Clipping the “long tail” … vive la blockbuster.

Current & former students:  Remember Dewey the Cat?

Sure, you do … a blockbuster cat book that tried to ride the long tail to riches.

Anita Elberse, the HBS prof who wrote the Dewey case has a new book out called “Blockbusters”.



Here are a few snippets from a WSJ review of the book…


The rise of the Web promised to unleash the power of the “long tail.”

Consumers, no longer subjugated by media gatekeepers, would make their own choices from the vast catalog of human creativity.

But this shift in consumer attention from hits to also-rans never really materialized.

On the contrary, hits have become “hittier” than ever.

And,  even in aggregate, long-tail titles aren’t taking share from the big-budget hits that dominate consumer attention.


The blockbuster effect is bigger than ever … especially in consumer markets, from restaurants and hotels to electronics.

It is especially evident in the entertainment industry, including sports, videogames, radio, television, book publishing and the movies.


In 2011, 102 music tracks, 0.001% of the eight million tracks on offer that year, sold more than a million units, representing 15% of total music sales. That’s up from 36 tracks with more than a million units sold in 2007, representing 7% of sales.

At the other end of the curve, 94% of all tracks in 2011 sold fewer than 100 units, and 32% sold only one copy.

So the level of concentration at the top is increasing, while the proportion of titles that generate relatively trivial sales is growing as well.


The blockbuster strategy “seems to fly in the face of conventional business rules,” since strategists normally believe diversification of investment creates more value than focusing on a few potential big winners.

But on the whole, the blockbuster strategy reduces risk because so-called tent-pole projects — the massively expensive undertakings that are meant to prop up smaller features — have a higher success rate than the also-rans.

The studios increasingly focus on”franchises”—sequels and prequels and multipart story arcs — because films based on well-known characters have a dramatically higher chance of success than some random, original romantic comedy.


There is a growing market for “superstars” who can create value even when working with unexceptional material.

In Hollywood, the actor who can “open” a movie and deliver an audience is always at a premium, except when appearing in the most powerful franchises, when the franchise itself is generally the star.

In sports, owners buy superstars to build a team’s profile and fan base — sometimes acquiring the aura of stardom long past a player’s prime.


Vive la blockbuster.

Vive Dewey

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