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There are leaders and there are followers.

April 7, 2008

Economics is the inscription of change in our world. I used to think that economics only dealt with a handful of sciences to determine another set of numbers that are typically eligible to the general mass of society that mostly will not bother to seperate x and y from z if it looks good and is convenient. Chris Anderson, begins The Long Tail with a quick lesson in economics anyway. The charts and graphs in the first chapter of the book gives the illusion of people’s internal tendency to follow the bandwagon. I learned in another media class that most people do not set trends, neither within the media nor in trying new technologies. The tendency to be “safe” is also true in our taste of music. Anderson provided some interesting numbers which give an idea of what people allow themselves to be exposed to and how much consumers are willing to dabble into the unknown. It turns out that we aren’t all that adventurous. Anderson picks on Wal-Mart shoppers first in his attempt to break down the numbers of albums that are being sold the most. In defense of all the Wal-Mart shoppers who may be reading this post, I just want to assure you that you are not alone in this, Target shoppers, and Best Buy media consumers are squares too!

Anderson mentions the downfall of media like broadcast radio with conviction in the second chapter of The Long Tail. His argument that corporations like Clear Channel and attachment to a newer tecnhnology, the cellphone have been part of radio’s spiraling plight. I’d like to add to Anderson’s argument that the cellphones upgraded tecnnology has definitely reduced the usership of radio in the past five years. Cellphone companies have condensed so many different types of media into cellphone now that we can browse the internet, listen to music, watch television, and send/receive emails and pictures amongst other things. Such behavior shows that people are adapting to more updated technologies very quickly, probably because we get so much practice with it on our cellphones. Which leads me to a point I want to make about music switching changings it wheels rom the compact disc to the internet.  Consumers are becoming much more comfortable shopping online. Browsing the internet can now be down in a virtual music store like ITunes or Rhapsody, even Zune. People are spending hours online searching and browsing titles comfortably in their own homes, or in Starbucks, at a friends house, etc. It is only recently that people are looking for the most underground titles and artists they can possibly find. Its like now all of sudden people think they want to be “unique” but in reality most consumers are just following a well planned marketing maze that lead people to create niche markets. Like Rhapsody and ITunes both offer a system that was borrowed from Amazon.com. “Users who chose this title also liked” or “people who bought this also bought” can only be said in so many words. What is even more pertinent to understand is that thousands of other consumers are doing the same exact thing, creating niche markets that they have been assisted to by peer reviews, or suggestions from a site like Allmusic or Wikipedia even. The effects of this are exponential because everyone is doing it. So is it really a niche at all?

The internet has mobilized everything that lives in the world of capitalism. Businesses, consumers, and products have bigger wheels to cover the ground with in since the Information Age first began to rev its engine at the turn of the 21st century. More and more brands are adding an online addition to thier prototype and new businesses are establishing themselves online from the very beginning. Businesses like EBay and Amazon.com that started online know the benefits of having a store online and they have the sales and page rank on Google to prove it. Brick-and-mortar places refuse to accept being left behind because most have them have created an extention of their businesses online enabling better customer service in the stores and greater access, more variety, and easy tools to help customers help themselves to branded merchandise on any personal computer that has an internet connection, and perhaps FLASH, at most. Anderson talks about how this strengthen customer loyalty. I wholly agree with that. However, reading how the internet has upgraded businesses and their sales, made me think about the old way that customers bought merchandise at home: mail-order catalogs.

When I as a kid I used to really enjoy receiving my mail to order catalogs. They were the only pieces of mail that I was receiving at the age of 10 (later I would subscribe to Seventeen Magazine). I have no idea how anyone got my address to send a catalog in the mail, but I would start seeing tween clothing catalogs from stores that were not close to home. In fact, Delia’s was a company that distributed from the East Coast and their earlier development of brick-and-mortar retail location were quite sparse. I really enjoyed getting the catalogs just for the validation of feeling important because I got mail just as my parents did. Now, of course, all the content that would have been sent in a catalog can be found easily online. The ordering process is much more convenient now, too with secure, Hacker-free software that allows consumers to purchase at their leisure safely. However, when thinking about this from a marketing perspective it is wise for stores to continue the circulation of their mail-order catalogs. In terms of sales and revenue the average profiles of customers varies per store and per product sold in that store, but one thing remains known: older consumers are not as apt to purchase things online as younger consumers. In fact, I would almost guarantee that statement for the memory of my grandfather who would purchase something by phone from the QVC before going near a computer to buy something online. While the Internet does extend brand loyalty for some, other customers may find that the reliability of the mail-order catalog is most familiar and satisfactory to them, also increasing brand loyalty. People don’t always want new formats or to use what might seem like tricky media to view formats that they already know. Either way, people are creating niche markets by continuing to purchase products that are an extension of their own personal interests. The newest and most exciting part about filling our own desires is that now we can share information about those products to other people who enjoy the same things we do. Consumers are not quite catching onto this yet, but companies have manifested themselves in response to the urge to share by building social media networks and its software.

A culture is forming around downloading and sharing music not just because music can be bought online, but because there is new social technology out there helping it move to places where many different people can see, listen to it, and find out what other users have to say about it. Digg, Reddit, Technorati, and Facebook are all social tools that enable consumers to test drive niche items without the responsibility of owning it necessarily. Social media allows people to share as much as they want, but users have the option to choose what they want to consume.  Anderson talks about the famous overtake of peer-to-peer and how it has basically taken viral marketing to a virtual level. Social communities aggregate on a site of their choice and then start bringing in a slew of different interests from music to news to tecnhology. People are not only developing and helping niche markets to survive they are actually part of a community of people who may be trying to seekt something new or diffferent. Those who end up folllowing the trend of the niche market will inevitably turn into a leader of that market. Anderson’s economics lesson shows changes that have occurred because of the internet in graphs and charts. However, the real vehicles of niche markets are the consumers and their new experimentation with social media on the internet. Perhaps Anderson should start practicing his stick figures, because people will soon dictate the market entirely. Consumers will decide how they want advertisements to look and will enable immediate responses to marketing from super corporations forcing such giants to conform to the people at which they will begin to demand. As consumers continue to supply niche markets to other consumers, super corporations may have to begin thinking about how they can buy back some interest of a spurious market that they helped to begin with the evolution of the online virtual store.

jg

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