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.

Get the Full Article (2 Credits)

Have an Account?

Access to this site is an exclusive benefit for you. Enter your username and password in the form above. If you don't remember your password you can reset it at any time.

Forgot your password?

New to Selling Stock?

Selling Stock is an on-line newsletter that reports on developing trends in the stock photo industry. It is updated at least twice a month. On-line subscribers receive e-mail notification whenever new stories are posted. Archives containing stories going back to late 1995 are fully available to subscribers.

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 301-461-7627, 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.

Post Comment

You must log in to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive our FREE weekly email listing new stories posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff