In “The Long Tail”, Anderson outlines the direction today’s music industry has taken. This path culminates in the almost infinite inventory of songs, crossed with accessible distribution channels. He attributes a large portion of this derivation from the “hit” culture to peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing and single-song purchase through iTunes, which creates an almost unlimited supply.
Though Anderson was entirely correct in his analysis of the impact of Napster and iTunes, he falls short on how far distribution in the music industry has really come. This is at no fault to him, as his book was published a lifetime ago (we’re talking 2006 A.D.), but there are now even more novel ways to extend the long tail curve that are worth noting.
To illustrate my point, I give you one of my recent experiences:
Browsing through a list of upcoming concerts, I found a show featuring two of my new favorite bands – and I should mention I discovered these groups thanks to online radio and a song-tagging app on my iPhone.
In anticipation of this concert, I made myself a playlist of songs on Grooveshark, which included songs by the two headlining artists, as well as the two supporting bands also playing that night. After a couple songs in, I grew a strong affinity for one of the previously unknown bands, The Friday Night Boys, who happened to be Virginia locals.
Clearly my next move – no surprise at all – was to search Facebook and find out more about them. I discovered their page and became a fan in hopes of hearing updates about upcoming events. My interest could have stopped there. Instead, I was compelled to write a status update about my new find: “Liking my latest pop punk guilty pleasure The Friday Night Boys, and not just because they have an album called “That’s What She Said.” (In a very Twitter-esque fashion, “The Friday Night Boys” was preceded by an “@” symbol, making it linkable to their fan page directly from my status – one of my favorite new Facebook features.)
In addition to a “thumbs up” from my friend Clare who can’t get enough of my “that’s what she said” jokes, I received a comment from my friend Rob 20 minutes later saying he already downloaded their album, loves it, and recommends a similar band, “Forever the Sickest Kids.” Never having heard of them, I ask him to put together a playlist in my Grooveshark account. Minutes later, the playlist is up, and I am jamming at my computer to some new tunes of which I can’t get enough.
In the span of under an hour, I discovered a new band, introduced them to someone 3,000 miles away, then learned about another band which fit comfortably in the pocket of my musical library. In just those few minutes, local band The Friday Night Boys gained a fan in Los Angeles, and Forever the Sickest Kids earned a spot in my headphones.
Chance has now also become a crucial factor in prolonging the long tail. You don’t “accidentally” download an iTunes song. But you can unintentionally stumble upon a Facebook post or Tweet with just enough information to perk your fancy. I did not set out that day to preach the gospel of a local band, and Rob was not looking to further his musical reach either. We each happen to be in the same virtual place and the same virtual time.
In a time where Anderson’s world would have stopped with the download of a song through iTunes, or possibly the pirating of music through P2P downloads, social media has given us an entirely new venue to share our long tail niches with others – intentionally or not.