2008年7月22日 星期二

The Long Tail' since 2006, '...



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每 隔一段時間總會有一些理論或書籍面世﹐迫使我們重新思考我們自以為瞭解的社會運作方式。2006年的《長尾理論》(The Long Tail)就是其中之一。該書認為﹐互聯網及其似乎無限的選擇正在改變經濟和文化的面貌。如今﹐發表在《哈佛商業評論》(Harvard Business Review)上的一篇文章對此予以了駁斥﹐並表示﹐當今社會出現的任何變化都可能是完全不同於以往的類型。

長尾理論的提出者、《連線》(Wired)雜誌編輯克里斯•安德森(Chris Anderson)認為﹐我們的文化和經濟重心正在加速轉移﹐從需求曲線頭部的少數大熱門(主流產品和市場)轉向需求曲線尾部的大量小眾產品。

原 因很簡單﹐互聯網賦予了消費者無限的選擇空間讓一切成為可能。一家唱片店只有放得下固定數量唱片的貨架空間﹐而對iTunes來說﹐只要服務器存儲容量夠 ﹐它就可以連接幾百萬首歌曲。 因此﹐安德森認為﹐面向特定小群體的產品和服務可以和主流熱點具有同樣的經濟吸引力。由此﹐企業管理者不得不相應調整他們的商業計劃。

自兩年前問世以來﹐《長尾理論》一直在矽谷(Silicon Valley) 被奉為聖典。先前那些可預見商業前景一般的商業計劃頻頻援引《長尾理論》加以佐證﹐原因是該書顯然已經證明互聯網不僅僅是少數大熱門的領地。如果有人對此 提出異議﹐他們會遭到遺憾和輕蔑的目光﹐就好像後者剛剛承認還在使用Kaypro電腦一樣。

如今﹐這種情形可能就要發生改變了﹐這都要歸 功於哈佛商學院市場營銷學教授安妮塔•埃爾貝斯(Anita Elberse)的一篇文章(網上鏈接﹕tinyurl.com/3rg5gp)。埃爾貝斯教授採用了嚴格的統計方法﹐對娛樂和文化產業的數據進行了分析 ﹐其嚴謹程度堪比棒球數據分析員的專業精神。


對 此﹐安德森在他的長尾理論博客thelongtail.com上回應道﹐他和埃爾貝斯教授的分析之所以有悖﹐大多是因為雙方對“熱門”和“非熱門”﹐或者 《長尾理論》書中提到的“頭”和“尾”﹐的定義不同。除此之外﹐安德森對埃爾貝斯教授大加讚賞﹐並表示他歡迎這種對長尾理論的嚴格審視。


但 是埃爾貝斯教授表示﹐研究顯示即便在文化消費當中﹐我們也經常是非常從眾的。我們喜歡體驗別人正在經歷的事情﹐僅僅是別人正在經歷和喜歡某樣東西的事實都 會使我們對之青睞有加。我們遠遠不是對文化有著截然不同品位的個人主義者﹐我們中的大多數人都非常樂意有人提議我們應當追從什麼。



本專欄的忠實讀者可能還記得﹐在《長尾理論》剛剛面市的時候﹐我們對它表示過的懷疑。現在回想起來﹐《長尾理論》 似乎也在遵循《連線》雜誌許多文章的套路﹕選擇一個半真半假、略有點意思、科技感十足的想法﹐鋪天蓋地地吹捧一番﹐然後把它歸到能夠顛覆世界的一類。

《長 尾理論》暢銷不衰的部分原因和這個理論本身一樣有意思。首先﹐它不吝筆墨地奉承其讀者──很多都身處科技行業﹐聲稱互聯網正在改變一切。此外﹐由於許多科 技精英對傳統的文化供應商(如錄音棚和電影工作室等)持有輕蔑的看法﹐他們傾向於欣賞一切預見傳統文化勢力遭到侵蝕的說法。


互 聯網顯然正在改變人們的文化消費習慣﹐但是這些變化似乎並沒有涉及長尾理論預言的需求曲線急速變平的現象。雖然全新的文化產品──比如YouTube視頻 等確實正在嶄露頭角﹐但是它們似乎很快就陷入了“前谷歌(Google)時代”上演的“勝者為王”的老戲路。看著吧﹐可別急著丟掉那些舊範例﹗

Lee Gomes

(編者按﹕本文作者Lee Gomes是《華爾街日報》專欄“Portals”的專欄作家﹐欄目內容以科技、商業及相關的主題為主。)

