According to an article in this week’s Economist, A World of Hits, the blockbuster hit is alive and well. In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson (formerly a reporter for the Economist) argued that the easy availability to media content afforded by the internet would shift purchasing power away from mass media and towards the previously hard-to-serve niches. Now to a large extent that has happened and speciality web sites, books and musical offerings are more accessible than ever before, but according to the Economsit, this hasn’t affected the big hits. While it is true that advances in technology greatly benefit those with more esoteric tastes, they also make it easier than ever for those whose interests are less discriminating to access the latest big thing. There is a loser in this equation and it’s not Hollywood and it’s not the speciality distributors – it’s those caught in the middle.
Take books for example. Now supermarkets sell the blockbusters and the speciality titles are bought online, far fewer people frequent bookstores (witness the closure of Borders in the UK this week). Similarly, it’s easier than ever to see the top movies through on-demand services, DVDs and online video streaming, while hundreds of cable channels serve minority needs. The losers are the mainstream networks that can only look back in fondness on the golden days when their audience was more or less captive.
Are there parallels in the world of learning? Well clearly it has never been so easy for people to find speciality content online or to share their own expertise with peers. But, as I have argued before in How online media helps to create ever brighter stars, the multiplicity of channels also has the potential to create a star system – why put up with your local night school, when you can learn at the feet of the masters in a live online conference or through the ever-increasing libraries of top audio and video content? Who’d be stuck in the middle – the teacher or trainer who teaches mainstream topics but not at the top of the market.
The tail is wagging the body of the dog but not yet its head.