Institutions

The long tail: aggregating supply and demand at the network level

Lorcan 2 min read

The Long Tail book has arrived and has achieved airport display levels of prominence. Not unsurprisingly, there has been some renewed discussion about the long tail argument, and a notable critique appeared in the Wall Street Journal. In his commentary, Nicholas Carr links to this and to the response by Chris Anderson, the author of the book. He also publishes a followup from Gomes, the WSJ author. The Guardian’s Jack Schofield also comments:

The long tail isn’t Boyle’s Law, it’s an observation. Its significance is that it helps people understand the value of companies such as Google, Amazon, eBay, Netflix and so on, and blogs and Wikipedia and other net-based developments. And it’s important not to lose sight of the concept while quibbling about the details. [Tweaking the long tail…. (updated) from Guardian Unlimited: Technology]

The Business 2.0 blog is similarly positive.
I think that the Long Tail perspective gives us a very interesting way of looking at systemwide library activities, and of thinking about their impact and value in a network environment. I wrote a D-Lib Magazine article summarizing some views a while ago, Libraries and the Long Tail: some thoughts about libraries in a network age. Here is how it concludes, with reference to Ranganathan’s laws:

I wrote about the ‘long tail’ in terms of aggregation of supply and aggregation of demand. In this context, aggregation of supply is about improving discovery and reducing transaction costs. It is about making it much easier to allow a reader to find it and get it, whatever ‘it’ is. Or, in other words, ‘every reader his or her book’. Aggregation of demand is about mobilizing a community of users so that the chances of rendezvous between a resource and an interested user are increased. Or, in other words, ‘every book its reader’. Finding better ways to match supply and demand in the open network will ‘save the time of the user’.

How we do this is a part of a general reshaping of activities and organizations in a network environment. We need new services that operate at the network level, above the level of individual libraries. These may consolidate D2D [discovery to delivery], or management of collections, or other services. They may be collaboratively sourced or provided by third parties. It does pose interesting questions about how resources are allocated to best achieve local impact and system-wide efficiencies. This change also shows that the library continues to be ‘a growing organism’. [Libraries and the Long Tail: Some Thoughts about Libraries in a Network Age]

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