To the Internet and Beyond

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An underlying principle of economics is scarcity. Resources (time and money) are limited and, from a corporation’s perspective, they thus need to be delegated towards  the market which will provide the greatest return. This market is known as the lowest common denominator. In an industrial business model, this means sacrificing potential sales from niche markets and instead producing goods or services which appeal to the masses. This is often at the expense of creativity and innovation.

This concept can be illustrated through a naturally-occurring phenomenon called a power-law distribution, or the long-tail effect.

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The diagram shown above represents a typical power-law distribution. Let’s use the paperback book industry as an example. The vertical axis measures the popularity of each book, and the horizontal axis measures the quantity of books sold. The green portion of the distribution illustrates the aforementioned lowest common denominator, or the largest market for books. The area represents some 20% of the total books which generate roughly 80% of the book market (as stated by the 80-20 rule). It is therefore efficient for a book store to focus on selling that 20%. The remaining 80%, dubbed the ‘long tail’, represents the niche markets which are rarely addressed by companies, simply because the returns are far too small.

In focusing on such a small percentage of books, these niche markets become somewhat abandoned. If I walk into Dymocks looking for the latest J.K. Rowling novel, I am likely to leave the store satisfied. Conversely, if I walk in looking for a book on the impact of global warming on the plumbing industry, I am much less likely to have that want fulfilled. Bookstores have limited physical space to hold stock. Scarcity stifles innovation and creativity.

Enter the internet . . .

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Scarcity? Nah. Limited space? What are you talking about? The economic need to appeal to the masses? Tell me you’re joking.

 

A dynamic new paradigm is taking place, characterised by the internet’s immunity to scarcity and the laws of economics. Take Amazon, for example. Shelf space is now online and infinite; there is no need to even consider the power law distribution. As long as one person on the planet desires a book, there is benefit to it being marketed, no matter how small or insignificant that niche. The lowest common denominator doesn’t need to be considered in the same way as it once was, and it no longer defines the market. Specialised and creative niche markets are becoming profitable nowadays, which demonstrates the dynamic new paradigm pushed forward by the internet.

-Claire

3 thoughts on “To the Internet and Beyond

  1. thank you for both summarising this weeks topic and also giving it context!

    have you ever thought about how the niche markets are now becoming profitable for companies? With the introduction of the internet and Amazon etc, the return on niche markets has increased and I think that companies ARE beginning to pay attention to them!

    While niche markets are small, they are usually very loyal to the product and i think companies are utilizing this through the internet etc to release more products aimed specifically at these markets and then expanding from there!

    I look forward to reading more from you~!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jess 🙂 I suppose it depends on the industry, Amazon has certainly got the niche market dynamic down pat! Hopefully in the years to come we will see more firms begin to follow this model 🙂

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