Amazon's Ever-Growing Long Tail

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This is less about the tail making more money than the head.

Chris Anderson‘s debut business book, The Long Tail – Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, came out in 2004 with one simple concept: companies could make significant profits from selling small volumes of hard-to-find products to many customers instead of only selling large numbers of a handful of popular items. The theory of The Long Tail is that the total sales of these non-hit products could outsell those of the few popular items. Whether or not this has crystallized is not the point. Because of the Internet, companies can now carry an endless amount of inventory as they’re no longer relegated to the limitations of a physical store’s square footage.

Amazon is a great example of the long tail at work.

If you’ve been playing along at home, you already know how much love I have (and have always had) for Amazon. I’m also a massive fan of obscure content, so the Internet provides a constant flow of unique and niche content coupled with unique and niche products. From rare books to hard-to-find electronics, it’s hard to beat Amazon’s impressive play of the long tail. This was pushed even further this past week when Amazon launched the "Never Before on DVD" store, which offers more than two thousand titles from companies like Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and more. Where else do you think you’re going to score a DVD copy of Man From Atlantis: Complete TV Movies Collection (Remastered!)?

Long live the long tail.

This is just another shift in the ever-changing and constantly evolving retail channel. It’s not a question as to whether or not there is a mass market for anything anymore. We’re quickly moving to a very unique moment in time when customized products are becoming a cost-effective reality for mass merchant. Will Amazon’s "Never Before on DVD" store be the next evolution of online video or movies? Probably not, because it’s not about big hits and blockbusters so much as it is about helping people find those rare gems or creating a whole new level of movie discovery.

Regardless, it’s moments like these that give me a whole new appreciation for the power of technology, the Internet, connectivity and delivering what consumers want.


  1. As a content creator, I recognize that my audience is deep in the long tail as well. The mainstream stores could never make enough money on me to keep me on the shelves consistently.
    Amazon, however, has virtual shelf space. They don’t even warehouse it. They just provide a service that connects my potential readers with my products. Amazon takes a cut for making the connection. Genius.
    Buddy Scalera

  2. Mitch, THis past week my husband has been off work and spent time cataloging his DVD collection – he’s thinking of subscribing to Apple’s service where they log your record collection for ever so when you change devices, you don’t have to re-load boxfuls of CDs onto iTunes.
    And he showed me their ‘album artwork’ update or matching service
    Their ‘if your version is lower quality than ours’ service where they upgrade your version
    The ‘if you upload something we haven’t got in our library’ service they keep a copy
    As a marketer, I can see these strategies give Apple leverage with every music publisher, “Hey 156 of our customers have your artists’ works stored on iTunes, how about we cut a deal to sell more…?’
    And yet a small part of me still enjoys browsing a physical book store. How about you?

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