Testing The Long Tail @ Slate

Slate’s long tail

When Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson published an article called “The Long Tail” two years ago, he was hailed for explaining how the Internet changed the way culture purveyors do business. When he published a book with the same name this month, Tim Wu took him to task for overreaching—unleashing his nifty theory on everything from eBay to al-Qaida, whether it applies or not. But there’s at least one indispensable American brand that has thus far escaped the long arm of the Long Tail: Slate. Can Anderson’s theory shed light on the economics of an online magazine?

[…] At Slate, our inventory is our articles. We publish 20 or so stories every weekday, but we also have a backlog of about 33,000 pieces in our archives. Because those stories are freely available to our readers, a chunk of our traffic each day comes not from our “hits”—current pieces that are promoted on our home page, which typically draw tens of thousands of readers—but from older pieces with narrower appeal. The economist’s question is: How big is that chunk? And the editor’s question is: Which of our hoary old chestnuts are you reading?