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iTunes 'long tail' theory rubbished

Online retail just as mainstream as in 1950s

Despite all the hype about the potential long-tail opportunities of selling archive music via digital music download services such as Apple iTunes it appears that most tracks available for download remain as unwanted as they were on CD when sitting in record shop shelves or charity shops.

A study of digital music sales now suggests that more than 10 million of the 13 million tracks available on the internet failed to find a single buyer last year, according to The Times.

In his book The Long Tail Chris Anderson used data from an online music retailer to predict that the internet economy would shift from a relatively small number of "hits" at the head of the demand curve toward a "huge number of niches in the tail".

Apple iTunes logo

A new study by Will Page, chief economist of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, suggests the opposite. Mainstream hits still run the show.

For the online singles market, 80 percent of all revenue comes from around 52,000 tracks. For albums, of which 1.23 million are available, only 173,000 were ever bought - meaning 85 percent did not sell a single copy all year.

Apple iTunes vs Amazon MP3 - Amazon wins

Of his report's findings Page said: "The relative size of the dormant ‘zero sellers' tail was truly jaw-dropping."

"I respect what Will's done and have no doubt that he has indeed found a dataset where it doesn't work, but I'm not sure you can conclude much, if anything, beyond that. If he's trying to undermine the entire Long Tail Theory, he'll have to provide a lot more evidence. I welcome the debate, but until Will's prepared to publish data and sources we don't have much to talk about," hit back Anderson.

Amazon MP3 review


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