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The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (Inglês) Capa Comum – 11 jul 2016
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I opened my mind. There are a lot of business opportunities in the long tail that I haven't seen before reading it. These opportunities always been there and Chris Anderson knew that, explained on this book and created a very thankful fan here in Brazil.
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However, you may wonder how a thing once defined as “geeky,” aka “going nowhere,” evolved in Darwinian fashion into an anthropomorphic feature so essential to mankind, it is now held on a par with walking “upright” or walking “on the moon.”
In this latest version of The Long Tail, Chris Anderson does an exceptional job explaining how the “endless shelf space” of the internet, when applied to commerce or culture, makes the niche marketing of almost any product, service or idea so efficient and effective its disruptive forces lay waste to many given economic ideas and generations of long held cultural norms.
Within a few chapters you understand why a “cloud” presence is often more valuable than a physical domain and in entertaining fashion why the conversation extends beyond economics in the very mosaic of life. In some ways The Long Tail has become a meme for the cultural “theory of everything” human.
While the book is brilliant on many levels, some themes are repeated beyond their capacity to provide new enlightenment or insight. This minor distraction is really a function of attempting to write history while still standing in the middle of an event, with every passing day there are new examples of how Long Tail economics and culture are reshaping the world.
Now, there was another cat in a faraway land.The city people in the Manx Kingdom knew little of this part of the world and cared less.This cat was the King of the Land of Maine -- a Maine Coon Cat. Unlike the Manx, he was long of tail,lean and he lived a clean life. His kingdom was larger, more diverse and filled with great multitudes of little people. But they lived in small hamlets far apart from each other. And because the people of Maine lived so far apart, they were unaware of their own goodness and wonder.
Now the Maine Coon was good king. He traveled from village to village honestly admiring the handmade artifacts of his citizens. He would tell everyone he met about the many good works of his people. In each town he would arch his back and waggle his long tail in appreciation of their interesting and diligent efforts. The little people did create many good and different works, but their work went unknown. That is until...one day when a little girl presented the Maine Coon Cat with a special gift. It was a magical White Cube she had been given by an eccentric, but intelligent, bald-headed troll whose workshop was in an abandoned stable. The electric box captured pictures of every product, thing, talent, and service available in the Land of the Long Tail. Most magically, the Cube could send these pictures of goodies to every person in the land, every minute of the day -- and if the people wished hard enough, the pictures became real and words, music, and things of every sort were delivered instantly to the little people. Sometimes they paid for their wish -- sometimes they got things for nothing. It was a strange and wonderful machine. The people of Maine were now united. No longer were they outcast and unknown. Unlike the people of Hollyork who sold in bulk to the masses, the citizens of the Land Of Maine sold their works one by one to discriminating and dedicated customers.The Maine Coon Cat was most grateful to the little girl and to her troll friend as his Kingdom was now important just like the Manx Kingdom. He raised his long tail proudly for everyone to see. And the people cheered him.
Now the Manx Cat really didn't seem to care about the magical White Cube. His tail still had some magic -- but not quite as powerful as before, because the entire world could now see everything everyone had to offer, not just the things that were issued forth by King Manx. Although he took a pay cut, he still smoked cigars and he remained convinced he was king of everything that was important. Faraway, the Maine Coon King continued to live his clean and simple life, and he too was happy because his people were happy. They enjoyed the Kingdom of the Long Tail.
And everyone in the two kingdoms lived happily ever after.
Amazon uses product reviews and product rankings to establish order in this chaos. In virtually any category, Amazon has a top 100. So, given any product, a user can find its ranking based on dozens to 100s of thousands of reviews, then can choose the option of clicking on the 100 products in that category, which will be displayed starting with #1 first.
In Crowdsourcing, Jeff Howe (Page 280) uncovers a counter-intuitive fact that while any given single individual in a crowd may have a percentage chance of getting a wrong answer, the larger the number polled, the more likely the majority answer is to be correct. Jeff notes this is how major problems can be solved using crowds much more effectively than using specialists. (Howe, 2009) In Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky expounds on this, noting that businesses can solve major issues much more economically by tapping into the crowd, because maintaining a specialist and all their research equipment is pricy, while buying the best answer to a problem presented on the web can be purchased at a fraction of the cost. (Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators, 2010)
If Amazon were to attempt, central government and KGB-style to hire a group of experts to rank all their products and tell us what were best, the final product would not have the quality the current ranking does and it would be rather like being told what is best, rather than democratically selecting the best products. The current system amounts to a product election system.
