The Long Tail theory is being challenged by a pair of researchers from the UK. A new study by Will Page and Andrew Bud, of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, the not-for-profit royalty collection society, suggests that the niche market is not an untapped goldmine and that online sales success still relies on big hits.

“I think people believed in a fat, fertile long tail because they wanted it to be true,” said Mr Bud. “The statistical theories used to justify that theory were intelligent and plausible. But they turned out to be wrong. The data tells a quite different story. For the first time, we know what the true demand for digital music looks like.”

They found that, for the online singles market, 80 per cent of all revenue came from around 52,000 tracks. For albums, the figures were even more stark. Of the 1.23 million available, only 173,000 were ever bought, meaning 85 per cent did not sell a single copy all year.

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7 replies
  1. Steve Shapiro says:

    The long tail is about sustainable income, and low overhead costs: in this case, recording at home or elsewhere on a small budget and releasing straight to iTunes who gives the artist 65% of the music revenue, and costs nothing upfront to distribute. On the other hand, the ‘big hits’ costs millions of dollars for big name producers, promotions, music videos etc. and the artist doesn’t get much for their recordings, but relies on touring and merchandise for their income.

    The long tail is there. It does not work for everything, just like 80/20 doesn’t work for everything. Announcing that you busted the long tail theory seems like a publicity stunt to me.

    I found something a bit confusing, too – maybe someone can help me with this. When the article said, “85 per cent did not sell a single copy all year,” do they really mean not a single copy or is this a rhetorical term, meaning ‘not a significant amount?’ If I personally released an album on iTunes, and sold about 30 digital copies to my friends and family, does this count as ‘not a single copy’ for this study?

  2. dkusek says:

    Hi Steve

    This is not a publicity stunt. The study was done by one of the largest performing rights organizations in the world. The fact that you may disagree with it is fine, but the results speak for themselves. I suggest you followup and learn more about this yourself.


  3. Steve Shapiro says:

    Mr. Kusek:

    First of all, I enjoy reading the Berklee Music blogs, and I did mean to offend you or the MCPS-PRS Alliance. I intended to have a constructive academic discussion by giving a different view of what the article said. I am not interested in bashing anyone. I’m just trying to throw around ideas instead of just consuming the article.

    Maybe there was a misunderstanding, because I said, “Announcing that *you* busted the long tail theory seems like a publicity stunt to me.” I did not mean you, Dave Kusek. I meant ‘anyone’ or ‘someone’ or ‘Page and Bud.’ And maybe “publicity stunt” was not even the right phrase for what I was trying to say. But if you would like clarity insight into why I would say something like that, I would gladly supply it, because I do not see this as an ignorant or misinformed statement.

    I don’t know if you meant to call me ignorant, but it seemed like that to me at first. Is that what you meant? I feel I was thorough and qualified enough to comment. I read the article that you referenced, but that article referenced nothing else such as the raw data sources. Anderson said “further conclusions could not be drawn until the data and its sources were published.” So I assumed the sources weren’t published yet, and took the article for what it was – an announcement.

    In my original comment up there, I said some other stuff besides calling it a “publicity stunt.” Any thoughts on those things? Thank you for your time.


    Steve Shapiro

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  2. […] l’industrie va basculer dans un marché de « niches », c’est peut être allé un peu loin. Une étude récente de « MCPS-PRS Alliance », une organisation de collecte des droits d’auteurs a montré qu’en Angleterre, 80 % de tous les […]

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