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Is small yesterday's big?

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February 12, 2006

Is small yesterday's big?

Stephen Baker

Jeff Jarvis notes that Small is the New Big, a phrase he and Seth Godin coined, is moving to magazine covers and books--and is gaining on its close thematic cousin, Long Tail.

My concern is that these concepts and phrases start out with a bang, but then quickly ossify into orthodoxy. Initially, it's an interesting exercise to look at the world with, say, the Long Tail in mind, and try to figure out how this phenomenon in a networked world can change the way we do a, b, c, and d. But that process happens in a matter of months. And now I think we're at the point where it might be more interesting to ask: What are the limits of the Long Tail? In which areas does small remain small, and big big? I think we all know that the Superbowl represents the effective antithesis of The Long Tail. Any other ideas out there?

My other question is whether books can get in front of these conversations. Seems to me that by the time the books come out, the themes will have been chewed over, swallowed, digested and so on. Will the coming tomes on The Long Tail and Small is the New Big lead us in new directions? Or are they oriented toward the off-blog public that doesn't see these terms every day?

10:18 AM


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One of the downsides of "living" in the blogosphere is that by the time a concept like this"long tail" goes mainstream, we're tired of hearing about it. In reality, the "real world" moves at book spead (or slower).

Posted by: Rex at February 12, 2006 02:59 PM

Stephen, I disagree with this sentence "I think we all know that the Superbowl represents the effective antithesis of The Long Tail." Honestly, I was shocked to read this. I think your statment is completely false and clearly demonstrates to me that you don't fully grasp the concept. What do you think the Long Tail is?

Posted by: Brad Pinzur at February 12, 2006 08:38 PM

Small is the new Big is a mini-maxim: it sounds heavyweight but has little meaning beyond buzzyness. Syntagma Media's motto for 2006 is, "Do less, and do it better", which is on the same page, but translates into a useful instruction. Therein lies the difference.

Posted by: John Evans (Syntagma) at February 13, 2006 04:45 AM

Brad, for advertisers, the superbowl is the chance to reach a mass audience. it's the one time of the year when much of america is congregated, focusing on the same thing. My understanding of the Long Tail is that when we're not watching the Superbowl, we all have many interests that we share with smaller groups of people, many of them in different towns and countries. In the past, it was hard to sell to these markets, because they were dispersed. Now, with modern networks it's much easier. The result: Few bollywood movie theaters in America, but a large Bollywood business for Netflix. Do I have this wrong?

Posted by: steve baker at February 13, 2006 08:08 AM

I think any of these phrases gives you what you want to put into thinking about them. They're devized to be provocative, so they only work to the extent you're provoked.

For me, the Long Tail and Small Is The New Big (LT & SITNB) can both provoke new ideas. .. and I see many big companies who don't get the message inherent in them. OK you can see the Super Bowl as a prime example of the old Big Big. However LT & SITNB apply particularly well where the product in whatever format the customer wants can be delivered increadibly cheaply So it's particularly good for Information-type products delivered electronically. So what micro-niches are appropriate when you look more closely at that Super-Bowl audience. I'll leave you to work out the rest of the story. :)

Posted by: Barry Welford at February 13, 2006 09:53 AM

"Less is more"

Posted by: Henrique Pl?ger Abreu at February 13, 2006 11:59 AM

Stephen, I think your response makes sense. I'd say you got it right, but once again the Superbowl is not the antithesis of the long tail. It's the head. Very few of the advertisers in this years super bowl have taken advantage of the tail. How many of them for instance put their web site address in their commercial?

Posted by: Brad Pinzur at February 15, 2006 06:08 PM

Good point, Brad. It's not the antithesis, but instead the head of the long tail. Thanks

Posted by: steve baker at February 15, 2006 06:12 PM

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