Historically, book reviews were the realm of so-called professionals, rather like publishing and authoring books. However, as Clay Shirky notes on page 55 of Here Comes Everybody, "Everyone is a media outlet." He goes on to note that our social (media) tools remove older obstacles to public expression, and thus remove the bottlenecks that characterized mass media. The result is mass amateurization of effort previously reserved for media professionals." He even questions the whole definition of profession and professional. In a world where so many people do things as a hobby in their off-time which are competing with professionals, such as Amazon's books and product reviews. Shirky says mass amateurization breaks professional categories. Discussing solely journalism, but this applies to all publishing, including the publishing of reviews, Shirky says on page 73, "Journalistic privilege is based on the previous scarcity of publishing. Now that scarcity is gone. Facing the new abundance of publishing options, we could just keep adding to the list of possible outlets - newspapers and television, and now blogging and video blogging and podcasting and so on." (Shirky, Here Comes Everybody:The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, 2008) To which can be added Amazon's book reviews and product reviews. Everyone is welcome to make an account and start reviewing.
Amazon is a huge website, although not the only huge site. Most USG agency websites are huge and many corporate sites are equally daunting. During a survey last year of the US Air Force main website, users' number one complaint was the inability to navigate the site intuitively. In this, intuitive navigation, Amazon's website suite has achieved remarkably high success.
If USG agency websites allowed users to rank content and then organized that content according to rank on a top 100 site by category, the sites may be more user friendly, easy to navigate and informative. For younger groups, this is particularly true of photo and videos by category. However, this categorical ranking of media may be very useful for traditional mass media looking for stock art. One of the functions such sites serve is to provide trustworthy, easy access to basic institutional information.
In addition to contributing paragraphs of information on products, Amazon has opened the door for people to participate in their empire by publishing books in print, digital or audio formats. In Crowdsourcing, Jeff Howe says the most effective way to be successful today is to allow people to carve out a space on your empire where they can do what they want. (Howe, 2009) In Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky talks about how a 40-hour work week and an abundance of education have combined to give lots of people with great knowledge and skills a lot of free time that they often invest in production, not just play. (Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators, 2010) Karl Marx noted that the objective of labor for most people is the idea of producing something unique, something that allows a sense of pride. (Marx, Engels, & Tucker, 1978)
Not only has Amazon given people an option to produce and the ability to participate in the Amazon empire, they are reshaping the book industry. During last month's announcement of new products, Jeff Bezos triumphantly announced that 27 of Amazon's top 100 best-selling books are published by independent authors. This looks like the death of traditional publishers. (Calvin, 2012)
Each of these authors has the option to sell books free 5 days out of every 90 and can sell audible versions for free all month long. In his book FREE, Chris Anderson notes on page 161, "the enemy of the author is not piracy, but obscurity. Free is the lowest cost way to reach the most number of people, and if the sample does the job, some will buy the `superior' version." (Anderson, FREE: How Today's Smartest Businessess Profit by Giving Something for Nothing, 2010)
Independent author Adele Marie Crouch has discovered that free versions of her eBooks drive up sales of the print on demand books, which are illustrated bilingual children's books in a range of dozens of languages. Increasingly, the revenues for her small business, Creations by Crouch, come from print sales, while the eBooks versions are cheaper and are often used more as a sample by users than the final product they would read to their children. (Crouch, 2012)
Other websites like YouTube and WordPress also help people upload content and share with the world. This business model is remarkably successful. The question becomes how could USG agencies use this structure to encourage participation in static, bureaucratic websites? Some have tried small projects encouraging photo uploads from a competition like a marathon.
In addition to the other means by which people can participate, for bragging rights or money, Amazon has a purely altruistic option - formatting and uploading IPR-free, public domain books. In Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky asks why people would spend their weekends and evenings participating digitally in building an empire they have no stake in and the answer is pretty much the same reason as they volunteer. They feel good about what they are doing. They want to contribute to something they believe in. (Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators, 2010)
Many of these books are edited after they are published. It's part of a new trend that Clay Shirky describes in Here Comes Everybody on page 81, which he calls, publish, then filter. "The media landscape is transformed, because personal communications and publishing, previously separate functions, now shade into one another. One result is to break the older pattern of professional filtering of the good from the mediocre before publication; now such filtering is increasingly social, and happens after the fact." (Shirky, Here Comes Everybody:The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, 2008)
While editing books historically was done extensively before printing, now there is no need. A new edition can be loaded onto the Print on Demand, Kindle and audible audio books within one hour and that covers all three formats.
