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Is the long tail a myth?

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A Harvard University academic has raised doubts about the correctness of the famed long tail theory of internet commerce, WSJ.com reports.

A Harvard University academic has raised doubts about the correctness of the famed long tail theory of internet commerce, WSJ.com reports.

According to the long tail theory, the web’s searchability and massive user base means that very narrow consumer niches that are not viable on the off-line world can succeed online.

But in an article in the Harvard Business Review, professor Anita Elberse argues that the validity of the long tail theory is limited by the fact that consumers tend to behave online in a very similar way to how they behave offline.

Elberse points to research that says because we are very social creatures, we tend to like to buy, talk about and be seen using or wearing the same goods, music or movies that everyone else does. In short, people love nothing more than jumping on the bandwagon.

And Elberse’s own research backs that up. After looking at online video rentals and song purchases, Elberse discovered that not only do the most popular hits and blockbusters figure just as big online as off, the aggregating influence of the web may actually increase the gap between the best and the rest.

“It is… highly disputable that much money can be made in the tail,” Elberse says. The companies that will prosper are the ones most capable of capitalising on individual best sellers.”

 

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