Lee Gomes and Chris Anderson have been having a back and forth debate about the Long Tail. Chris wrote an article for Wired followed by a book explaining the phenomenon and how it applies to modern commerce. The long tail is nothing new, it’s a well known mathematical fact. See the graph to the right, the yellow portion can cumulatively outweigh the initial red portion.
From the wikipedia article about the book:
Anderson argued that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough. Examples of such mega-stores include the online retailer Amazon.com and the online video rental service Netflix. The Long Tail is a potential market and, as the examples illustrate, successfully tapping in to that long tail market is often enabled by the distribution and sales channel opportunities the Internet creates.
A former Amazon employee described the Long Tail as follows: “We sold more books today that didn’t sell at all yesterday than we sold today of all the books that did sell yesterday.”
‘The long tail’ has become a buzzword, and it is drawing a lot of attention because of Chris’ claims that this will change the future of web based business.
The entire debate can be succinctly summarized in one sentence: Lee is disagreeing with Chris’ theory that the Long Tail universally applies to all markets. It may apply specifically to certain companies like Netflix and Amazon, but it is not universal.