The long and short of the tail

9th February, 2009 - 3 minutes read

I recently read an article published by The Times Online

According to their long tail theory

‘A study of digital music sales has posed the first big challenge to this “long tail” theory: more than 10 million of the 13 million tracks available on the internet failed to find a single buyer last year.’

Very interesting point, however this is not entirely accurate. Surely a better way to view this information is that 3 million different songs have been found and downloaded. And a better question might be – how many music shops have 13 million songs on their shelves?

Let me explain with a little more detail.

Finding a song, like many things, has become much easier using the internet. Buying one is easier too. And with online music retailers, like itunes, recording year on year sales increases, it is clear that more and more people are finding and buying music online.

Let us broaden the view from music to the whole internet search experience. Google’s latest stats do not back up The Times theory.

’20 to 25% of the queries we see today, we have never seen before’.

So internet users are becoming more and more diverse in their searches as they become familiar with how search engines operate.

For example, once someone has used a search engine, would they search on ‘Golf’ if they wanted information on ‘Dunlop Golf Tees’. No one would go to the library and ask the librarian for ‘a book’ if they wanted Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Dustin Woodard has done interesting research on the most popular search terms

‘It turns out that, at least in this particular three-month data set, the top 100 terms accounted for just 5.7 percent of all search traffic. Expand to the top 500, 1000, and 10,000 terms, and just 8.9 percent, 10.6 and 18.5 percent of all search traffic is involved, respectively’

With this in mind – Dustin Woodard says

‘This means if you had a monopoly over the top 1,000 search term across all search engines (which is impossible), you’d still be missing out on 89.4% of all search traffic. There’s so much traffic in the tail it is hard to even comprehend. To illustrate, if search were represented by a tiny lizard with a one inch head, the tail of the lizard would search for 221 miles.’

So search is alive, well and ever growing, despite what some articles may say.

Julian Wilkins