have mass appeal. The long tail is not about what is conventionally “hot” or “popular”.

    Comment by Anand -

  39. Part of the challenge is picking the right palette to begin with. In content, if you choose some obscure subject, you may wind up being perceived the expert in it by a cadre of fans numbering just 3. You’ve failed. On the other hand, you can pick a subject that has everyone’s attention, and just get lost in the noise.

    Everyone should be looking for fat tails – the now popular notion that you can survive on the long one is, in my opinion, akin to thinking you can survive as a daytrader.

    PS: sorry to hear about your Paint skills – some will be sad for your future – you are completely unemployable now😉.

    Comment by Michael -

  40. Mark… great post.

    I’m a big believer in the emergence of the “Fat Belly” (http://gigaom.com/2006/09/04/digg-that-fat-belly/)… the section in between the Long Tail and Big Head. In short, it’s likely that all the factors that drive the market from scarcity to abundance will reset break-even points and redefine metrics for profitability of media products. In other words, more and more “success” will be attainable in the Fat Belly.

    But, as you stated, it’ll still require money… just not nearly as much as before.

    Comment by Robert Young -

  41. A few years ago, I was involved with the interent strategy of one of the music industry majors. The strategy involved creating a culture “fan-assisted promotion”.

    Since much of the group’s profits got plowed back into breaking new artists, the strategy was aimed at getting fans to create website, thereby helping to reduce those costs.

    I find it interesting that, a few years later, sites like MySpace are doing the work of breaking new artists. The industry execs must be laughing all the way to the bank.

    Comment by Michael Heraghty -

  42. I must admit I was initially offended with the use of “G” word but I see your point.

    But what about the artist who does this out of love and not financial gain. There is not “G-tail” because the value is in the thing itself and not what it can bring in.

    Also, I think Big Money should step back and wait. The introduction of the VCR was initially viewed as a copyright problem but later turned into a financial windfall for moviemakers.

    They now have officially two releases for their movies in the theaters and in the video stores. The get paid twice for the same effort.

    Let the internet playout and see where it all leads. Big Money has the copyright ace card they can play whenever. In the mean time let the creative geniuses of the internet come up with new and exciting ways to repackage their product and so that they can get paid again.

    Comment by Antonio Howell -

  43. Appreciated your post because, as an artist, I’ve been thinking across this idea for quite some time. Accordingly, Ill think aloud a little now with the five minutes I have to spare.

    “Is the only way out of the Internet Long Tail ghetto to work with Big Money?”

    I wonder about that in general, not just in regards to the Internet. Mostly, however, my focus is on bigger budget feature film.

    Its most oft a paradox/vicious cycle, etc:
    No one wants to work with you until you bridge a certain point, term it what you will, yet youre the same person you were before, with the same, high-caliber abilities, ideas and work to offer. You need funding to help reach audience and show your ability and work to influencers, but no one will consider funding you until you do just that. And just when you hit it big and are doing fine, youve managed to work without them, then everyone wants to fund you (including the people who saw the exact project a week before and passed). You say yes to their funding, and help perpetuate the cycle.

    Furthermore,

    They dont want your help. They want to be Big Money and do what Big Money does. They try to make as much money as possible.

    I would suggest, however, that keeping your eye on the ball (product, in my case that is artistic content) and allowing the artistic team of professionals to do what they do without meddling, but restrained by budget and other business constraints (you know, to prevent ridiculous wastes of story money such as in the case of the Star Wars prequels, or Matrix 2 & 3), I suggest that keeping your eye on the product ball will breed the most success and money. Of course the films I mentioned were successes profit wise, but did they reach their maximum potential? I suggest no, because despite the massive fanbase etc., the quality wasnt there. There are hundreds of examples. Superman is one that didnt maximize its potential due to timeliness (poor franchise choice for the times were in). Chalk it up to many things, but mostly (and sometimes to my amusement) that those few who are making the funding decisions dont know how to do the right thing at the right time, which is a rare ability.

    What interests me is coming up for a new model to big-budget film. Big-budget movies are, after all, the most influential myth/story consumed by our society and I wonder how to break the paradox of:

    BigMoney controls movies -> People can only watch whats available -> bar lowers -> people pay for and think subpar, shiny movies like The Prestige are Great -> BigMoney makes more shitty, shiny, subpar movies. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. These cycles are also apparent in media, politics, poverty .

    How do you break the cycle successfully?

    I also thought the first comment in response to this post was relevant in terms of broad appeal (often vs. quality). On topic: http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2006/10/knowing_when_to.html

    So, in sum, you are the Picasso of statistical illustrations,

    And Im figuring it out.

