Chris Anderson, in his book, The Long Tail, introduces us to this idea of how nichebusters has replaced the earlier blockbusters in the digital world. In this blog post, I am sharing some thoughts from the book that contributed to this relatively recent phenomenon and its consequences.
The rise in demand for obscure products (including books, music, films, etc.) is a result of infinite shelf space with real-time information on buying trends and public opinion. While 20th-century entertainment industry was all about 'hits', the 21st century will be about niches. There are fewer events, now, that capture the communal pop culture spirit. Because of this, we are no longer defined by our geography but, by our interests. The book says that:
Many of our assumptions about popular taste are actually artifacts of poor supply-and-demand matching - a market response to inefficient distribution. The web simply unified the elements of a supply-chain revolution that had been brewing for decades.
Mass culture will not fall, it will simply get less mass. And niche culture will get less obscure. Popularity no longer has a monopoly on profitability.
This shift in demand towards niches will make the economics of providing them further improve. This feedback loop will transform industries and culture forever resulting in the mainstreaming of the niche. It may give rise to a new kind of 'hits'.
This phenomenon called long tail is just:
culture unfiltered by economic scarcity.
From the consumers' point of view, over time as the audience wandered farther away from the beaten path, they began to realize that their taste is not as mainstream as they thought and started exploring the unknown together.
Young people don't want to rely on a Godlike figure to tell them what's important. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it.
And, collectively, our tastes are far more diverse than the marketing plans being fired at us. One person's noise could be another person's signal and one country's hits could be another country's niche.
The individuals haven't changed; they've always been fragmented. What's changing is their media habits. They're now simply satisfying the fragmented interests that they've always had. There are as many fragments as there are individuals. Always have been and always will be.
It shows that my tribe is not always your tribe, even if we work together, play together, and otherwise live in the same world. Same bed, different dreams.
From a consumer perspective, human attention is more expandable than money. Therefore, even though we may consume more of 'non-rivalrous attention seeking' media (those in the 'want' markets) such as music we may not necessarily pay a lot more for the privilege. This is something musicians need to keep in mind while building a business model around their craft.
As a result of an abundance of niches and sub-niches, there arise a need for specialization. That said, we might be mainstream in some areas of life but, we go behind niches in some others. For instance, I am quite mainstream when it comes to watching movies whereas when it comes to listening to music, reading, and values I go behind niche ideas.
Despite all this, our assumptions about media have not changed. Many existing media firms are still oriented toward funding, and creating blockbusters. We still give disproportionate attention to the very top of the heap, from superstars to CEOs. This is because we have been trained to see the world through a hit-colored lens.
What does this mean in the big picture? As much as these changes offer us endless possibilities, there are definitely some trade-offs that we should be aware of. Here's what the author thinks:
Are we promoting a creative individualism or a narrow individualism? By giving us the illusion of perfect control, these technologies risk making us incapable of ever being surprised. They encourage not the cultivation of tastes, but the numbing repetition of fetish. In thrall to our own little technologically constructed worlds, we are, ironically, finding it increasingly difficult to appreciate genuine individuality.
Although the decline of mainstream cultural institutions may result in some people turning to echo chambers of like-minded views, I suspect that over time the power of human curiosity combined with near-infinite access to information will tend to make most people more open-minded, not less.
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