Defining the Long Tail

Posted on 3/16/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

"The long tail" is a phrase first coined by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 Wired magazine article. The concept describes a new way to look at markets and is illustrative of the business strategy of Internet companies, including and Netflix, that sell a large number of unique items, each in relatively small quantities, to a very large base of customers. This buying pattern creates what is called a power-law distribution curve or long tail. In this series of articles, Selling Stock will examine how the long-tail strategy applies to the stock-photo industry.

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Copyright © 2009 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Paul Melcher Posted Mar 16, 2009
    The "Long Tail" does not imply lower pricing. Amazon does not have sales on Long Tail items. They are, actually, more expensive than their bestselling siblings. It is a common misunderstanding to confuse Long Tail with low pricing : they are not at all linked. It also a misunderstanding to beleive that microstock companies make more money with their Long Tail items than with its best sellers.
    The Long Tail is about inventory, not pricing.

  • Ray Laskowitz Posted Mar 16, 2009
    Jim, you'd better have a look at this. As Paul Melcher says, you may be going down the wrong path.

  • Leslie Hughes Posted Mar 16, 2009
    Agree with Paul and Ray - The Long Tail is simply the concept of "selling less of more" and how that is enabled by an online marketplace. There is a great article here by Chris Anderson on selling or marketing in the internet economy for free. There is a big push right now for internet companies to actually have to come up with business models that actually make money rather than just have an exit strategy. ( Hmmm - there is a novel concept.. )

  • Ellen Boughn Posted Mar 17, 2009
    Jim is basically correct especially with his caveat that to obtain the long tail effect in the stock photo marketplace, prices had to be lowered. Amazon and Netflix are able to sell obscure products at the same price as blockbusters because they are reaching out to the same readers and movie watchers that also license their best sellers.

    The twist in the long tail that applies to stock is that the microstock pricing model was necessary to reach NEW buyers. Instead of a purely b2b business, it is more of a b2b/b2consumer play. The long tail is whipping up business from the B2B sector because of VARIETY not price. Once the idea of letting creative research and previous sales reports drive editor image selections, variety of image choice went out the window. Buyer demand for images that were not based on best sellers, didn't go away.

    Alamy stepped away from that thinking by not editing for content and they were successful. But by not being part of a peer to peer, social network, Alamy doesn't have the volume of business that is required to sustain micropayment licenses. Snapvillage is road kill for the same reason.

    The stock business is multi-dimensional. The smart photographer grows his own long tail (THAT's a visual!) by getting appropriate work in all the business models, including micro and direct sales. And now is free to create some exciting non-market driven work that now has a venue for the occasional person who needs it.

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