The debate about professionalism, which is to say quality still rages on about these kind of volunteer operations despite the fact that the number one server software in the world, Apache, is not made by a company, but rather a loosely connected group of volunteers. On page 9 of his book Crowdsourcing, Jeff Howe notes, "From the Linux Operating System to Apache server software to the Firefox web browser, much of the infrastructure of the information economy was built by teams of self-organized volunteers. (This is) a model of production that is rapidly migrating to fields far and wide." (Howe, 2009)
In a similar move, crowd sourcing based on people's altruistic motives, the State Department deputized college students as virtual diplomats, and they became particularly useful as text message translators during the Haiti hurricane and flooding crisis. Since most of the military and other USG agencies have large communities of retired, spouse and dependent communities, the challenge is how to engage them as part of the public web structure in a useful way that allows them in, but protects against IT invasion of malicious types.
It seems logical that most USG websites could use blogging technology to allow users to comment on any product on the site, including articles, photos, even biographies and fact sheets. It might be possible to use a Facebook login to link the comments users post on government websites to their social media and their microblogging daily entries.
Like Buttons on Everything
"Facebook's Like button, introduced in April 2010, has already been added by more than two million distinct websites. The Like button allows Facebook's more than 600 million users, with one click, to express approval of companies, organizations, articles or ideas," Likable Social Media author Dave Kerpen explains. (Kerpen, 2011) While Amazon was an early adopter, so too the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and a few more than a dozen other USG agencies, including, of course, NASA.
Dave explains that the value of the FB Like button is that it expands into the hundreds the basic, traditional advertising form of word of mouth. "Word-of-mouth marketing has always been considered the purest and best form of marketing and social media has continued to prove that fact in many ways." (Kerpen, 2011)
Surprisingly, a news article listed Amazon as a `late bloomer' with regard to the Social Media scene, but this referred to their entrance into paid advertising on Social Media, including Facebook, not so much to their employment of Social Media. On the contrary, Amazon seems like an early adopter and innovator in many of the Social Media applications. In a Business Insider article, Jim Edwards ranks Amazon #24 of out of the top 30 spenders on Social Media advertising. (Edwards, 2012)
Cross Platform Integration
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon has also used crowd sourcing to create and maintain the best online compendium of movie trivia in the U.S. on IMDB, one of the amazingly high ranking websites in the Amazon enterprise. He just announced that this information will be immediately visible while watching Amazon streaming movies via a new tool called "movie X-ray." (Swedlow, 2012)
This is very much in keeping with the concepts in What Would Google Do and In the Plex. (Levy, 2011) Companies like Google and Amazon are a new hybrid of non-profit and business in that they give away a lot of services for free, like search results, supporting their business by seeking revenues from other areas. It's these free services that drive traffic. As Dan Ariely says
In Predictably Irrational, free is not just a price, it's an emotional hot button. (Ariely, 2010)
There's no doubt that government website could benefit from cross platform integration, the question is how and how much. Given today's Congress and budgetary constraints contracting out to hand construct specialized software isn't likely. There doesn't appear as yet to be an open source software that promotes cross platform integration. Some Social Media provide this kind of resource, including posting YouTube or UStream videos, Facebook comments and similar types of free cross platform integration. These would require only the relatively low entry price of a basic knowledge of HTML to integrate the code the various sites produce for this purpose.
Sharing Activity Via Social Media
Amazon.com has had the ability to share purchases for years, but has only just recently added the ability to share product reviews. Now, upon completion of either of these actions, the website asks if you would like to share this activity on Facebook.
This is a simple function that could easily be added to most USG websites and has long been a part of the US Air Force enterprise. While the Army offers the option to Like an article or share it on Google, they don't have the full tool that the US Air Force uses which allows readers to share the product via 328 options. The U.S. Marines, U.S. Department of Defense, DHS, and the White House also use the same function as the U.S. Air Force. U.S. Navy.mil has only the choice to share by email. Nasa.gov allows only to tweet the story, like it or Google + it. However, most executive branch websites like USAID.gov have no share options. This seems like a simple addition to most any USG website that would allow them to better distribute information to a broader base.
