A Long Tail Made of Tinsel?

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Will the long tail work for Hollywood? A new working paper from Harvard Business School profs Anita Elberse and Felix Oberholzer-Gee (I feel your pain, Felix) finds that pessimists about Hollywood consolidation and emerging indie film triumphalists are both right:

"In the paper we show that both the long-tail and superstar effects take place–but that each comes with a twist," Elberse says. "Consumers can find videos online that they can't find anywhere else. And yes, there is a shift in sales to the tail–but there is also an increasing number of titles that do not sell at all."…

In the 2000-2005 period covered in the paper, the number of titles that sold only a few copies each week increased twofold–yet the number of titles that didn't sell at all was four times as high as in 2000.

The research also finds some support for the superstar phenomenon. Sales in the superstar category have become more concentrated, with fewer titles responsible for a large fraction of sales. From 2000 to 2005, the number of titles in the top 10 percent of sales dropped by half.

Don't get too excited about the increased prospects for your multi-part documentary on the interiors of the Starship Enterprise, though:

"Even if the long tail accounts for a significant share of sales," says Elberse, "it's not clear whether any single producer or distributor can do much to take advantage of that phenomenon."…

"There's obviously merit in the long-tail view. It also promotes a more democratic view of the world. It's comforting to think that everyone has a shot at success by posting a video on a site like YouTube." On the other hand, the superstar, winner-take-all vision is a bit less comforting–unless you're one of the lucky few at the top.

NEXT: Lord Ralph Harris, R.I.P.

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  1. Commercially, yes the long tail is a huge lose (until such time as Disney stops paying Congress to extend the duration of copyright). The win is for people with Strongbad levels of popularity. And also, I suppose, for that maniac who actually makes the Enterprise documentary – in exchange for a few DVD blanks and a thousand hours of his time, he can probably make some beer money.

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