In October 2004 Chris Anderson, WIRED Magazine’s editor in chief, wrote his pivotal post about “The Long Tail”, which he followed – two years later – with a bestselling book under the same title. The idea is simple, compelling and, at the time, deeply insightful: Merchants embracing the long tail, such as AMAZON, “sell a large number of different items which each sell in relatively small quantities.” (Wikipedia)
The idea behind Anderson’s article spawned a whole generation of businesses – those which aggregate the myriad of products and services produced, sold and consumed in homeopathic quantities. And of course – even in 2004 Anderson’s idea wasn’t particularly new. At eBay, in the late 90’s we already defined a “miles wide, inches deep” mantra, signifying the idea that the eBay marketplace was truly a vast ocean of many, many items sold in small quantities each.
This all being said, I believe the shape of the long tail has shifted – from something which looks like a giraffe (long, long neck and steep slope) to a dromedary (long neck and a bump in the middle). Let me explain…
At be radical we have worked on a model we call Hourglass Economics (more on this later). As part of this model we observe the ginormous rise of brands which operate in the long tail – something we like to characterize as “individual products for individual people in individual households”, as opposed to mass market products which are “average products for average people in average households”. These brands and their respective companies used to be small and niche – not so anymore. For reasons we lay out in our work on the Hourglass Economy, they have become much bigger than they used to be – point in case: Go and watch the last Super Bowl. Well, not the game itself as that was boring as heck – watch the ads. What you will find is a plethora of companies such as Oatly or Dr. Squatch – seemingly niche products and brands making it onto the big stage. They are neither small nor gigantic – but rather fill the new, bulbous middle of what used to be a downward sloping long tail. They make up the hump of the dromedary.
What does this mean for you? Good news, as it means that you can (and maybe should) build companies which fit into the hump. No need anymore to confine yourself to a spot down the long, thin tail and also no need to directly compete with the giants in your industry.
It is a whole new animal out there.