more on why retarded hippies like me use Twitter; and a defence of the Long Tail

Today I “met” someone via Twitter. Dallas W.Taylor. The Dallas Taylor, as in “Crosby Stills Nash and Young Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves“. The Dallas Taylor who played drums on that album shown above (Deja Vu),  on the first album Crosby Stills and Nash, on the first Stephen Stills album, and on the two Manassas albums.

[And not the Dallas Taylor who was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for a short while in 1953. Or any other Dallas Taylor.]

I’m delighted to learn that there’s a new band in the works and that there’s new music to come. For sure I will be buying it, I want to support a childhood legend. My wish to support him grew even stronger when I found out what Dallas has been doing in the decades since. Go here if you want more information on the work he’s been doing on addiction intervention.

An aside I can’t resist, germane to this discussion. I read an article in the Times today trashing the Long Tail, referring to a study I studiously avoided mentioning till now; it smelt of trolling. But now I can’t resist. The headline was, believe it or not, Long Tail Theory Contradicted As Study Reveals 10m Digital Music Tracks Unsold.

Turns out the study was done by Will Page, Chief Economist of the MCPS-PRS Alliance. Yes, as in the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society and the Performing Right Society.

Now I shall resist the temptation to say that it’s a bit like reading a report on why cigarettes don’t cause cancer written and published by Philip Morris, or maybe on why gas guzzlers have no impact on climate change written and published by General Motors. I won’t say that. Having successfully resisted that temptation, I will state that what I can glean about the study looks quite reasonable. Except for a couple of points. A couple of big points.

First, Long Tail actually requires you to make the right Long Tail things searchable, findable, sellable, buyable. Not just any old things hanging around in inventory like elephants-without-colour. The right things. Too much of past inventory management focused on what was sold, what wasn’t sold. Whereas what should be measured is intent, not sale or purchase. How many things, Long Tail things, didn’t get sold despite the intentions of buyers? Mary Modahl, in Now or Never, a worthwhile book written at the turn of the century, makes that point very well. Nowadays, understanding buying intentions is at the heart of VRM, particularly unfulfilled intentions.

The Long Tail may not always be visible in a business environment that has been Hit Culture dominated, at least partly because industries in such environments are so far away from the customer and her intentions. How else can we explain the fact that it would appear no one considered that it would be worth while to re-release the Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen versions of Hallelujah as physical CD singles last week?

Long Tail is about what happens when the costs of discovery and contracting drop in an environment where inventory can be managed flexibly and dynamically, making the case that there’s a lot of people wanting to buy a lot of things that they can’t buy because of unavailability, high search costs, high fulfilment costs and so on.

Second, even if the study’s conclusions were right, they will not continue to be right. Because people like me will buy the songs and albums of people like Dallas Taylor, even more so if he starts connecting up with the Greg Reeves and Chris Hillmans and Joe Lalas and Al Perkins and Paul Harris and Fuzzy Samuels.

You see, these people are part of the Long Tail. Many today have not heard of them. But enough have. Even measured in readers of this blog, there are enough. Even measured in Facebook friends, there are enough. Even measured in Twitter followers, there are enough. Enough to form a Long Tail.

So people will buy their music. And not necessarily through traditional routes either.

In the meantime, I will continue to relish the sensation of being in touch with someone whose name used to adorn my wall as a teenager.

11 thoughts on “more on why retarded hippies like me use Twitter; and a defence of the Long Tail”

  1. The cover of those two albums suddenly transported me back to 1973, Calcutta, my neighbours Gyan & Div Singh, Rollie Ghosh,
    C-90 cassettes, tape- to – tape recordings, watching Woodstock 7 times at Lighthouse and so much more – Thanks ! By the way do you reckon the two albums are commercially available – can I go and buy them?

  2. Very intriguing post. I suspect that we will all have more long tail experiences such as these, not less.

    Although the sponsor of the study calls into question the true independence of the article, the current economic environment has also brought about a “piling on” of naysayers who are quick to condemn all aspects of our emerging digital economy. Such positions sell newspapers, I suppose.

  3. If the MCPS-PRS want to slag off the Long Tail, they should publish the whole dataset, or at least the whole curve, so we can discuss the shape.

    Both those albums are on Amazon. Manassas is ranked 10,355 in the UK, and Deja Vu is number 868.

  4. Although I am not a ‘retarded hippy’ (I think so, but sometimes other people staring makes me doubtful about that!), I liked the LP you mentioned below. Great piece, with “Harvest” from Neil Young too…I must admit it was my oldest brother who was listened them, endless…
    Hi and merry Xmas to you and all family
    L.

