The Longtail of Profit

Longtail: no not a cat tail but a tail nevertheless
 Image source: verticalresponse

Corporate business that have a chain of retailers are likely to sell “main stream” items especially in regards to the entertainment industry (Books, Movies and Music). This is due to the simple fact that main stream popular media will sell at a higher rate than a niche product and therefore produce a higher profit for the retailer.  I find this the case when I am looking for novels/ niche Metal music in Australia’s Big W stores; as retailers only sell mainstream entertainment media as demonstrated by the Longtail model shown in the image below.

LongTail_01Image sourceIDC exchange

The exponential curve shows expected sales of certain items based on the items popularity. The high point of the curve, which is left of the median, represents the mainstream items which a large retail chain would sell. While the curve that lies to the right of the median represents an increasingly niche market, with lower “dollar per sale”  but lies within a significantly longer curve known as the “Long Tail”; as Anderson (2004 p.3) states ‘What’s really amazing about the Long Tail is the sheer size of it’. The Long tail is where you can find everything ‘back catalogue, older albums, live tracks, remixes…’ (Anderson 2004 p.2).

Online stores such as Amazon and Bookdepository are able to provide recommendations which can lead the audience/consumer to view a product which may not otherwise have been seen due to the product being part of the niche market and situated in the long tail. I have found that this is an increasingly available online service with sites such as Goodreads also using a recommendation service after the user has rated a certain amount of novels. This can direct attention to novels that would not otherwise have received attention, especially at a physical store, as it is not in the top twenty percent which will make the store a profit. Online stores are able to promote these items from the long tail as it does not cost them a lot with the shop being online compared to a physical shop which must pre-order stock and pre- pay for this stock.

Why pay when you can download for free?

Then you come to this question about music and novels which are copied or promoted by the artist as a free download. As Mitew (2013) states ‘Why would you pay for something that you can get for free?’.Amanda Palmer is an artist that allows her music to be downloaded for free and in an interview she states that it is all about the art of giving (TedTalks 2013).  Amanda ‘asked her crowd to catch her’, with fans backing her at 1.2million dollars, she then goes on to  state how she is often asked how she makes her fans pay (TedTalks 2013), where she simply replies;

“ And the real answer is, I didn’t make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I’d connected with them,“- TedTalks(2013)

Amanda Palmer is living proof that even if the media is free, if you ask fans and if these fans have an emotional connection to the product, they are willing to pay for the service.

The long tail model is allowing online stores to direct audience attention to a niche market where sometimes the media is free. Physical stores often only sell the top 20% of the market to gain a profit, however, with the example of Amanda Palmer it is clear that even if the media is free, if you simply ask people to buy the media they often will and that sharing of media products is not only about where you can make the most profit.



Anderson, C 2004, ‘The Long Tail’, Wired, vol. 12, no. 10, <>

Mitew, T 2013, ‘Into the cloud: the long tail and the attention economy’, Prezi Slides, DIGC202, University of Wollongong, viewed date 12th September, <>

Ted Talks, 2013, Amanda Palmer: The Art of Asking, Online Video, posted March 2013, Ted, viewed 10th September 2013. <>



9 thoughts on “The Longtail of Profit

  1. I am a fan of the ‘long tail’ model. I have had so many good recommendations (some not so good), from sites such as Amazon, iTunes and Spotify that I have ended up buying or listening too purely because it had be recommended. I think it gives a good chance for newer and less notable artists and authors alike to gain exposure and an audience that they otherwise wouldn’t have had. Definitely agree with your Big W example, particularly if you shop at large department stores like that, they you really only stock a large selection of choice unless you are searching for something in the ‘top 20’ selections. Great post!

  2. I love how you mentioned producer need to emotionally connect with fans so they will pay for the service, of course there are indeed some example proves these statement is right such as music concert and online streaming. However I am thinking about the nature of The Long Tail, if the product or the content no longer worth money, why would the artist still want to produce? I mean why don’t they open more concerts because apparently that’s where the money comes from. However I have to say I do love the long tail model, as you know the books in Unishop are expensive, each session I save at least $200 from buying my textbook from the bookdepository!

  3. Such an interesting example with Amanda Palmer! What a cool concept. I just checked out the video then. I also use the GoodReads app. I have also often ended up buying songs and books that I originally had no intention to buy – or had not even heard of – through them being ‘recommended’ to me. It will be interesting to see how stores such as Big W respond to the situation in the future, how they will compete with online retailers or whether they will too be largely based online.

  4. The thing about the long tail is that no matter how you look at it, the tail part will always dominate the chart. I never would have thought that before this subject, I was naive and happy to believe that blockbusters/bestsellers would make more money than independent projects. However, as I’ve been thinking about the long tail this week I have realised that everyone I know may have 10 or even 20 best seller novels ( I know a few book worms) but these same bookworms would easily have 100 novels that are certainely not bestsellers. They are normally second hand tattered copies, but it goes to show that there definitely is a market for everything that doesn’t class as a hit. If the small amount of people I’m referring too can represent so many different niches, think of how many niches are accommodated for on a larger scale!

  5. The patronage idea seems so risky, but with your example about Amanda Palmer, it can obviously work. is an article (it mentions her in it as well). When I think about it, I guess I could be predisposed to donate to a bad I feel I have a connection with. I pay for the bands I like, particularly Australian ones, on iTunes, and free download most of the “chart toppers”. I realise that my behaviour is another way of showing patronage to a band I feel a connection with, and this may extend to making a donation if a band asked for it.

  6. You make some very interesting comments about the stock carried by large department stores like Big-W. I hadn’t thought about the market they catered to previously, but it is clear that the Internet can be utilized to introduce consumers to products that they may never be exposed to in a physical sense (e.g. a book or music store). Like many of my classmates have mentioned above, I have discovered new music through iTunes recommendations, sometimes even looking up artists I already like, to find other similar artists. Without the Long Tail effect and especially the contribution that the Internet has made to this phenomenon, I wonder if our tastes and curiosities would have developed any further than isle 3 of Big-W.

  7. This is often the reason why people sign a record deal, the market is hard to break. If no one is willing to put your cd in reach of the public, how can they buy it? Back in 1996, when asked what he thought was so groundbreaking about the Internet, Steve Jobs said that the ability use the Internet to sell products equally was what he thought was going to change the world. The biggest and the smallest retailers both have the same customer base, and they both had the same sized store. An artist with a million dollar recording contract has no advantage over an independant artist online. Record companies pay millions of dollars to have songs played on the radio and albums put in stores, but they can’t influence what people buy and download online. The freedom of the open market is what influences the long tail, but it is still dominated by the short tail.

  8. Very interesting to hear you raise the points about the fact that most things online can be downloaded for free if you look hard enough, but in the case of Amanda Palmer, she established a connection with her fans, and those fans felt emotionally attached enough to pay for her product. This is really cool to know that people are genuinely interested and want to connect with you, just as much as you do them. Kind of helps restore faith in humanity to a degree!

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