A Few Thoughts On Blogging-Chris Anderson At Wired: ‘The Long Tail’

Full piece here.

Does the 80/20 rule or Pareto principle apply when it comes to online media, which would hold that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes, or some similar distribution?

Anderson was employed by Conde Nast, and as he saw it, the 20%, but he also argued that the mainstream media is now competing with the long tail, or the 80% of bloggers who work for free, and focus on the needs of their very specific audiences.

According to Anderson’s argument, with the advent of cheap storage and technology, the Pareto long-tail has been allowed to find equilibrium, and you can keep blogging into perpetuity and reach some audience, however small (on a blog that previously didn’t exist). This gives a lot of little guys out there hope, and started a marketing movement a while back:


According to Anderson, the internet is also fundamentally changing the way business is done, and there’s incentive for businesses to cater to the fully extended long-tail, instead of the old distribution channels which truncated that tail because of Pareto (record companies, movie studios, T.V. producers etc.):

‘Long Tail business can treat consumers as individuals, offering mass customization as an alternative to mass-market fare.’

Instead of 80/20 distributions, it’s more like 99% on this thinking (hopefully no relation to the 99%).   There are, or would appear to be, an almost endless row of online shelves, and the more thriving economic models are those that cater to the entire long-tail and curate all those shelves.

Here’s a review of Anderson’s book from David Jennings back in 2006 (this blog is only seven to nine years behind the times):

‘Nevertheless my concerns about Anderson’s loose use of concepts and terminology are consistent with Orlowski’s suggestion that the Long Tail has been sexed up a bit to maximise its buzzword profile. If the Long Tail plays on being a faddish term, then its shelf-life may be limited. As cited in Wikipedia, fashionable management terms (like Quality Circles, Total Quality Management and Business Process Re-engineering) tend to follow a life-cycle in the form of a bell curve. And a bell curve, unlike a power law, has quite a short tail’

A response to Anderson which confirms Pareto.

Andrew Orlowski’s critical piece here, suggesting such advice could be very bad for business.

**Richard Epstein, of the Chicago School, uses the Pareto principle in defense of private property.


It’s still unclear what lies ahead for bloggers, writers, and journalists.

Here’s a comment previously made on this blog:

‘Opinion and news are now a commodity in this age, hard to extract money for that with the internet’

Most people aren’t willing to pay for opinion.  It was an activity funded by the old revenue models and distribution channels at newspapers and magazines, and those same models and channels funded long-form and investigative journalism as well, which arguably can be in the public good.  Those models aren’t working like they used to.  Most newspapers and networks are still losing money, and few have made it up yet.

Until the last fifteen years or so, it was usually only a few journalists, writers and cultural critics who worked their way into the public mind, making a kind of brand for themselves at major newspapers, magazines, and by freelancing and writing op-eds.  It’s generally a coveted spot.  E-publishing and free blog platforms are very cheaply available, now, and while there’s limited room in the public mind for opinionators and pundits, there’s arguably a more open field.

To be fair to good journalists, there are clearly professional aspects of what they do, and higher standards to be met in many cases.  Trust and loyalty are key components of any successful business, providing accurate information and/or public opinions included.

As for political magazines, they never really made much money anyways.  See Matt Welch’s piece on the New Republic:

‘Opinion magazines tend to be slim, light on advertisements, heavy on text, and dependent on the largesse of either millionaire owners (as with The New Republic) or nonprofit donors (like reason).’

Writers for political magazines also have to stay on message with that magazine’s core audience and mission statement, and still depend on other social structures for their online presence.  For non-professional writers and bloggers, it’s usually a labor of love, a hobby, as they like to follow their interests, attracting passers-by or maybe working to develop a loyal following.

Perhaps you could apply long tail to that master of the live feed and aggregation,  Matt Drudge, as well.

Perhaps, what we can say is that the old models aren’t working like they used to.

***As for some journalists, I like to keep Kent Brockman in mind.

Addition:  Welch also thinks that cities don’t make newspapers liberal, as many journalists got there first.

Related On This SiteFrom The Economist: ‘No News Isn’t Good News’Jack Shafer At Slate: ‘Nonprofit Journalism Comes At A Cost’..

From The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Via Sound Politics: Why Did The PI Die? From Slate: Jack Shafer On The Pulitzer Prize-Who Cares?  Who Reads The Newspapers?

The Newseum Opens On The Mall: More From The Weekly Standard

A Free Lunch?-Megan McArdle At The Daily Beast: ‘How To Get Ahead On Facebook Without Really Trying’

Malcolm Gladwell argues here that apart from the information/journalism divide, the technology still ultimately costs something as well…”Free” is a utopian vision, and I suspect Gladwell knows this pretty well:  From The New Yorker: Malcolm Gladwell’s “Priced To Sell”

2 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts On Blogging-Chris Anderson At Wired: ‘The Long Tail’

  1. The problem newspapers face isn’t that they didn’t see the internet coming. They not only saw it miles off, they figured out early on that they needed a plan to deal with it, and during the early 90s they came up with not just one plan but several. One was to partner with companies like America Online, a fast-growing subscription service that was less chaotic than the open internet. Another plan was to educate the public about the behaviors required of them by copyright law. New payment models such as micropayments were proposed. Alternatively, they could pursue the profit margins enjoyed by radio and TV, if they became purely ad-supported. Still another plan was to convince tech firms to make their hardware and software less capable of sharing, or to partner with the businesses running data networks to achieve the same goal. Then there was the nuclear option: sue copyright infringers directly, making an example of them.

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