Study Casts Doubt On Blockbuster Web Theory

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Had PowerPoint been around 150 years ago, Thoreau might have warned us to beware not only of enterprises that require new clothes, but also of those that require new paradigms.
A book from 2006, 'The Long Tail,' was one of those that appear periodically and demand that we rethink everything we presume to know about how society works. In this case, the Web and its nearly unlimited choices were said to be remaking the economy and culture. Now, a new Harvard Business Review article pushes back, and says any change occurring may be of an entirely different sort.
The Long Tail theory, as explained by its creator, Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson, holds that society is 'increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of 'hits' (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.'
The reason involves the abundance of easy choice that the Web makes possible. A record store has room for only a set number of titles. ITunes, though, can link to all of the millions of songs that its servers can store. Thus, said Mr. Anderson, 'narrowly-targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.' Managers were urged to adopt their business plans accordingly.
Since appearing two years ago, the book has been something of a sacred text in Silicon Valley. Business plans that foresaw only modest commercial prospects for their products cited the Long Tail to justify themselves, as it had apparently proved that the Web allows a market for items besides super-hits. If you demurred, you were met with a look of pity and contempt, as though you had just admitted to still using a Kaypro.
That might now start to change, thanks to the article (online at tinyurl.com/3rg5gp), by Anita Elberse, a marketing professor at Harvard's business school who takes the same statistically rigorous approach to entertainment and cultural industries that sabermetricians do to baseball.
Prof. Elberse looked at data for online video rentals and song purchases, and discovered that the patterns by which people shop online are essentially the same as the ones from offline. Not only do hits and blockbusters remain every bit as important online, but the evidence suggests that the Web is actually causing their role to grow, not shrink.
Mr. Anderson responded on his Long Tail blog, thelongtail.com, saying much of the difference between his analysis and hers involved how hits and non-hits, or 'head' and 'tail' in the book's lingo, are measured. Aside from that, he was generous in praising the article, and said he welcomed the sort of rigorous scrutiny the theory was getting.
In addition to her data crunching, Prof. Elberse reminded readers of substantial bodies of qualitative social research that suggest 'The Long Tail' may have been wrong in its description of what makes consumers tick. The book implies that readers and movie viewers are eager to cast off the shackles imposed by physical inventory so they can frolic among the thousands or millions of titles in the Long Tail.
But Prof. Elberse describes research showing that even in our cultural consumption we tend to be intensely social folks. We like experiencing the same things that other people are experiencing -- and the mere fact that other people are experiencing and liking something makes us like it even more. Far from being cultural rugged individualists, most of us are only too happy to have others suggest to us what we'd like.
Faithful readers of this column might recall its own skepticism about the idea when the book first hit the stores. In retrospect, 'The Long Tail' seems to have followed the template of many Wired articles: take a partly true, modestly interesting, tech-friendly idea and puff it up to Second Coming proportions.
Some of the reasons for the popularity of the Long Tail were as interesting as the idea itself. For one, it flattered its readers, many of whom were in the tech industry, by suggesting (yet again) that the Internet was changing everything. What's more, since many in the tech elite have a contemptuous view of traditional cultural gatekeepers like record labels and movie studios, they were predisposed to appreciate anything that predicted an erosion of those institutions' cultural power.
Bloggers had a special role in talking up the theory, which is no wonder considering how it held out the promise that even the most obscure among them could win a robust audience. The sad truth is that the blogosphere is as hit-driven as the rest of the world, with a tiny percentage of blogs getting a huge chunk of the traffic, and with many blogs simply going unread.
The Web is clearly changing cultural consumption patterns, but those changes don't seem to involve the sort of drastic flattening of demand curves predicted by the Long Tail. While whole new cultural categories -- YouTube videos, for example -- are indeed emerging, they seem to quickly settle into the same winner-take-all dynamic experienced in the pre-Google age. Don't toss out those old paradigms just yet.

Hit or Miss?

Point: In 2006, 'The Long Tail' made a splash arguing that the Internet, with its expansive shelf space, would mean a smaller role for mega-hit products and a bigger one for also-rans.
Counterpoint: Now, a Harvard professor has published a study suggesting the Web is only cementing the prominence of a small number of cultural favorites.
At Issue: The basics of consumer behavior. Do we want infinite choice, or do we prefer to pick up on the likes and dislikes of others in forming our own tastes?

Lee Gomes