On October 24, 2009 I posted a review of the panel discussion at the ACC Conference titled, "Riding the Long Tail: Marketing Craft on the Internet."
That post offered this definition:
The "long tail" is a catchphrase about how the Internet enables consumers to easily find and connect with relatively obscure and widely dispersed suppliers. It allows anyone, anywhere, with unusual interests or taste to find items from the smallest niche suppliers, makers or manufacturers. This is in stark contrast to the limitations of a "brick and mortar" store that must restrict its inventory to only relatively popular items and the physical limits of its shelf space.
Both Amazon and Netflix are examples of the near limitless inventory available through the Internet. They can offer an enormous number of products from the most popular down to extremely unusual items.
Compare Blockbuster to Netflix. They are both in the movie rental business, but Blockbuster built its business model on neighborhood stores renting the most popular ('blockbuster') movies. For years Blockbuster filled their shelves with hundreds of titles. In contrast, Netflix has no stores and offers tens of thousands of movies and videos (virtually unlimited). Netflix offers many more choices and has less operating expense. Years ago, even Blockbuster recognized that Netflix had a better business model for the long run, but was reluctant to change for fear that they would cannibalize their existing revenue model. Are they changing too late? Is Blockbuster doomed because it stuck its head in the sand for too long?
The craft world is experiencing this same issue. Like Blockbuster, traditional galleries and stores selling craft have the physical limit of space and real "brick and mortar" expenses. In contrast, online art and craft websites offer access to an enormous variety of work (i.e. the Long Tail).
This issue even arises when websites like The Artful Home feature a self-limiting inventory by being more selective. By acting as a filter for the consumer (i.e. limiting the selection of merchandise available on their site) they run counter to the Long Tail. Rather than limit the potential inventory, a more effective search engine would enable customers to zero in on their "likes" and pass over (or rank lower) the consumer's "dislikes."
The Internet offers an unlimited (or nearly unlimited) selection of merchandise. In the past, galleries provided the most efficient path for collectors and buyers to find and select work. It is infeasible for collectors to personally visit studios in search of work. Galleries provide a centralized concentration of pre-qualified "good" art for collectors to quickly and easily see a range work. But it is a limited inventory. The Internet and the ease of search engines have radically changed this situation.
This unlimited inventory of merchandise will not overwhelm the consumer of the future. In fact, the consumer of the future will expect the search engine to "know" the consumer's likes and dislikes. With proper search filters and algorithms, the search engine will make "suggestions" based on earlier interactions with the consumer (e.g. the right color, style, theme, and price range).
Think about what YouTube, Amazon, and Pandora all offer the consumer. An almost unlimited selection, but we aren't overwhelmed. We find new ways to use these resources and enjoy the potential. The Internet search engines are offering much of the benefits or filters that the gallery and store once provided to the consumer.
In the next few posts, we can talk about the impact of the internet on the future of galleries and opportunities for selling your work.