Misunderstanding the long tail
The Economist blows it! (I don’t get to say that very often.) On page 79 of the Nov 28 – Dec 4 2009 issue, there is an article (a world of hits) that misrepresents and misunderstands the ideas behind Anderson’s Long tail and proceeds for 2 more pages to build a story on the misunderstanding. This is not just useless reporting, writing and thinking, it is damaging and a sad illustration of mathematical and analytic carelessness.
I am sure Anderson and others will jump on the many errors here. I just posted this rant in the comments section of the online version of the article…feel much better now 🙂
The mistake seems to be not understanding that long tail statistics come from underlying dynamics. In particular, books and movies are small hits before they are big hits. The difference between the long tail and the big hits (possibly call it “tall head”) is how fast a book or movie becomes a hit and how big of a hit it becomes. It is difficult to propose a dynamic in which the bottom and middle of the distribution grow where the big hits don’t get bigger as well. Anderson never proposes such a fundamental shift in underlying dynamics.