Bill Wasik, senior editor at Harper’s magazine, makes several interesting and interlacing points in his talk (seen here). I feel that his assertion that “short stuff” will never be monetized is essentially correct. Short posts by an author or organization are too much like Twitter, and most of these same authors Tweet their short stuff, so why would I pay for that?
In the battle and discussion around Free (using Chris Anderson’s capitalization), I have felt that a missing component has been whether the Free stuff in and of itself has value to the consumer. Sometimes maybe and sometimes maybe not.
I work in an organization in which we run across something like this: another business unit inside the company has created some technical training content aimed at consultants and systems integration firms. Many times it takes the form of “<Name of technology goes here>-Brain-Dump-in-a-Box” which is duly posted for broadest possible distribution on the Web. Great! Lots of folks go there, download and/or watch it (if it happens to have webcasts that aren’t downloadable) and get whatever assistance the content by itself can offer.
Then, this internal group will approach my team and ask us to make it available to our training channel. For various niggling reasons, a cost/price becomes associated with this training content in the process. So the question is, will a training company be able to sell this same course to corporate customers despite the fact that they can get it “for Free off the Web”?
The answer is Yes.
The reason is value. When this corporate student attends an instantiation of this class, she or he will not be staring at a monitor for five days. They will be taught by an experienced technology trainer. There is the value! It’s not just the content (or whatever other IP you might think of) by itself. It is the context and the “value-add” that make it worth paying for. The value-add also adds cost, but the Value scenario still comes out looking good.
Will some companies still opt to go to the site, download the content and point their employees at it, telling them to “get up to speed” on their own? Sure. There will always be takers for Just Free. However, context and extra value can make the difference.
The challenge is to discover the context and extra value the potential consumers of your currently Free Stuff would be willing to pay for.
I find your critique of The Long Tail well balanced. Given the tone of the book and audience for which the book is written, it would be easy to agree with Anderson. By focusing on the sociological shifts that the information economy technologies afford and staying within that scope, it is a little easier to make the case.
The guest speaker, T.A. McCann, was an energizing visitor. His presentation about various manifestations of The Long Tail and Web 2.0, in particular Facebook Answers, LinkedIn Answers and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, demonstrates the kind of personal production that is not only interesting to me as a participant but to my business. Businesses spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to incent their communities. Many of them never get beyond transactional (cash) incentives. Further discussion about what incents production the further one goes into the tail was thought-provoking since you get into intrinsic value and prestige in varying degrees. His description and demonstration of his new business, MineBoxx, was interesting. His preface about tightly focusing the scope of the target market makes me wonder how valuable this service would be to a broader audience in different context, price points, and levels of functionality.
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There seem to be a number of things that influence The Head and The Hit. The sheer volume of content available has made it more unlikely that a high number of, say, movies will achieve Blockbuster status. More consumers with more choices, both for content and when they can consume it (now = theater, later = DVD, On Demand, premium cable movie channel, Tivo) means a Hit need not attain enormous initial box office returns. According to a new poll by AP-AOL, 73% of adults said that they prefer watching movies at home on DVD and VOD (Video on Demand) over going to the theater. Another study by the Journal of Marketing found that studios stand to gain a 16% increase in revenue in the U.S. if they release films in theaters, on rental DVD and video-on-demand at the same time, followed three months later by a DVD sell-through release. The nature of The Hit is changing, and much more attention should rightly be centered in The Tail, but The Head isn’t going away. As businesses figure out where to draw the line between what they and their customers define as The Head and The Tail, semantics and definitions become more important. This is culture shift, which may take some time and never actually be complete.
“The Long Tail”, the title of the book by Wired magazine’s editor Chris Anderson, is a phrase that has entered the popular business lexicon with nearly as many interpretations as there are people quoting it. The term describes a graph showing very high sales and demand on the left (the head) and the rapid decline of the same on the right (the tail). This decline, while initially radical, flattens out and goes on to the right without ever actually getting to zero. Anderson’s book is about:
- what is significant about this tail
- what enables it to be important today with digital distribution, social means of production and effective filters and search capabilities, and
- what makes this a game-changing opportunity for businesses, consumers and society.
The level of discussion was more broad this week. I found the discourse intriguing on what constitutes free and the emerging requirements for effective filters, given the scale of information available. Attention and reputation as the stuff of value, with the decline of the cost of the information in an information economy, is significant as each of us only has so much time (an aspect of attention). To invest that wisely becomes critical for individuals, as do both of the above for groups/businesses/organizations.
The idea of Free as put forth in Chris Anderson’s article invites scrutiny, especially around assumptions and (more or less) hidden connections.
So much of the discussion seems to assume that everyone has access to the digital marketplace. While that is a goal that is represented by efforts like One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), the fact remains that the greater part of humanity has no access to a computer or other online portal. Perhaps, that being understood, discussion about the portion of humanity that does have access becomes just that.
A challenge I have in relating the article “How Not to Build an Online Market” to the book is the former isolates business-to-business (B2B) markets while the greater portions of Long Tail that I have read so far deal primarily with business-to-consumer (B2C). However the markets described still rely upon online technologies, breath of scale, aggregation of products, economics of distribution and the ostensible “demise of the middleman”. This last point seems to me to more closely model the more human element in business.