The Long Tail vs. Streaming

This week I researched about the Long Tail phenomenon and found some interesting dilemmas between Streaming algorithms and the long tail categories.

The Long Tail was a concept that came into fruition in 2004 (I know, its ancient!), written by Chris Anderson who was Editor-in-Chief for Wired magazine at the time of publish. It basically said, there is more entertainment out there in terms of niche and non-mainstream content than there is mainstream, or “popular hits”. Chris asserts that businesses like Amazon and iTunes (in 2004) were making just as much money off ‘Black-Eyed Peas’ albums as 100 non-mainstream bands because there was an audience for everything.

 A hit and a miss are on equal economic footing…Suddenly, popularity no longer has a monopoly on profitability. – Chris Anderson, Wired, 2004

Connecting marketing to the digital

Well, all amazon or iTunes had to do was track a consumer’s latest search or purchase which can help any business suggest products that are similar – creating more traffic within their business, and helping their consumers stay longer. In the eyes of the customer, Amazon looks pretty helpful in suggesting ‘No Doubt’ if you liked ‘Black-Eyed Peas’.

The Age of Streaming

However, 2004 was a millennium ago, and I doubt Chris could see the rise of streaming services such as Spotify, SoundCloud, and recently Jay-Z’s curated TIDAL. This has affected the way musicians market themselves now, especially those who are in the niche music categories. Music has seen the decline of physical CDs, records and digital downloads, as more and more consumers are switching to streaming services which derive their profit from subscriptions. This has seen the likes of Ed Sheeran making $400,000 from Spotify streams and Beyoncé making her partner millions as her full album Lemonade can only be exclusively streamed on TIDAL.

Revenue Distribution of Artists

But what happens to the little guys?

Bands like The Orwells and other alternatives of the music industry are now relying heavily on licensing their music to companies, movie productions and Netflix shows just to make enough money to keep going. Streaming has made it impossibly hard for small musicians to get streaming time, since the algorithm loops through all the popular songs before getting to the depths of the long tail. As small artists struggle to make a living, big artists gain LOTS of money from the algorithm of Spotify and Apple Music.
How can we help the little guys get a piece of the pie too?

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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Author: AM

I like to write and I thought maybe I would give blogging a shot. I'll let you know if it was worth it.

4 thoughts on “The Long Tail vs. Streaming”

  1. But even so, Amazon will still need to stock “digital downloads” or physical copies of music, which inevitably takes up space anyway whether it be in the form of 700mb of data or a CD. So there isn’t much room to argue when the question is:

    “Do we hold 500mb more of Beyonce digital downloads or use it on 500mb of The Orwells (who will probably only make one hit every few months?” or
    “Do we use the 500 spaces left to store Beyonce’s album or The Orwells?”

    So, perhaps the even bigger question is not why shouldn’t they but rather, how can they use their resources efficiently to make the most profits? And because streaming frequently highlights the popular music, there isn’t much room for consumers to delve into the long tail as often as before. For people who use streaming, they do it so they don’t HAVE to buy music; it just gets fed to them. There is not much exploration into the long tail being created in this aspect of streaming, and even if you had a lot of niche products, it is still not guaranteed they would make a sale. Why should a business stock a Nokia 360, when most want an iPhone or another smart phone? Why would we keep the Nokia 360 when 1 person buys it every year compared to the 5 million others who buy an iPhone every year? If the “misses” don’t make a hit at a volume that surpasses the mass market products then there isn’t much motivation for Amazon to sell more of it- even if there is still a handful of fans for them.


    1. Isn’t the “long tail” about increasing availability of niche products? The costs are seriously VERY LOW to make digital products available, hence the INCREASING availability of rarely-purchased products!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Wags,
        I think I may have gotten confused with Amazon being a physical store instead of it being completely digital and tried to measure their inventory capabilities quite terribly :’) (reading back on my last comment) . So yes you are correct, Amazon will most likely store ALL or as many as possible of the niche products online as it does cost next to nothing, and they will get revenue from ALL of those collectively. However my stance wasn’t, “perhaps they shouldn’t”, it was more future directed in “perhaps there will be no more demand for this happen.” I have done my research into this, in terms of the music industry, and the long tail is hindering the sustainability of the small musicians. So it isn’t that Amazon can’t stock their music, they definitely can. But the artists of the niche products don’t get as much revenue anymore from these purchases because streaming has allowed a continual loop from the most popular to mediocre popular and then back again to most popular. So in terms of “play” revenue, uncommon musicians don’t get any play time and therefore no revenue compared to Beyoncé who is a top 1% artist yet gets all the money from streaming plays.
        So I guess the question I wanted to pose, more eloquently this time, is whether there is a way for musicians to use some digital marketing tactics to get them some play time too? Or is the only choice left for musicians nowadays is to go viral and hope for the best?

        – Arny 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The big question is, why SHOULDN’T Amazon sell music from little-known musicians? It costs them virtually nothing to “hold stock” of digital products, and there is a market for everything, even if there is only a handful of fans.

    Liked by 1 person

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