In Chris Anderson's massively over-hyped book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (2006) he maintains that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough.
Scores of journalists, analysts and bloggers have taken it as prostelizing-worthy gospel that The Long Tail's principles apply to technology devices and services.
I'm here today to tell you that isn't the case.
Keyphrase: "if the store or distribution channel is large enough."
"Large enough" may apply to Amazon.com and books, but it doesn't apply to shelfspace at meatspace electronics retailers, or even technology products and services that can be ordered over or downloaded from, the Internet.
The plain fact of the matter is that The Long Tail won't kick in without at least tacit consumer awareness of the products at the end of that tail. Like, for example, many of the boutique VoIP and WiFi services out there.
Stop 100 reasonably knowledgeable people in the street of a major city. How many will have heard of, say, FON, which, as Om reports, announced a compatibility deal with Time Warner Cable today. Maybe one or two people would have heard of FON.
Yet we in the technology media give these solutions too much credit for being farther along than they really are. You know why? Because we know these products, these services, and we know their p.r. people. We may even use these offerings- and most of the people we talk with (other tech's) know about them. But outside of us tech-leaning early adopters, 95% of tech products and services haven't crossed the chasm to even a respectable degree of mass familiarity. People don't have the time, the attention span, the curiousity, the eagerness, to familiarize themselves with most of the solutions we write about.
And what tech is familiar to the masses? Cool stuff on cell phones, that T-Mobile hotspot at Starbucks, Skype. Vonage. Maybe Twitter. Maybe a Linksys router. But not too much more.
All this ties into the issue that with few exceptions, niche services and enabling hardware without top priority distribution (either natively or via alliances) won't be able to get on the shelves. And if they are, they have to fight against the far better heeled for POP signage.
So yes, when it comes to tech, the Long Tail issue isn't if the "store or distribution channel is large enough."
The issue really is, if the store or distribution channel is wide enough to come to people's attention as a possible option that might help them manage their communications and lives more efficiently.