In disputing Chris Anderson’s figures from The Long Tail book in The Wall Street Journal, I think Lee Gomes has done more to promote the long tail concept than anything else. It’s hard to imagine something sparking off more self-fueling publicity than a good controversy. Had everyone just accepted the long tail theory as fact, it wouldn’t be new. It’d be: “Yeah, the shape of business has changed, everybody knows that, ho hum.”
But instead, it’s “Dem’s fightin’ words!” And that is brilliant. And in a public relations sense, that is a “big hit”. Guy Kawasaki likes a good enemy. It really helps frame what you yourself are all about. Not that I think Lee is really opposed to the notions–just that he thinks the evidence shouldn’t be taken at face value.
A lot of people are buying Chris’ book, even though the premise can be summed up in about a paragraph. The problem is that a lot of people just don’t get it and need lots of evidence. And that evidence once provided is nit-picked apart, even though the prevailing trends are self-evident within those market segments Chris discusses.
The long tail doesn’t apply in every market. But where it does apply, it can be a powerful force.
So, does everyone need to carry a multitude of obscure products like Amazon to benefit from the long tail effect? Do you need to aggregate a multitude of small sales across a large array of markets? In other words, do you need to be the big guy benefit from the long tail?
The answer is it depends on what your interests are, and what you will use as your measure of success. If you want modest success that will simply let you be your own boss, take the vacations you want, and work in the field you want, the long tail can be a powerful ally. I have a new neighbor, a lawyer from Argentina who came to Columbia University to qualify for the US Bar exam. As a hobby, he raises champion Polo horses. A horse he sold recently for a modest amount became a million-dollar champion. He wants to appear at the top of Google for all searches having to do with that horse’s name, and the buying and selling of champion Polo horses. It’s a perfect long tail play.
Were it champion horses, I wouldn’t be so sure. But it’s all subject-matter having specifically to do with champion POLO horses. So, I am very confident about his chances to dominate the space.
He’s already published, with several websites and articles in print-publications. So, he has a perfect starting point for putting the magic of the HitTailing process to work. At first when I explain HitTail, it sounds like a magic wand that you wave and get to the top of Google. But then, it’s clear that one top position on one obscure keyword that MIGHT pay off is just the beginning. Just as Chris says, the long tail is about a mass of niches, HitTailing is about a mass of small successful pages. You need a whole network of pages, each of which holds top positions on an obscure term that MIGHT pay off.
And for people just starting out HitTailing, or worse, starting to write for search engines WITHOUT HitTail, the biggest challenge is knowing where to begin. The post I made about whether HitTail saves time shows that only 5% of the things that you MIGHT write about will even make a difference. Otherwise, you may be targeting concepts you already dominate, or concepts that will never be searched on.
So, will The Wall Street Journal be interested in some Argentinean lawyer whose ambitions are to control all the Internet traffic on champion Polo horses? Probably not, because it’s not going to be turned into a public company with investment opportunity. But then again, maybe, because horses are indeed an investment opportunity. And the story of a lawyer doing this on the side, because it doesn’t cost him much more effort to do so than not (thanks to long tail theory) has strong human interest appeal.
How many more human interest stories are out there for journalists, hidden in the long tail? Can you say “infinite”? Perhaps one more bird we’re killing with this stone is providing journalists with an infinite supply of human interest small-business stories. The long tail tends to be full of passionate people doing what they do out of love. The fact that they make money off of it is sometimes a welcome bonus. And we believe that this welcome bonus is only even possible in some cases thanks to HitTail. We’ll work on digging up those stories for any journalists who are interested.
There’s such a large supply of these stories in the long tail, that maybe we can cut a deal on providing exclusives — one HitTailer per Journalist. Hmmmmmm.