Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

As I discussed yesterday, my recent reading of Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail provided me with a lens through which to critique my own blog, something I broke off from my earlier piece due to length. Though much of Anderson’s argument involves the different nature of mass media, especially the difference between broadcasting and narrowcasting, I will use the outline of his theory based upon the original article in Wired, supplementing that with observations from my reading.

First though, I want to summarize a bit of his argument so it is understandable for those who are unfamiliar with the book. A medium like television is ideally suited to gather large audiences for a purpose, usually to sell advertising. But with such a large audience, the advertisements used must have a wide appeal to somehow capture the varied and general demographics of such a large audience. There are only so many channels available to broadcast, and only so many hours in the day with which to broadcast.

The internet, on the other hand, has no such restrictions. All the content is available at anytime, and since webspace is theoretically infinite, nothing is competing with anything else in order to be slotted for viewing. This allows much more specific audiences to be sought in order to deliver them to niche advertisers. As with Anderson’s analogy of the music industry sales, the ability to offer a near unlimited amount of tracks enables the consumer to get more and more specific with their interests. Rather than broad genres like rock, rap, and country, we see genres emerge out of genres that themselves have emerged out of genres. So we tend to see categories like: Country/1940s/Oklahoma/Tulsa/African American. An advertiser who wants to target an incredibly specific market now knows that they can penetrate that deeply without wasting their budget on less than ideal consumers.

How does this affect my blog, or rather blogs in general? For one, the most successful blogs tend to be focused around a niche interest, be it Stephen King books, soup, or gladiolas. Blogs like mine, which tend to be more general, may receive attention, but from a more general readership; in other words, an audience that it might be hard to sell to niche advertisers.

That said, I’m not looking to sell anything in this space, nor am I seeking advertisement. But I do think drawing a specific audience, for me one that shares my research interests and would enjoy discussing them in this sort of forum, can be accomplished by the same sort of focused appeal that has worked in more specific concepts. Whether I change content here is yet to be determined, but I do find the exercise of thinking about such a situation intriguing.

What I haven’t touched on here thus far is the third step in Anderson’s Long Tail theory: ‘Help me find it.’ Perhaps the largest problem this blog has right now is a limited, albeit dedicated, readership. Gaining greater traffic and thus more opportunities for input, I believe the space itself would begin to shape into something that the audience and I both want. In order to increase this population though, what can be done? I already link every presence I have on the internet to this site, yet that hasn’t been helping. But I do read a dozen or so blogs each day which primarily are based around similar interests. By being a more active member of this community—linking to other sites, commenting on interesting topics, asking to be put in the blogrolls of more popular sites—perhaps some traffic might be generated that way. Several blogs also are open to guest posters, and this is another tool I could exploit in order to increase traffic.

Anderson’s The Long Tail has certainly changed the way I think about marketing oneself or one’s product online. The next few months will serve as a personal evaluation of my ability to put these new ideas into practice on something that is important to me.

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