Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Events: Long Tail + Big Tail

Most readers of this blog are familiar with Chris Anderson's seminal "Long Tail" article in Wired. In the year or so since that article was published, we've seen an explosion in both real business and baloney rhetoric built on the long tail concept. Lost in the shuffle-play, perhaps, has been a point that Anderson makes on the final page of the article: That was a classic long tail business, which had no "big tail" to draw people in:
The problem with was that it was only Long Tail. It didn't have license agreements with the labels to offer mainstream fare or much popular commercial music at all. Therefore, there was no familiar point of entry for consumers, no known quantity from which further exploring could begin.
Here's a modded graphic from the article:

long tail big tail

Events are in many ways a classic long-tail business. I have a bunch of spreadsheets where I try to calculate how many public events there are in a given metro area (the Bay Area, being home, is most often subject to such numerical indignities) and at some point, the hapless Excel hacker has to throw up his hands. Rolling Stones concerts and 49ers football games are easy to count. Bands at local bars are easy to count.

But what about implicit events, like the opening hours of the local go-kart race track? Is that an event? What about the daily classes at 6pm at Hot Yoga 101 or Fred's Karate Studio? They are scheduled for a certain time, or available any time; they are activities "to do" - the public can walk in and pay a fee - are they events? And then let's look at that 49ers game. Maybe 50,000 people get tickets. Maybe a million watch it on one of several local Bay Area TV stations. So one physical event generates multiple virtual events. 150 local bars have "49ers game Sunday" special events. Add 150 more. 15,000 fans throw "49ers game at my house" parties. Add those as well, though we begin to cross the threshold from public to private events.

When one adds all of these up -- and throws in the Meetups, the radio-controlled airplane club meetings, the church services, the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, the extension courses at local universities, the City Council of Sunnyvale public forum for comment on the new library... I consistently get numbers like 50,000 events a week in the Bay Area. Can you say Long Tail?

But Long Tail isn't enough -- there's the Big Tail, too. The reason that Rolling Stones concerts and 49ers games and movie listings make it into the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News, with their limited print space and their expensive distribution model, is that they are wide-swathe high-popularity events that many paying customers care deeply about. And when folks are trying to figure out what to do on a Wednesday night, dinner and a movie is very often their first and best choice.

Figuring out the right mix of Long Tail + Big Tail is a huge business opportunity in events, as it is in many other fields of commerce. I'm pretty excited about what we're doing at Zvents, and I look forward to showing the world and getting your feedback in (gulp!) less than a month.

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