It's taken me so long to get around to reading this that anyone with any interest has probably read it already. Still, in the unlikely event that you (a) care and (b) haven't read it, here's a brief summary. The Long Tail is about the affect the internet has had on traditional business models. Freed from the confines of limited shelf space, online retailers are able to stock vastly more products than their bricks-and-mortar alternatives. These products, while not blockbuster successes, all sell in small amounts - even if it's only a copy or two per year.
If you make a graph with products on the horizontal and sales on the vertical, you get a curve with the big-selling hits on the left, petering away to the niche products on the right. Take away the 'short head' - the titles stocked by a traditional store - and the remaining products constitute the 'long tail'. Here's the surprise: the combined sales of long tail products are equal to, or even greater than, those in the short head.
There's a massive opportunity here and it's one that didn't exist before the internet came along.
Chris Anderson originally published his theory in an article in Wired magazine, where he is editor-in-chief. The book expands on the article considerably with more examples and more data but the argument remains the same. Anderson identifies three forces driving the long tail: the democratisation of the tools of production, lower consumption costs thanks to the democratisation of distribution and the ability to connect supply and demand.
In other words: make it, put it out there and help me find it.
What emerges from the book - and this is another significant change from the article - is just how far-reaching the long tail model is. It's not just something that affects book stores and record stores. Anderson shows, for example, how Lego is being revolutionised by the long tail. It's a powerful force that is arising because of the internet and how we naturally use it.
In the three years or so since Anderson's article was published his ideas have spread rapidly, to the point where they now probably feel like truisms to most people who work online. However, the book is still worth reading because of the sheer weight of Anderson's argument. They aren't directly linked but reading The Long Tail made me wonder how anybody could take troll du jour Andrew Keen seriously.
I'm probably the last one to this particular party but if you're even later than me, you should certainly read this book.