Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

So the big question for me after reading Chris Anderson's excellent article, The Long Tail is... Will there always be producers and consumers of music and other content, or does the amateur revolution really take off and completely blur the consumer and the producer of content? Will amateur and nearly free Creative Commons style content become the primary content that people consume? Will most consumers create content as well? In other words, will the long tail wag? I've heard many theories about this and it is probably different for text, audio, photos and video, but I think this is an important question.

And in case you haven't noticed, it's clearly now a discovery problem, not a delivery problem.


Wow, it looks like everyone is on the same wavelength this morning. I've made comments on this very thing at several places this morning.

I think DRM markets are doomed against the non-DRM competition.

I've outlined my analysis in my article, Counter Culture 2.0

Joi, I think you are concentrating too much on the very far end of the tail. The middle of the tail is likely to be where the most remarkable changes will be. By the middle-of-the-tail, I mean stuff that is currently distributed commercially, but on a very small scale within one small region.

There is still a big problem to be resolved to distribute and collect revenue for this part of the tail. I think people will be prepared to pay a reasonable cost for high quality material.

Antoin, I agree with you only I wouldn't use as extreme language... "concentrationg *too* much, "big problem"...

The head and far end of the tail are pretty much "figured out", or in the process of being set. (From online music services such as Rhapsody/iTMS to Audioweblogs/P2P social networks)

Joi's question is certainly on point, not focused on the far end, and I do think it asks about what do we think may happen in the middle... which IMHO is some sort of balance, i.e.: small scale producers working with independent artists, to varying degrees, depending onthe medium and the "position in the curve".


Reading the Wired article, I think that Joi is right in that organizations that take advantage of the "tail of the curve", like Netflix and Amazon, will be the successful players of the future.

Anderson also makes a good argument that the head and the tail of the curve complement each other, and it's risky to assume that the tail can thrive without the head.

More thoughts here:

Just written a big piece that ended up on inspired partly by The Long Tail. The question is "what would you really pay for music?". And the implication for the record companies is that they need to go flat out for volume of inventory on the download services. Let's have every piece of audio ever recorded available at 3 price points with no DRM. $0.25 to $0.50 for first run songs, $0.10 to $0.25 for old but recent and

The challenge then becomes solving the scalability issues to get the cost of delivery right down. And for search and discovery we've always got Google!

One other comment. Traditional business always seems to look at the 80-20 rule and ignore the middle and end of the tail. This isn't the first time where the tail is important too. For instance, why is it always the Times-100 that gets to set the rules when SMEs make up >50% of the workforce? Why do sales teams so often focus on big sales when the bread and butter is lots of smaller sales. Why do VCs focus on the Billion dollar deal and ignore the people who need $50K?

Not saying that the 80-20 rule doesn't make sense, but don't forget...

*The Tail Is Important Too*.

"Will amateur and nearly free Creative Commons style content become the primary content that people consume?"

No. People who are paid can create more content, and often better content, than people who have to support themselves by some other means. This is less true for "small" creations, like poetry and sketches, and more true for "big" creations like novels and movies, but then big creations also draw larger audiences.

Yes, some amateur content is really good. So good that people are willing to pay for it, and do. Whereupon the creator isn't an amateur any more.

What Long Tail economics does is make it much easier for amateur efforts to get discovered.

What she said! I've been creating content for almost forty years now. Because some people are so desperate for acknowledgement that they will give away their creations, I've had to suffer low pay rates and consequent day jobs which pulled me away from doing the work I was supposed to do.
Professionals get paid! And DRM is a means to that end. The Long Tail article is a good examination of how distribution patterns are changing, but many of us were already aware of this shifting paradigm.
What doesn't work is the idea that if you undervalue the work or give it away, you will get paid anyway. That simply goes against human nature. The correct pricing model is harder to figure out, especially since "content" is always unique in itself.
That aspect of it if what gives it value.
Maintaining DRM protects the value. And "niche" does not necessarily mean "small".
The Long Tail does improve distribution by ensuring a wider selection of product.
It does not mean that consumer desires for lower prices trump the economic reality that creators have to be paid for their efforts. Otherwise, how are we to live?

I think part of what is happening is that the standard for how "good" something is (including its pedigree as a professional creation) will no longer be applied so dramatically. In Internet terms, the hamster dance can more be "good" content than CSI: New York.

I think one way to look at this is as a kind-of correction to the "problem" of the industrial (centralized) version of global distribution. Prior to the industrial age, the market for a lot of "content" was relatively local to its place of creation.

National and global distribution of records and films created more of a global "standard" of what was good and worth paying for, but this shaped the distribution business around lowest common denominator elements (e.g., pop music, Hollywood films). So: business for a large, but generic, market.

At the same time, the niche elements have always been effective on something like the equivalent of a local level. There has always been a large selection of niches available. (In honor of Joi, I'll use a few Japanese bands as examples:) even before the Internet, I could find and become a fan of The Plastics, Acid Mothers Temple, and Ruins, and buy their albums.

With the Internet, the delivery problem is removed and "local" (niche) ideas about what is good are no longer obscured by a global distribution system that meting-pots the niches into more generic, global standards.

(So, Steve Jobs: you're wrong! We don't need you to weed out music for us!)

Jay, I agree, and I think it can be said more concisely.

We're seeing a return of folk culture, after a century of mass media dominance.

The Brothers Grimm and the ethnomusicologists who recorded the delta blues were part of a long train of people who tried to record the fading folk cultures of the rural pre-industrial era.

Folk cultures used to be geographically local. Now, they can be local to a geography, or to a non-geographical subculture.

Folk cultures used to be oral. Now, with moblogs and audblogs and the wayback machine, they're recorded, if we have the will and use the technology to capture the traces.

I think we'll still have a global mass market. The power law will help find and elevate global celebrities and local traditions out the vast pool of peer creativity.

Humans make art. Cave art and burial jewelry are signs of evolving humanoids becoming human. Art evolved in tribal cultures. Tribal art was drowned out by the mass market for a brief time in human history, but it's coming back.

This is a heavily studied area. The front of the curve is somewhat artificial and sustained by distribution channel control. The region of the curve that just misses heavy distribution is most interesting, This is where great books and music lurk. In some areas of music people now avoid contracts even when offered as they can sell 50k CDs themselves when they tour and do much better than they would with a music company promoting them to the 1 mega CD level..

One has to worry about the distribution of talent. Depending on how you count the US has 20 to 40 million musicians who spend about as much on making music as consumers spend on consuming CDs ($10B vs $12B in the US). The problem is there are probably only a few thousand who are worth listening to.

People with the "librarian" or "disk jockey" gene are becoming increasingly important. We built some prototypes to empower these people and found fantastic acceptance.

Music and book distribution still has a long way to go. Places like iTMS are still in their infancy.

Steve, well said: I see the Internet as essentially a "folk" environment, rather than an "industry" environment.

In a folk context, in reference to Joi's post, the listener is less and less a "consumer", and is more and more a participant in the form (creation, in some respects, and, otherwise, distribution) of the music itself.

I see releasing my own music on the Internet (and under CC license) as being part of creating some kind-of folk-music in that the divisions between composer and audience, and between composition and community, aren't so pronounced.

oh, my comment above should have been directed in response to Adina. Adina, well said . . .

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Will the tail wag? from RelentlesslyOptimistic
October 11, 2004 11:59 AM

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The other day I noted The Long Tail. Joi Ito wonders Will the Tail Wag? "In case you haven't noticed, it's clearly now a discovery problem, not a delivery problem." I noticed :)... Read More

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