Anita Elberse of the Harvard Business Review looks at the data and concludes Chris Anderson’s Long Tail theory to be bullshit:

Although no one disputes the lengthening of the tail (clearly more obscure products are being made available for purchase every day), the tail is likely to be extremely flat and populated by titles that are mostly a diversion for consumers whose appetite for true blockbusters continues to grow.

Anderson rebuts:

In the Rhapsody data, she finds, the top 10% of titles (out of more than a million in that data sample) accounted for 78% of all plays, and the top 1% account for 32% of all plays. That sounds pretty concentrated around the head, until you reflect, as she notes, that “one percent of a million is still 10,000—[…]equal to the entire music inventory of a typical Wal-Mart store.”

This is a good moment to remind everyone of the normal definition of “head” and “tail” in entertainment markets such as music. “Head” is the selection available in the largest bricks-and-mortar retailer in the market (that would be Wal-Mart in this case). “Tail” is everything else, most of which is only available online, where there is unlimited shelf space.

The full article is extremely even-handed and research heavy. Worth the read.

I’m calling this one for Elberse.