The Long Tail
In his book, the Long Tail, Chris Anderson notes that Amazon can carry millions of books, movies or music tracks compared to 100s of thousands by any given brick and mortar store because bytes take up limited storage, alleviating traditional retails storage problems. He further notes that even items on the bottom of the popularity list never reach zero sales. There's always a small demand. This demand, in the aggregate makes revenues as he notes the bulk of Amazon's revenues comes from the bottom 50% of the items listed. The days of Casey Cassem's Top 40 are gone. People are different, and they have niche interests which for the first time in history, they can indulge in. (Anderson, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, 2008)
Amazon Allows Anyone to Publish - Even to Niche' Audiences
At the heart of crowd sourcing is allowing people to use your website to make their own products. (Howe, 2009) This is where most USG websites fail, in part due to security concerns. Amazon has created numerous ways in which people can participate in the Amazon empire. Among the most popular is the one that pays them. No reject letters from traditional publishers. One of the challenges is quality. Many people complain that the independently published books lack the copy editing that was common among more traditional publishing.
An interesting trend, traditional publishers are rushing to publish on Kindle and many of them are not formatted well leaving fragmented lines or typos. Many of the independent authors have no copy editors and the end result is one of near equal mediocrity. This isn't good for the industry. Despite these pitfalls, Jeff Bezos announced that people who own Kindles are reading exponentially more than they did before. He suggests this is because the Kindle or audible books read to the reader while they drive, or cook or clean, thereby increasing reading time. Additionally, he announced 27 of the top 100 best selling eBooks on Amazon are published by Amazon as independent authors. (Calvin, 2012)
The challenge then for USG websites is how to incorporate the crowd into the website. Amazon uses a login base with which users create their own accounts. USG IT teams are reluctant to consider this option as it opens up possible in-roads for hackers. USG websites are more frequently targeted by hackers for bragging rights or those with political motives. As such, security on these sites is challenging. However, a huge and famous site like Amazon.com almost certainly has similar security concerns.
A relatively small, non-government site allows photographers to promote the U.S Park Service: [...] It would be great to see a branch of the US government do something similar to promote that branch. This site include by a Photo of the Day, Week, Month and Year selected by voters. This would be an excellent option to move USG websites into the future.
Amazon Offers 1,000s More Music Tracks and Movies - All Digital
"Perhaps the most prevalent e-commerce site is Amazon.com. Amazon.com was founded by Jeff Bezos to sell books on the Web. Since then, Amazon has expanded to sell a wide variety of services in the categories of books, movies, music, games, electronics and computers, home, garden, tools, groceries, health and beauty, toy, kids and babies, clothing, shoes, jewelry, sports, automotive, and industrial. All items are shipped directly to the purchaser." (Schneider & Evans, 2012)
Amazon can Carry a Range of Audio Programs
An average brick and mortar music or book store can carry 100s of thousands of products whereas a digital store can offer millions. The difference in scale is radical. "To offer even more variety, companies such as Amazon have expanded to `virtual inventory' - products physically , located in a partner's warehouse, but displayed or sold on Amazon's site. Today, its Marketplace program aggregates such distribution inventory, products held at the very edge of the network by thousands of small merchants. Cost to Amazon: zero."
For Amazon, this includes private book owners who can sell their used products online either with a free account for people with less than 40 items to sell or a professional account for which they can list an unlimited number of books, books on CD, books on audio cassette, but must pay a monthly premium.
"Digital inventory - think iTunes - is the cheapest of all. We've already seen the effects of the switch from shipping plastic discs to streaming megabits has on the music industry; soon the same will come to movies, video games, and TV shows. News has left the paper age, podcasting is challenging radio, and who knows you may be reading this book on a screen. Eliminating atoms or the constraints of the broadcast spectrum is a powerful way to reduce costs, enabling entirely new markets of niches.
The U.S. Air Force has already started streaming its band performances of IPR free sheet music on [...] The White House routinely streams live broadcasts of the President's speeches and the State Department does similar website broadcasts of speeches by the Secretary of State or other high officials. While some USG websites are taking advantage of the digital capabilities that Amazon.com has already capitalized on, there's more they could do. Live video feeds from Yellowstone are available online and are impressive. The challenge is to push down to all USG websites this kind of innovation and to include a full range of digital video, audio, gaming and podcasting options for all.
