For a long time it's struck me as odd that anthropologists seem to be studying everything these days. For every X there seems to be an Anthropology of X.

Today is occurred to me what has caused this: the Long Tail.

How does this work? Is this scalable? How long will it last?


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Hi Steven,

Your old thread on open anthropology was revived by Victoria today, after almost a month, putting you into the two top spots on the Forum! How fresh and optimistic that thread was in the first few days (nostalgic sigh). But what she said was: "I do not wish to belong to another exclusively student oriented organization. I want to swim where the big fish swim." This seems to touch on one aspect of Anderson's analysis.

He pointed out that some music-sharing initiatives folded because they were at the low end only. I-tunes gives you the big hits and all the little specialist records too. Amazon gets over half its profit from books that sell less than 100 copies a year, but it has a million of them. They realised that the long tail never touches the axis: some books get sold, however few. But they also sell the blockbusters which draw punters to the site and increase the market for the smallfry.

Does this model hold-up in other cases or in non-commercial contexts? I take it that you want to invite answers to that question, however tentative. And the OAC? I run one of the blockbusters in the Discussion Groups, economic anthropology, and it is moribund: lots of members and next to no activity. Then some small group will start, flourish for a while, get bigger, maybe slow down. Philip Salzman's Theory thread has size, activity and longevity. There are the nomadic artisans (like me?) who drop in to enliven a thread (or kill it off) and then move on.

As for the anthropology of everything, Anthropology has always been an anti-discipline, a holding company for people to do what they like and call it anthropology. This has some drawbacks as a reproductive strategy, but there is never a shortage of new recruits.

Some scattered thoughts. Keith
Martin Fotta said:
it is only slightly related to your question, but there is a backlash against anderson´s analysis.. we might have believed (in) him too much...

Perhaps one should consider the two comments that follow the cited article,

So, um... you regard The Long Tail hypothesis as completely refuted by a single unpublished paper (or, if it is published, I've yet to find it)? Not only that, but said paper just *happens* to be written by researchers from the following organization: "PRS for Music is home to the world's best music writers, composers and publishers. Formed as The MCPS-PRS Alliance in 1997 with the PRS for Music brand adopted in 2009, the organisation brings
together two royalty collection societies; MCPS and PRS. We exist to collect and pay royalties to our

members when their music is exploited in one of a number of ways – when it is recorded onto any format and distributed to the public, performed or played in public, broadcast or made publicly available online."

Hm. Think they might have a vested interest?

03 June 2009 at 13:52
Well, yes, quite. There's probably an interesting case

to be made against the long tail thesis; there are

certainly obvious business limitations to the potential

of free. So why bury this interesting conversation in this

barrage of invective against Anderson and Wired?

What's the point? I'm so tired of articles like this.
On a more positive note, it might be worth taking into account a number of recent business successes in which a giant success was created by eschewing the conventional model of total top-down control in favor of creating-- and, yes, retaining control of key elements-- of new business ecologies in which lots of smaller players can thrive. Amazon is one example, providing an opening for publishers who don't need huge blockbusters to support their corporate overhead. Two others that spring to mind are NTT's launch of i-Mode in Japan, as described in i-Mode Strategy by Takeshi Natsuno or Apple's launch of the iPhone App Store.
i am not even saying that it is wrong, just that we should not assume the myth of long-tail, but also an option that a new tool will just be incorporated into an existing system and rebuilding the same inequalities.

Or, and this is the point of the examples I mentioned, there may still be inequalities -- but they will not be the same inequalities. Consider, for example, NTT and i-Mode. I happen to know this case pretty well because my wife translated the book.

For NTT the problem was not how to improve sales of its existing mobile phone business, which had already peaked and reached the top of its S-curve. Instead the problem was how to create an entirely new business model that would create a new S-curve, starting at a much higher level. A conscious decision was made to not proceed as other telecoms were, i.e., clinging to the highly centralized fixed-line model in which the telephone company owns all the equipment and provides all of the services. It would be replaced by a business ecology in which NTT would control key elements; but lots of other players would have a chance to make a bundle, too. Critical decisions included

1. Restricting NTT's roles to network provider and banker.
2. Presenting i-Mode as a better telephone instead of a stripped-down computer. Engineers would have more fun, and consumers would be less intimidated.
3. Passing along 9 out of 10 yen paid for new services to the service providers. Making it possible for people with good ideas to start making money immediately.
4. Choosing a simplified subset of HTML (and later Java) instead of "more sophisticated" alternatives developed by other telecoms or Microsoft. Easing entry to the business and creating more work for an already large base of PC programmers who knew these languages instead of forcing them and their employers to invest in retraining.
5. Guaranteeing handset developers initial orders large enough to cover development costs (nobody loses money). After that it was raw competition (market forces driving innovation).
6. Controlling the pacing of new feature introductions. Easier on consumers, who don't have to learn a whole bunch of new stuff at once. Great for handset and service providers, who are guaranteed continuing growth as consumers upgrade to take advantage of new features.

Inequalities didn't go away. NTT remained the heart of the whole system, and as network provider and banker made out like a bandit (until KDDI and Vodafone [later Softbank] learned to play the same game). But a whole lot of other people and companies did well, too. And their contributions, as consumers and service or hardware suppliers, made it possible to exceed the original business targets, create an enormous new market, and transform the lives of people for whom a cell phone has become a necessity of everyday life.

So, OK, I know this sounds more like a business presentation than the puritanical tone proper to anthropological critique. But something did happen here, something big -- and it doesn't fit at all the conventional rapacious bosses versus suffering masses frame in which conventional critical grumbling is rooted.

Is there an anthropologist in the house?

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