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GraphChris Anderson from Wired talked passionately at Supernova about how the Internet makes it possible to exploit the "niche" portion of the demand for products, services, and content. His theory is that there is more total demand — revenue — from a large number of little known products that there is from a small number of big "hits". He calls the curve that reflects this phenomenon "the long tail".
In particular, the future of entertainment — books, songs, movies — is at the "shallow end of the bitstream". All of us have unique likes and dislikes. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Prior to the Internet bringing us Amazon and Netflix, we had to be content with what was available in the "store" and the store would only carry something that had good odds of selling. The fact is that there is a lot out there that may not mean much to the masses but is exactly what someone somewhere is looking for.
My friend and colleague, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, recently found a personalized recommendation at Netflix for a movie called Blue, by a Polish director, Krzysztof Kieslowski. Irving said he had never heard of the movie or the director but the movie had a very high rating, member comments were positive, and professional reviewers that he trusts all highly recommended the movie. A mouse click later the DVD was on it’s way to Irving and he soon enjoyed it greatly. It turns out the movie was part of a trilogy and he ended up ordering the other two movies also.
A slightly different phenomenon is happening with music. iTunes recommends music on a personalized basis but also provides "iMixes" of various artists and links to music collections that are favorites of music stars themselves. By following the trail from list to list you can get pretty far out on the long tail and find some highly unique music. None of them will sell millions but millions of people will find music that they really like. There will still be "mega-hits" but the world of creating and retailing is being turned upside down. The Long Tail is a really important story and I urge everyone to read it.