Sunday, April 10, 2011

Chapter 11 of The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson, begins with an example addressing the expansion of the music industry: People have had enough of the bland and formulatic outputs of the music industry (and other industries founded on generics, hits). They are growing more and more interested in new, original, and never-before-seen, eclectic offerings. This concept is relevant to many other industries such as books, clothing, and other retail operations. Continuing with the music example, consider how the whole evolution of new music was facilitated by affordable technology. This detail brings us to the first step of a long tail: democratization of the tools of production. Cheap technology enables hundreds of small indie record labels to to economically market and produce records.

The spread of all this new music required distribution channels with low barriers to entry. The same applies for other retail businesses: the internet is an essential tool for the buying and selling of new, eclectic offerings. The second step to the formation of a long tail: democratized distribution. DJs can now cheaply and efficiently surf the long tail of house music in order to decide what to play in their clubs. (see story on pg 179-180). Music producers have realized that opening up their goods to being remixed and tweaked has beneficial economic consequences. The same principles apply to the spread of clothing, visual media, breaking news, etc. When many people can collectively share in the formation of just about anything, it becomes something that no one person could have done alone. Also, as people come together and share ideas, individuals learn about the infinite interests of others, thus opening their eyes to unlimited new things like music, clothing, politics, books, etc. (fragmented interests).
Abundant, cheap distribution=unlimited variety=ultimate fragmentation. The individuals are not changing, they have always been fragmented in their interests. They are now simply satisfying the fragmented interests that they’ve always had. Today our culture is a mixture of head and tail, hits and niches, institutions and individuals, professionals and amateurs.

Considering these fragmented interests of society, the chapter then outlines culture as no longer being seen as a “big blanket” but as a “superposition of many interwoven threads.” Virginia Postrel remarked that most aspects of human identity - intellect, interests, etc., probably have a normal distribution; diversity is a reflection of the population distribution. People are forming into “cultural tribes of interest,” confirming that our culture is a constantly changing entity that is grouping, breaking, joining, scattering, coming together, and wandering away from 'anything' it has ever been before.

To further demonstrate this point, Richard Posner has noted that bloggers can now reach a narrow segment of the population better than mass newspapers can; increasingly popular blogs are competing with major news organizations (see figure, page 187). People, not traditional organizations, have the control over what is considered interesting and news worthy; and the 'supply & demand' of information and products. Using the New York Times newspaper as an example, with the introduction of the internet and public blogs, “authority is in the eye of the beholder” and news and information is clearly no longer the exclusive domain of professionals. Branching out from this, individuals can pick news that fits with their already established ideological viewpoint and existing knowledge base. This trend may be the end of end of “spoon-fed orthodoxy and infallible institutions;” the internet will require and reward individual investigation. The chapter concludes by noting that human’s natural curiosity and the availability of infinite information will make us, over time, more open minded rather than less.

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