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Lessons to learn from The Long Tail

Posted August 21st, 2008 by ingrid

I’ve been meaning to blog about Anita Elberse’s Should You Invest in the Long Tail article for a while now because it highlights some key misunderstandings about what the long tail actually means for producers and aggregators/retailers of niche content ie. it absolutely does not mean that niche content is suddenly turning into blockbuster material and neither does it mean that niche content producers/aggregators no longer need to worry about big, mainstream successes. In fact the hits are vitally important to support the content in the tail (and savvy aggregators will exploit this key relationship between mainstream/hit content and the niche – between the head and the tail). Her advice to producers:

1. Don’t radically alter blockbuster resource-allocation or product-portfolio management strategies. A few winners will still go a long way—probably even further than before

2. When producing niche goods for the tail end of the distribution, keep costs as low as possible. Your odds of success aren’t favorable here either, and they will probably become less so

3. When trying to strengthen your presence in digital channels, focus on marketing your most popular products

4. Leverage your scale to improve online exposure and demand for products across your product portfolio. Again, hit products play a key role here.

The Tribeca Film Institute’s Brian Newman has some very astute comments on Elberse’s research:

She gives many scenarios of advice for both producers and distributors of content to consider, but the implications are pretty clear – the long-tail does exist, but the business models to best exploit it may not be what many in indie film have thought. It’s very clear that aggregators, online stores, etc. need to have a mix of both popular and niche content – there isn’t some mythical consumer that only values niche content, and your little film is much more likely to be found if someone can get there while investigating something much better known. This is nothing new of course. Film festival programmers have always used the strategy of mixing an experimental short, say, in front of a more popular feature to build audience for the more obscure title. It works this way online as well. Anyone thinking about how the long-tail impacts the indie film business -festivals, distribution, producing – should study these findings closely because it’s very possible that the idea of separating indie/niche content from popular content (i.e. current practice) is not a good idea in an online, interconnected world.

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