Friday 3 October 2008

Will the Long Tail do away with IP Rights?

I may be a bit late getting to the party, but I have just finished reading Chris Anderson's best seller of 2006, The Long Tail (late to the party, but still allowed in, since the 2008 version has one completely new chapter.) Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine, is a leading spokesperson for the view that the world of marketing, sale and distribution has been completely changed by the Internet. Anderson terms this tectonic shift (if a term of geological provenance can be used regarding the Internet) "the Long Tail".

In short, in a world where physical limitations on storage, display and performance are largely eliminated, the focus of business on generating a limited number of "hits" (i.e., "the Short Tail") gives way to the vast terrain inhabited by so-called commercial misses, such as the movie or album that does not quite make it in the bricks-and-mortar world, or the speciality retailer who cannot generate enough in-store custom to successfully purvey her fare of Far Eastern buttons.

In the Internet world, such products are not "misses, but "the endlessly long tail of niche products in the demand curve". Some will succeed, others will ultimately fail, but the sheer variety expanding options to the consuming public by virtue of the Long Tail will, in Anderson's words, fundamentally alter the nature of products, sales, and ultimately the fabric of culture itself.

The Long Tail, from top to bottom

From the IP perspective, what is notable in Anderson's book is the absence of any significant concern about IP rights. No wonder, perhaps: from the business vantage, IP protection can be seen as going hand-in-hand with the truncated world of hits at the head of the Short Tail. Once one leaves the head of the Short Tail, the vast number of misses that populate the endless path down the Long Tail carry with them the potential to clog the system because of rights clearance and the threat of IP hold-up. Where the aggregator is central (on the very last page of the book, Anderson identifies "the aggregator" as one of the three central participants in the Long Tail market), IP rights are largely hindrance and seldom an opportunity.

Be that as it may, Anderson represents an important intellectual force whose well-crafted rhetoric contains a tacit but potentially powerful challenge to the current IP regime. Perhaps he can be encouraged to add a chapter in the next edition of the book on the role of IP along the road of the Long Tail.

Will the Aggregator of the Long Tail become the IP Terminator?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Surely there will still be the odd reader of The Long Tail in about 30 years?