  5. I’m gen x so a bit late to be a hippy (not so sure on the retarded bit) and have been amazed to watch the technological explosion right from when I had a BBC micro as a kid to being an avid Twitter convert today (yes, I initially thought it was insular, anal and pointless). Seems to me that the internet and web 2 in particular are one of the greatest democratisers we have ever seen. This is not just around political choice but consumer choice, choice of opinion makers, music and etc. No question that the long tail is relevant and useful. It’s no co-incidence that the common thread running through all those that block / ban / rubbish this stuff is one of command and control. China, music industry, boomer executives – not all of course :-). Very much enjoy your tweets btw.
    Merry Christmas, Salv

  6. First, JP misses the point of the Alliance – it is a not-for-profit organisation serving the needs of artists (especially the one’s who don’t sell in huge volumes) by aggregating the collection and fairly distributing royalties. If a Long Tail for music actually existed, it would be a major benefit to the organisation – it is not a question of Turkeys voting for Christmas in fact quite the opposite.

    Secondly, making the tools available for improving the “searchable, findable, sellable, buyable” of music just isn’t enough. At the end of the day what drives music consumption is ultimately promotion. Traditional means such as record companies, radio and the best channel of all, recommendation by friends, still dominate. New online music discovery & recommendation tools hold promise, but there is very little data on whether they are currently successful or not. The Christmas success of Hallelujah actually reinforces the view that promotion is key either for the Pop Idol, Jeff Buckley or Leonard Cohen versions.

    Thirdly, there always has been people, whether retarded hippies or other socio-economic groupings, who have an eclectic taste in music – but it is really difficult to build an economic case for serving them without some sort of cross-subsidisation from either the Hits or elsewhere in the value chain (eg devices or general internet access charges). This is especially true when all songs are priced the same.

    This brings me to my main economic concern about the consequences of a lack of a Long Tail in music and that is it will discourage entrants in online music retailing & distribution – and this is at a time when new investment is sorely needed. I can quite easily envisage a future where there is only two places where you can buy music online, either Apple or Amazon.

    This will be in no-one’s interest – especially artists (and their collection societies) and the online networks (such as BT).

    The challenge going forward is how to re-engineer the value chain for music in an online world, which serves a wide range of tastes, rewards all parties in the value chain equitably and avoids the pitfalls of a concentration of power in a handful of powerful new aggregators.

  7. I disagree with Keith McMahon’s post…….
    The “concentration of power in a handful of powerful ‘new’ aggregators” and the idea of a thriving longtail aren’t mutually exclusive, IMHO.
    It’s the nature of markets that there will be a concentration of power at top, where a “handful” of companies have the bulk of the market share.
    The music industry is no different to any other industry in this respect (although we seem to keep hearing from them that they’re a special case).
    There’s enough data now with online businesses to show that longtail markets are as much a natural feature of markets as a concentration of power at the top.
    Taking the longtail of search terms as an example, one case study shows that the longtail (ie the least popular) search phrases – those with 3 or more keywords – accounted for 49% of total monthly traffic.
    And there were 32,641 of them.
    So ‘promotion’ had nothing to do with it:
    there were not 32,641 press or TV or banner ads.
    And this longtail of traffic translated to sales: 50% of sales, in fact.
    The study is here – click on ‘Presentation’ and see slide 5:
    http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/12840.asp
    The key question for artists and the music industry, I think, is sales of what?

    Is it possible that the industry is locked into its own definition of what customers/fans want, and missing an opportunity in the process?

    Is its definition of intellectual property too narrow?
    That is, if fans care about more than just the physical music files and concert tickets, then from a marketing standpoint, it’s more than these that define the (artist’s) brand.
    And if so, the artist should focus on selling all the things – merchandise, access etc – that her market values.
    The markets that artists’ operate in are inherently tribal……fans like to identify themselves as followers of the artist. And that represents a much bigger marketing opportunity than the traditional ideas of ‘mechanical copyright protection’ and ‘performing rights’ suggest.
    Seth Godin’s ‘Tribes’ should be essential reading for any artist or artists’ agent who wants to be successful. Great video here:
    http://blog.mixergy.com/seth-godin-tribe/

    So as Keith ponders ‘re-engineering the value chain for music in an online world’, he might want to think about the richer definition of what artists are really selling (belonging to a tribe?) and the opportunities that come with it.

  8. Thank you for your blog, I sometimes wonder what has happened to the collective ear of todays “music” listeners.I remember growing up to the “old blues guys ,hanging on every note, hungry to learn ans relating to their pain. I have spent the last 20 years working on my music. Perfecting each note. Not worrying about whether it would “sell”, but making the best music I could possibly make. Not worrying if it was going to be the “next big thing”, but was it truly something I could be proud of…and it is !Sincerely, Dallas Taylor. P.S. Thank you again.

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