Like a lot of people on the web since 1993, I have a semi-static defunct webpage about myself located on my cow.net website. (I think the fact I own the domain COW.NET also indicates how long I’ve been around.)
On the COW.NET page about myself, I welcome people who are browsing, and invite them to “buy the T-shirt”. This was just a throwaway statement, a little joke. Sometime later, I heard about this new company called Cafepress, which takes your images and allows yourself or others to purchase items with those images on them. Since I thought this was pretty funny, I created a “Storefront” with a Jason Scott image.
And then promptly forgot about it.
Almost seven years later, I got mail from Cafepress, saying “You really need to clear up your mailing address and some other account information before we can pay you.” I went and checked, and I guess I was owed money for all those sales! So I filled out the crap and then forgot about it again.
This week, this showed up in my mail:
Drinks on me!
Vaguely avid readers might note that I do my best to avoid fad jargon, those phrases that weblogs like to use to seem hip or at least cynically superior to others by keeping track of whatever twisted refashioning of language is hot this week. I sometimes fail, of course, but I really do my best.
However, I can only imagine that a certain percentage of people would look at my mad sack of cash and say “That’s the Long Tail at work.”
If you’ve not heard the phrase “Long Tail”, therefore, let me summarize it as best I can: A guy from Wired is making a living selling people a fucked-up bell curve. Or, if you prefer, we’ve acquired a new messiah who says, in book, weblog, magazine and audio form, that Given Enough Time, You Will Eventually Sell All Your Stock.
The “long tail” is the slow, steady trickle of people wandering into your virtual (or real) storefront weeks or months or years after you set up shop, and finding that they still want your product. If you make a graph of sales, this drawn-out plateau/line resembles a very long “tail” attached to that sweet, sweet lump of sales at the beginning of the graph.
If reading about it makes no sense, don’t worry; there’s a website, article, book and walrus all explaining the concept in intricate detail. OK, fine, the last link doesn’t give you anything but a walrus.
I mostly ignore this whole fad because it has the same attributes of a lot of classification fads, that is, a lot of obvious statement followed by a branding which is then used by person or persons capitalist-minded to cash in on the resulting rush of interest. This is how downloadable recordings became “podcasts”, adding a comments section became “peer-to-peer collaboration”, and how, way back in 1998, removing the “(y/n)?” from downloads became Push Technology.
Unfortunately, I’m now seeing it leak into an area I care about, namely, moviemaking. Long Tail Wired Dude made this entry about making a “Long Tail Movie”. As far as I can tell, his brilliant idea is to make shitty movies cheaply and make back the meager budgets by never throwing away the stock.
Because what we need are more people whipping out lame, fastly-produced shit and demanding twenty bucks.
The best part about “The Long Tail” as a “movement” is that, like Humpty Dumpty, you can make the word mean whatever you want it to mean. Anything where something takes a long time to run out can be a “long tail”. Any case you have trouble with sales after the initial curious rush of people is really a case of you exploiting the “long tail”. If you sleep with someone a lot and now not quite so much, your not getting some tail is part of the “long tail”.
I’m not saying the concept doesn’t have merit or isn’t in some way true; I’m just saying it’s another case of rebranding being used to grab concepts and then market them into the ground. If you recognize that this isn’t a revolutionary bit of thinking and is what it is, then have a great and fantastic time using the hot new fad jargon.
There, a blog fight. Where’s my posse? I gotta spend this mad Cafepress cash, and I’m all about the Washingtons.
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