Three surprises and the Long Tail

Mash_up I am surprised that people were surprised at my comments on Chris Anderson’s book. 

And I am really surprised that Chris Anderson responded from an airport lounge, insubstantially, and with the complaint that we are both on the same side. 

First, I don’t see a "we" here.  That pretty much dissolved, Chris, when you wrote a remarkably partial book about a remarkably global topic. 

And even if it were a better book, University of Chicago rules would apply, and these rules, as I understand them, say:

anthropological discourse is a full contact sport.  This is not the time to mince one’s words.  There is no point in being rude, but neither should we be unduly amiable or agreeable.

Some would add to this the "rugby rider" that says

on the field of disputation, we are combatants.  Off this field, civility, even friendship, may prevail. 

I meant the title of the post in question: The Long Tail Strikes Back. Twenty years ago, Anderson’s position as the editor of Wired Magazine would have protected him from criticism.  But now that every argumentative know-it-all has a blog, well, the intellectual world has a long tail too.  This long tail must make good on its liberty.  It can afford to be more forthcoming than other parties and it must insist on doing so or forfeit it’s place in the world.   

Finally, I don’t see how Anderson has addressed the issues I raised. So the issues have been raised but now exist in a state of suspension.   

Closing matters

Culture Camp

The culture camp in Toronto went really well.  It was two days with the client looking at
1) ethnography as a way of collecting data about contempory cultures and markets,

2) anthropology has a way of supplying more foundational understandings of contemporary culture and markets, and

3) the intellectual tools that help us think about contemporary cultures and markets.

Toronto worked well as a place in which to stage a Culture Camp.

Several of us (and especially Russell Davies) have been thinking about how best to create floating academies, and I intend to write up this Culture Camp experience when occasion allows. 


Andrew Zolli writes to tell us:

Each year, Pop!Tech brings together extraordinary thinkers, leaders and doers to explore the deep forces shaping our collective future, the social impact of new scientific insights and emerging technologies, and the new approaches humanity is taking to address national and global challenges.

This year, with the help of Yahoo!, we will be webcasting the entire Pop!Tech 2007 conference – for free – at  between 9am and 6.30pm EST, October 18-20, 2007.  Viewers can even submit questions to our stage live by emailing The 2007 Pop!Tech program is online at and speakers are at

8 thoughts on “Three surprises and the Long Tail

  1. german dziebel

    Anthropology is a “full-contact sport,” “on the field of disputation, we are combatants.” Finally I hear someone else besides me saying it out loud. Great words, Grant! As we say in Russia: truth is born in polemics and dies in discussions.

  2. Leigh

    At the risk of the academic wrath of Grant (or the risk of just looking stupid to people who use the word post-modern in casual conversation) I think there is a bridge here missing.

    The reason why Chris’ book was so revolutionary to so many corporations (many of whom to Chris’ point, are attempting to look at concepts such as the long tail and apply them) is that corporations have tended to only look at things in big mass clumps. Unless you were a clump of one million, a big bucket of mass media love, you didn’t factor into their business modeling, their mass marketing and in fact, their mass advertising.

    The notion of “an infinite number of niche markets (p. 5)” changes that dynamic to consider something other than this notion of “clump marketing”.

    However, to apply business and marketing theories to cultural theory is IMHO a little unfair and I don’t want to speak for anyone, but wasn’t what I took away from reading the Long Tail.

    Obviously there are seismic trends that impact our society that cannot be denied and surely are the subjects of Phd’s and cultural studies majors (and probably a few post modernists) around the globe thereby making a universe only of one’s problematic.

    But I think in this particular case, that the direct tie between the Long Tail and what you were referring to Grant in your original post, may be mixing metaphors or not comparing apples to apples or some other lovely cliché. Either that, or I’m just missing something…

  3. Jeff Osborne

    Nothing personal, but I was surprised by what I perceived to be a brash initial response. Polemics are great, and I’m not against an aggressive discourse, but take a step back and it looks like you (Grant) are splitting hairs. Of course you’d like it to appear that you’re doing something much more grandiose – and so you’ve force framed Chris’ book to fit (and thereby fail to fit) your self-constructed context.

  4. jkh

    cumon, grant, we should at least see the beauty in anderson’s accomplishment writing a polished massmarket bestseller on the success of weird nichemarket offerings.
    that alone deserves respect.
    add to this the no less than brilliant title, that packs the whole read into one picture – and we should all get off our seats for a round of standing ovations.
    anderson definitely gets my design prize here. a brilliant product.

    “‘the long tail’… what is that about???” – “aha, there you go, a new business phenomenon… and – WOW – here the author even dusts off my age old economics knowledge – now that is refreshing!..” —

    great, great product. – attention through initial irritation. – storytelling to make the point. – and then the final loop back to the cover… FULL STOP – brilliant. all makes sense. ready for instant use. – AND – and this is important: i have learnt something and that something is more than anderson was telling me. – he brought me back to some long forgotten – and long trivialized – economical knowledge, challenged common belief, and made me look at the whole thing in a new light – almost with new eyes.

    someone who does that for you – who expands your parameters in such a well digestible way – you will never forget.

    the success of the book and the conversational omnipresence of the title tell us something about how good products are made and how excellent brand building is done.

    anderson took me to another place, that i did not know i owned it already.

    that is masterful.
    that is engaging.

    brilliantly done.

    a whole round of applause!

  5. Scott Ellington

    My take-away from the points made by both primary speakers is that the aggregators don’t request information about the customer’s library that contains titles not purchased from that particular aggregator. NetFlix only suggests to me properties available to NetFlix. Amazon waves its limited wares enticingly, and iTunes doesn’t suggest that NetFlix or Amazon may have the rare DVD or exotic volume that perfectly complements my last purchase/rental. So the proprietary partialism/partiality of these exemplary aggregators is a problem they don’t resolve by choosing to pool their resources, making their newly interoperable systems/platforms available to each customer, along with the wealth of entertainment, information and cultural treasure the information age makes absolutely possible. It think the book points corporations in a better direction (pull rather than push) but that there’s no indication that any corporation’s looking to their customers for guidance to become the Library of Congress or Alexandria, or the Wikipedia of Wildly Unpopular Stuff. I think both primary speakers are right, and that the WoWUS is inevitable.

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