Chris Anderson uses Amazon.com as one of his favorite examples in "The Long Tail." He rhapsodizes over the ability of virtual stores like NetFlix (movies), Rhapsody (music), and Amazon (books) to stock thousands, millions more items than physical stores like Blockbuster, Tower Records, and Barnes&Nobel.
(The theory of the "Long Tail" says that digitization and the Internet allow for almost-free warehouse and distribution costs. Because it costs so little, millions of items become available for sale that would otherwise be too expensive to stock -- even if there are just a couple of customers per month per item. I employ the Long Tail theory for my line of 30+ specialized ebooks, which sell just a copy or two a day. Because I work with PDF files, I too have nearly-zero production, warehouse, and distribution costs -- making low sales profitable.)
But Mr Anderson fails to take into account the Achilles Heal of today's low-friction marketplace. It's the same Heel that put an arrow into the glory days of the Internet Revolution of 2000: the limitations of people.
(As a former traffic planning engineer, I understand very well the irrationality of people, and how it screws up transportation theory -- which is why we cannot design jam-free highway systems.)
Here is a personal example of how Amazon fails the Long Tail theory:
I have my 30+ line of ebooks selling through my Web site, as well as through 3-4 other Web sites that act as distributors. I'd like to get more sales, and the best way for that is through more distribution. Think Coke. The more opportunity people have to buy the product, the more likely someone will buy it.
I applied at Fictionwise and other sites that specialized in ebooks. No response to my applications. But I now get weekly email newsletters telling me how wonderful they are.
I applied at Amazon.com, and received a stock response by email. Every 3-4 weeks, I resend the application, followed by the stock response in return.
Then in early March I received a negative response from a human by the name of "Martin, Nathan". I was stunned:
Thank you for applying to Amazon.com's Edocs program. Unfortunately at this time you do not qualify to participate in the program due to the limited number of available and upcoming documents being published.
Thank you again for applying.
The Amazon.com Edoc Team
The phrase "limited number" jumped out at me -- a refutation of Mr Anderson's theory as applied to Amazon. The "Long Tail" becomes myth.
But also, Mr Martin's response indicated that Amazon has become too big for micro publishers. So busy selling it has no time for buying.