    Onward.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtuous_circle_and_vicious_circle
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_paradoxes
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catch-22_%28logic%29

    Comment by JM -

  44. I commented above about small verticle niches in the tail. I’m suprised to have received a prompt email from Mark:

    “You aren’t long tail if you are the leader in you industry or niche. You price according to yr market. Long tail would be your competitor doing 10 readers

    HDNet
    TV like you have never seen before
    http://Www.hd.net

    m”

    Never one to nitpick with someone who attacks adversaries on the court in front of cameras. (wink) I do think that there has to be some cutoff between the head and tail. Otherwise, everythings a hit. Mark suggests that with 5k readers I’m the market leader. Well… sort of. But I’d argue that I’m still in the tail. If I’m not in the tail then why isn’t everything a hit. Almost anything can be hair-split into its own market. The Utah Jazz (Im in Park City) is the only NBA Team in UT. They have the hightest ticket sales of any team in UT. Unfortuantely, they’re in the tail. (At least I think so, I’m a soccer fan and not a basketbally one.)

    Here’s my point. The content I provide is not big enough to be a market on it’s own. It’s just a small verticle in the tail of a much larger market. But, If I move over the “content ceiling” and try to move into the head, my specialized content looses it’s value.

    Perhaps it’s me that’s splitting hairs but It’s hard to envision the head being some tiny subset of users of a larger market.

    Comment by jeff barson -

  45. I have a day job, and everything you say is true about how I pay the rent, but because I had one thesis about one narrow idea and wondered if there are others out there who think the same thing, I started a blog for my small small niche (high tech entrepreneurs who do not want VC — http://creditcardvc.com).

    That blog is founded on the very notion that most people are not and _should not_ be like me.

    So I think your post is true, but only for a small chunk of the tail.

    One of the lines I use when trying to make someone feel better about the fact that I won’t be hiring him or her is that the most disappointed Olympians are the silver medalists; they fixate on how close they came to the top. The bronze medalists are happy because they know how close they came to getting nothing. The others are generally just happy to be there.

    So your post is true for the silver medalists of the tail, perhaps the 10 percent just below the ceiling, but most of the rest of the tail is just happy to be there.

    Comment by Scott Yates -

  46. I have a business that can only exist in the long tail. One of my sites (http://www.medicalspasonline.com) is specifically geared to physicians in a specialized niche, non-surgical cosmetic medicine. I have about 5000 readers a month looking for information in a verticle niche. Any attempt to go up the ramp (more general info)lessens my attractiveness. Hits aren’t the only hits.

    Comment by jeff barson -

  47. I believe this situation has been occurring in markets for a long time. The terms or words to describe it seem to have evolved or morphed into these modern descriptions. Basically, entrepeneurs have been faced with the big money question for eons, consequences being loss of creativity,control and independence. The interesting aspect of the internet flavor seems to be that it too is subject to the same ebb and flow of business conditions that the non-internet world has been subject to for a long time. That question took maybe 15 years to answer.

    Comment by Pete -

  48. >No Content Creator wants to be on the Long Tail.

    Respectfully, this thesis seems to be missing the entire point of the Long Tail: lots of creators want to be on the Long Tail. Sure, everyone wants to be popular and have tens of millions of viewers for their work, but by definition, works that receive that kind of viewership have to appeal to an incredibly broad base of people. There aren’t a lot of works like that, and it takes extremely talented people to create good ones. In contrast, Long Tail works appeal to targeted niches of society.

    Not all creators are creating for the masses, many are quite happy working within a focused realm. Academic writers, for interest, author papers that appeal to highly specialized audiences. People may create videos, how-to guides, or podcasts on subjects relating to their hobbies, interests, or even favorite sci-fi universes. In many cases, people are out there happily creating valuable content for small audiences and getting compensated for it.

    While 10,000 viewers may not sound like a lot to you, it is a hell of a lot most people. If someone can create creative content targeted to a small group of people, have many members of that group engaged and interested, and make a couple bucks on the side, then to them, that’s absolutely fantastic.

    In short, the Long Tail is not a ghetto, it’s a community. One where groups of interested people can come together around a topic and support financially those who create benefiting that area of interest.

    It is often said that small businesses make up the lifeblood of the economy. A mom and pop store may not serve in a year one ten-thousandth of the the number of customers Wal-Mart serves in a week, but add up a lot of small businesses, and you’ve got a massive amount of money changing hands. While a small business owner may dream of growing to a massive size, many are quite content with their businesses and their abilities to enrich people’s lives. In the same way, Long Tail creators should be the small businesses of the Internet economy, mom and pop outfits happily peddling their wares to a specific community. Long Tail creators don’t want to work with Big Money any more then a mom and pop retailer wants to sell out to Wal-Mart.

    Comment by Zach Lipton -

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