Observations on The Long Tail and the Music Industry

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The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of MoreI met with some other Indianapolis Marketing Leaders a couple weeks ago to discuss The Long Tail. It’s a great book and Chris Anderson is a fantastic writer.

Since the book has been distributed, some folks have taken some shots at Chris and the thought that he somehow ‘invented’ The Long Tail. I don’t think Chris invented the theory of The Long Tail, but he illustrated it beautifully.

In our luncheon, as folks discussed the book, I think several of us came to the realization that The Long Tail is more of an inevitable process like any other industry. There used to only be a couple of automobile manufacturers, a handful of breweries, a few electronics manufacturers… but overtime as distribution and manufacturing technologies have evolved, the efficiency has continued to grow. The Long Tail is almost like a Moore’s Law for manufacturing and distribution.

I think the industry that’s most obviously hit by this is the music industry. Fifty years ago, there were a handful of studios and a handful of record labels that used to decide who made it and who didn’t. Then, radio stations decided what was played and what wasn’t. Regardless of consumer choice, the manufacturing and distribution of music was very, very limited.

Now, it’s simple. My son composes, writes, plays, records, mixes, and distributes music at a minimal cost through his own website. There’s nobody between him and the consumer… no one. There’s no one to tell him he can’t get a record deal, no one to charge him to record a CD, no one to tell him they won’t play his music. The middle man has been cut out of the solution!

That’s terrible for the middle man, but there is an endless line of folks that have been ‘cut out’ of distribution and manufacturing as the means have become inexpensive and more efficient. It’s a natural evolution. The problem with the music industry is that there was so much money in between the consumer and the musician. There are many a millionaires in the industry that you and I have never heard of.

So… what if a great musician made $75k a year? What if they had a 401k, had to work every week to bring home the bacon, had to look for a job here and there… is that so bad? I don’t think so. I’ve known machinists who were artists with a lathe – their work was always perfect… and they never made more than $60k a year. Why is the musician worth more than the machinist? They both worked their entire lives on their art. They both rose to a level of perfection that gained the attention and respect of those around them. Why does one get millions and the other barely a living?

These are questions that the music industry needs to come to terms with. The ability to share music through technology will always lead digital rights management and technology. The next generation of Operating Systems, Instant Messengers, etc. will have pure peer to peer sharing that won’t be refereed by a middle man that can get sued. I’ll ping Joe and Joe will share a song with me – without any service in between.

The RIAA and Music Industry is simply fighting the evolution of an industry. They can try to prolong it, but it’s of no use.

One comment

  1. 1

    “Why does one get millions and the other barely a living?”

    Because although I wouldnt pay good money to sit watch a machinist at work, I would sell my soul for Rolling Stones tickets.

    Thats why they are different. I, the consumer, value them differently.

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