On Friday 12 January, I shall be presenting the first of the Putney Debates for 2007.
My topic will be “The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson, what it means for business and libertarians.”
I think “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More” by Wired editor Chris Anderson, is the best economics and business book written in the past 10 years.
If there is one book that everyone trying to sell things or ideas today should read, this is my pick. The whole Web 2.0 concept contains elements of the Internet boom and bust, but this time there is a lot more substance to the excitement.
For one thing, in 1999 someone would have set a website selling real estate, which some merchant bank would value as if no one else could enter the market for a few hundred pounds. Gullible investors would then buy shares in the property website valued at hundreds of times actual earnings.
This time the focus is more on how the markets are actually shifting. For example, in the UK we have a property boom and estate agent offices are closing down, because about two thirds of all customers are using the Internet to search for properties and contact agents. Some web-based businesses are and will continue to be overvalued and will collapse in spectacular fashion. However, I think we are moving from the era of experiment (like the early days of the motor car) to the era of business (where recognizable brands emerged).
The Long Tail though, is about the way that economies of scale have been utterly transformed in the production process and how consumers are increasingly able to become producers too. If the Marxist concept that the individual is defined by his belonging to an economic class has any meaning, then Web 2.0 really throws up a lot of questions for the cleavage “producers/consumers.” Entire business models are now obsolete, in particular the way in which intellectual property is defined and exploited.
For Libertarians, there is the satisfaction of discovering that the Long Tail is the apotheosis of the sovereign consumer, with the explosion of niche markets. There is also the warning that the tools for intellectual debate have been revolutionised, and we have, so far, been missing out.
For details of the Putney Debates and how to get there, etc, email tim[at]libertarian.co.uk.