One of the supposed strategic advantages of online retailers like Amazon and iTunes is their much larger stock of products.
As Chris Anderson has described, if we look at the distribution of popularity of many products (such as books, movies, songs, search phrases) there is a very lengthy tail of titles and choices which the mightily heterogenous world of consumers might be interested in purchasing. Certain firms are very well positioned to take advantage of this long tail phenomenon by either catering solely to some portion of the tail (some micro-niche), by making search for such products practical, and/or by holding massively diverse portfolios.
Amazon has been lauded as a success story based on the last two elements, especially through its aggregation of the used books market. It would seem to do a reasonable job on the music side of things.
Elsewhere in the music market, CD Baby has sold more than 5 million CDs by independent artists (from a current stable of around 278,000 titles) thus tapping into the micro-niche end of the spectrum.
The other big player is Apple’s iTunes, which reportedly has more than 8 million songs on offer. But this is where it seems to fall down.
I have been recently revisiting some CDs from my pretty large collection, in particular a minor Aussie hit album from the mid-1990s by a band called the Clouds. This release charted way back when, along with efforts from other local outfits like Ratcat, The Falling Joys, and The Hummingbirds.
The strange thing is that these albums, once popular enough to justify record deals, have disappeared from the retail environment. They are NOT available from iTunes, nor are they still in print as physical releases.
The bands, their publishers and their original record labels have dropped the ball here. Surely there is little to no cost or risk in getting this material listed on iTunes. Likewise, Apple is being far lazier than I expected in building up the inventory of their store.
Is there perhaps a niche role here for some entrepreneur in identifying back catalogue for iTunes? This could extend to some shopfront for fans of this sort of music (and presumably the same for many other niche genres). A physical counterpart to this is Collingwood’s Aztec Music which rereleases long-lost 70s and 80s albums on vinyl.
At the moment, folks are forced to illegally share access to a considerable portion of history’s record music. When, exactly, will this long tail shift out of the black market?