The least convincing part of Andersonâ€™s book is his treatment of what he calls â€œthe short head,â€ the part of the curve where popular products reside. Although he acknowledges that best-selling books and blockbuster movies wonâ€™t vanish overnight, he suggests that demand for them will gradually decline: â€œthe primary effect of the long tail is to shift our taste towards niches.â€
Is this what weâ€™re seeing? In the film industry, more movies are being produced than ever before, but seven of the ten all-time top-grossing films worldwide have come out since 2000: three â€œLord of the Ringsâ€ movies, three â€œHarry Potterâ€ movies, and â€œShrek 2.â€ Itâ€™s true that over-all attendance at movie theatres has been slipping, but the biggest films are still doing well, as was demonstrated recently by â€œThe Da Vinci Codeâ€ and â€œX-Men: The Last Stand,â€ both of which enjoyed highly successful opening weekends despite tepid reviews. Four of the top-selling novels ever publishedâ€”the works of J. K. Rowling and Dan Brownâ€”have appeared since 2000, too.
[...] Thereâ€™s another blind spot in Andersonâ€™s analysis. The long tail has meant that online commerce is being dominated by just a few businessesâ€”mega-sites that can house those long tails. Even as Anderson speaks of plenitude and proliferation, youâ€™ll notice that he keeps returning for his examples to a handful of sitesâ€”iTunes, eBay, Amazon, Netflix, MySpace. The successful long-tail aggregators can pretty much be counted on the fingers of one hand. Although the online economy has existed for only a decade, businesses like theseâ€”and you can add Google and Yahooâ€”have already established seemingly impregnable positions. If youâ€™re a typical Internet user, when you need to find information you go to Google; when youâ€™re looking for a book or a CD, you go to Amazon; when you want a new golf club, you go to eBay; when you want to download a song, you go to iTunes.
Thereâ€™s an ugly name for industries that are controlled by three or four big firms: oligopolies. A few decades ago, these lumbering creatures were easy to spot. In the skies, cosseted airlines like American, United, and Delta charged passengers a small fortune for the privilege of flying; in broadcast television, ABC, CBS, and NBC dictated what viewers could watch. Today, thanks to globalization, deregulation, and technological progress, many of the twentieth-century industrial behemoths have fallen by the wayside. But donâ€™t assume that giant, exploitative firms are a thing of the past.
[...] In recent years, eBay has sharply increased its commission rates; Amazon has admitted charging its customers different prices for the same goods; and Apple Computer has stubbornly refused to make its iTunes service compatible with portable music players other than iPods. Has the New Economy really moved past the familiar â€œwinner take allâ€ dynamic? That depends on whether youâ€™re looking at the long tailâ€”or at whoâ€™s wagging it.