A few years ago a guy from WIRED named Chris Anderson wrote a thesis and basically bet his life (or blog anyway) on something called “The Long Tail.” Given the distribution model of the Internet, compared to real world stores, the theory is that more people will be buying niche items because those items will be available in ways never seen before in mankind. A breakthrough worthy of Magellan sharing noodles and ice cream and Toyota Hybrids from halfway across the world (or something like that). Anderson, I’m assuming, makes a handsome supplement touring the world as the darling of the Kool-Aid swilling Wide Eyed Web crowd with his fancy talk about the how this “revolutionizes” everything.
A few weeks ago a friend of Chris’ from Harvard Business School named Anita Elberse wrote a paper called “Should You Invest in the Long Tail?” in which she used sales data she got from some online music and video retailers which proves, without a shadow of doubt, that the whole long tail theory is dead. Deader than dead.
Now along comes folks like Glenn Peoples from coolfer.com — a darling apologist for the Big Media record industry with a reasonable tone (most of the time) — to pile on with a paper called “Rethink the Long Tail” (you know it’s important because he put it into a PDF) in which he offers between zero and no new extrapolation on Elberse’s work, but instead gives us a joyous celebration of it. Long tail isn’t just deader than dead, it’s fucked in the head. “The implications for businesses are profound.” Get it? Elberse’s findings at Soundscan and Rhapsody proves that Magellan was an idiot for thinking that worldwide trade would somehow pan out because, you know, 20 years after his first round trip people were still buying cow’s brains locally culled. Hey, the numbers don’t lie.
Along the way, everybody’s got advice for the record industry. Anderson says lower your costs and get everything out there, let the market decide. Elberse says you post your niche material at your own risk, because it’s guaranteed a waste of money. The numbers, the numbers, oh those wicked numbers.
Peoples has advice too and you know what? I agree 100% with it. Peoples and my advice to the established record industry is this:
KEEP DOING WHAT YOUR DOING! DON’T CHANGE A THING!
If losing ~15-30% each year from the year before is working for you then it’s certainly working for me! Don’t pay any attention to any of the smoke and mirrors wishful thinking about this Internet thing or let it get in the way of business as usual.
Peoples points out that only 2% of the respondents of a supporting Pew poll said they share music online and “[t]he habits of younger music buyers are probably more heavily skewed toward the Internet.” You shouldn’t make too much of a fuss about that. Sure, he said “probably” in there but fuck it. Keep looking at the buying and sharing habits of 43 year olds because after all “this report is not about future trends and the habits of the youth generation.”
Fuckin’ A right. Whatever you do, don’t look to the future. Keep your head out of the clouds and keep your eye firmly on 1982 when mobbed up “radio promoters” fixed what was on the air with cocaine and beatings (Eliot who??? whatever happened to him??). Keep suing everybody, keep DRM‘ing, (btw I miss root-kits, bring those back), keep fleecing your successful artists with opaque accounting and keep all your signed artists un-unionized and below the poverty line. Above all, keep all the rights to your signed artists music. Forever.
Do not, under any circumstances, invest one copper penny in this Jetsonian vision of online taste-makers opening up consumer’s options. It hasn’t happened yet, it’s just not going to. Ever. That’s just freaky hippie talk. Soundscape told you so, so did Pew. Do not, for heaven’s sake, look at fan funded artists like Brad Sucks or Norine Braun or geeky fringe labels, especially if they are profitable like Magnatune for any indicator of an alternative way for artists and consumers to hook up and completely cut your fucking ass out of the picture. Ignore that. Now and forever.
Let the back-peddling begin…