I’ve seen the Chris Anderson “long tail” idea used in so many different contexts that I had to get the book to figure out what it really meant. And it’s a good book, by the way, good reading.

With “There it is again,” Seth Godin puts it down in just a few paragraphs, along with the delightful other side of the coin that makes it even more obvious:

Chris Anderson of Wired had the insight and guts to discover one of the two most important natural laws of the Net, give it a name, explain it and teach it to the rest of us. The Long Tail is a natural law, the sort of thing that just keeps showing up. Every time I crunch a set of numbers, every time I examine something happening online, I see it again.

(The other one? Metcalfe’s Law, which explains the network effect. It’s sort of like the long tail, but flipped in the mirror. The more people who connect to a network, the more it’s worth–squared. Facebook and fax machines are both network effect businesses.)

A lot of people don’t seem to understand a key implication of the long tail: Given the choice, it’s better to make a hit.

If you have a choice of cutting a top 10 record or making a track of Jamaican polka music for iTunes, go for the hit.

If you have a choice between being on page 30 of the Google results for ‘Bolivian sushi’ or the number one match for ‘buy life insurance’, go for the latter. No brainer.

The problem, of course, is that you don’t have a choice. You can give the hit a shot, but it’s awfully crowded at that end of the curve.”

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.