The Long Tail by Chris Anderson takes a comprehensive look at how the Internet has changed the way that business works. In short, rather than selling only the “hits,” or the most popular items, the Internet allows retailers to sell a variety of less-popular items, which make up the “long tail.” Although items in the long tail sell less than the hits in the “head,” there are far more of them, and thus they can make up a significant portion of an organization’s sales. The internet has also opened up new markets that allow for the amount of items available to be essentially unlimited. For example, iTunes does not sell tangible items, and thus the cost of selling 100 items versus 1,000 items is virtually the same. In contrast, a company that sells DVDs, like Best Buy, does have to actually store the selection somewhere– the wider the selection, the more overhead cost. Some companies have even devised solutions to this problem– Amazon can print books on-demand, meaning that they never have a surplus of unsold books, and they don’t have to keep their more obscure books in stock.
The deeper into niches that consumers can dive, the deeper they will go. There are even niches within niches, like the YouTube video below, which I recorded a few years ago at an African Dance performance at American University. When I checked it, I was quite surprised to see that it had gained more than 12,000 views– I only uploaded it so that it was easy to share with a few select friends!
Although there are not (yet) numbers that say that expanded stock/choices means increased sales, the Internet presents an opportunity for retailers to offer a consumer a wider selection and prevent them from straying to a competitor.
Of course, this expanded selection has implications not just for businesses, but for consumers. Using the Internet, we can find items in many more ways than the static organization a physical store offers: we can sort by price, by popularity, by color, we can find a sleeping bag in both the camping and the bedding aisle.
Anderson points out that along with expanded choices, the Internet arms us with much more information about the inventory that makes up the long tail. Reviews give us firsthand insight from people already familiar with the product, algorithms tell us what other products might pique our interest, and often we can preview content by listening to 30 seconds of a song or reading the first chapter of a book.
I really enjoyed this book and found myself nodding along to much of it. It was a bit more theoretical than Groundswell and Engage!, so I felt like there was less that directly applied to Mad River Glen. It would probably be more applicable to a consumer product company; however, the book did make a case for Mad River Glen to expand things like special packages or options for lift tickets. For example, they could offer afternoon-only lift tickets for late risers rather than only full-day tickets, or special Sunday tickets for New Yorkers who plan to spend the afternoon driving home but want to ski in the morning.
The ski industry is less directly affected by technological developments like the Internet than many other industries, yet the most important thing to the industry–the customers–are feeling its effects every day. As customers’ day to day lives change, The Long Tail makes the case for the ski industry– and every other industry to change along with consumer habits. If a company can do what Anderson defines as two imperatives to creating a thriving Long Tail business, they can succeed:
1) Make everything available.
2)Help me find it.