Over the weekend, I got to catch up on reading and finished Anita Elberse’s Blockbusters which breaks down how different industries manage hits/blockbusters/superstars. Excellent read, highly recommendeded.
I see her work as the rebuttal to Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail”, something I’ve always wanted to articulate but never could as well as she did.
Her basic thesis is that blockbusters or ‘hits’ are
(a) viable as a business strategy
(b) shape more businesses than you think and
(c) the internet is causing more markets to become winner-take-all and have a fatter ‘head’.
Though she doesn’t mention it, I’ve seen a lot of Chris Anderson’s own examples start trending away from a long tail model . Netflix, the canonical example from Chris’s book, is now focused on producing blockbuster content (and is going to do movie launches soon). Barnes and Noble just had a stellar quarter due to the success of 50 Shades of Gray alone. The Miami Heat have basically shown that having the best players in the world together means you can make up for missing a lot of other things..and other good players want to play with the best players in the world, causing a network effect chain reaction.
The upshot of this is that a lot more markets are going to become winner-take-all with network externalities playing a bigger and bigger role.
I suspect Chris got two things wrong.
The internet actually shortens the long tail by removing any barriers of distribution for popular content. It amplifies the popular - trending topics, buzzfeed, social media, etc - and removes friction to access it wherever you may be. Press a button on the kindle and get it instantly..press a button and have netflix show it to you within seconds.
This often causing a self-perpetuating cycle of popularity and distribution. The web causes a regression to what the masses want, not away from it.
Our discomfort with the notion of ‘blockbusters’ is probably rooted in a deeply held (and perhaps slightly pretentious?) belief that individuals have deeply varying tastes and that content for the masses is lowest-common-denominator and formulaic.
What if we are all a lot more alike than we like to admit?