Comparing the top producing commercial sites to the top producing government sites, it seems there are a lot of similarities. And while there are a lot of government websites that are not on board with the newest and latest technologies, there are similarly a lot of commercial websites that are still lagging behind. Comparing all government sites to the #1 eCommerce website, Amazon.com, in the United States seems unjust. It seems more logical to compare top performers to top performers, and at the top, they seem to be relatively similar in their creativity. While it seems DOD, NASA and the White House are ahead of the pack, while State, City and small agencies are lagging, very possibly due to manpower and budgetary constraints, as well as the already mentioned security concerns.
Anderson, C. (2010). FREE: How Today's Smartest Businessess Profit by Giving Something for Nothing. New York, NY: Hyperion Books.
Anderson, C. (2008). The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. New York, NY: Hyperion Books.
Ariely, D. (2010). Predictably Irrational: Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.
Auletta, K. (2010). Googled: The End of the World As We Know It . New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Calvin, B. (2012, 09 08). Jeff Bezos Loves You. The Writer's Guide to ePublishing, [...]
Crouch, A. M. (2012, 08 18). Free! Really? Why? Creations by Crouch blog, [...]
Edwards, J. (2012, 09 27). Top 30 Biggest Social Media Advertisers. Business Insider, [...]
Howe, J. (2009). Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Futu of Business. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
Kerpen, D. (2011). Likeable Social Media. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Levy, S. (2011). In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster .
Marx, K., Engels, F., & Tucker, R. C. (1978). The Marx-Engels Reader (Second Edition). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Schneider, G. P., & Evans, J. (2012). New Perspecties on the Internet (9th Edition). Boston, MA: Course Technology, Cengage Learning.
Shirky, C. (2010). Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators. London, England: Penguin Books.
Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody:The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. London, England: Penguin Books.
Swedlow, T. (2012, 09 11). Amazon Enhances Kindle Fire HD Viewing Experience with IMDb-Powered "X-Ray for Movies". [...], p. 1.
The concept of the Long Tail is simple and powerful. Anderson first proposed the idea in 2004 and then elaborated it into this book.
The book is a little padded as the author rings a lot of changes on the idea, some of them shallow and repetitive (but some not). However, he also presents a lot of interesting data across markets. This is valuable -- the value of this idea is not just how much fun it is to talk about (and it is a lot of fun), but how well it actually explains real-world phenomena. So I appreciate data such as a table of book sales clustered by number of copies sold. I was expecting 50% padding, and I was pleased that the book was only 30% padding. That compares well with most books. :)
I would like to see more material on the temporal long tail. Anderson writes about music categories such as "jazz", "classical", "pop" (and a lot of sub-categories and micro-categories), but he doesn't split the music by the year published such as "1970s", "1980s", "1990s". A lot of musical trends are correlated with year of publication, and a lot of music listeners like the music they listened to during young adulthood. That's got to have some effect on popularity of old music.
Overall, though -- this idea explains a lot of markets, and non-market sharing, too. You need to grok this idea and this book is a very good source.
The good news is that the one or two insights of the book really are insightful.
We've all heard the 80-20 rule of thumb that 80% of the wealth is health by 20% of the people. (The two numbers don't have to add up to 100 BTW, but we'll pass on that.) The distribution of wealth scales. In a total economy worth one billion dollars for one hundred thousand people, that means that the richest 20,000 people have 800 million dollars. But the rule can be applied to a situation as many times as we wish. 20% of 20,000 is 4,000 people who would have 80% of 800 million, or 640 million. We apply it again and find that 800 people have 512 million.
When you plot this on a graph, you'll find yourself drawing a curve that is very thick at the left (the rich few at the head) and peters out to a long thin tail (the many poor). This is called a power law distribution and many processes in nature and in economics follow it, in particular for consumer markets. Wal Mart & Sears are in the left's fat head, while the fusion jazz record store is in the curve's tail on the right.
Anderson's insight is that the internet has thickened the long tail for markets. Fifty years ago if you wanted to listen to Ethiopean jazz, you had one option: fly to Ethiopia. Thirty years ago you had the second option of going to import jazz record shops in large cities. Today, you can live in Medecine Hat, Alberta and instantly order Ethiopique No. 4 from Amazon. The demand was always there: in a population of millions there's always one or two eccentrics who want something unusual. More than that, in a population of millions on top of the ordinary necessities found in the fat head, everyone wants something special that belongs in the long tail. The long tail is thickening and the 21st century's gold mine is probably in it.
Vincent Poirier, Dublin
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