The New Supply Chain, same as the Old Supply Chain

Chris Anderson’s new book on the Long Tail is finally out. I got a review copy and sooner or later I’ll get around to picking apart my thoughts in some organized manner.

The idea in the book is simple; that there are bottlenecks in traditional supply chains, e.g. shelf space in the record store or movie theaters in your town this friday night. These bottlenecks shape what gets sold. I like his provocative idea that if you eliminated these bottlenecks then something he referes to as the true shape of demand would be revealed.

So this is a book about the shape of markets, where by shape we mean the distribution of market share across the set of products moving thru the market. It is refreshing to see that kind of thinking about markets appearing in a book targeted at the air plane business class reading demographic. And further more it’s delightful to see the discussion focus immediately on the issue of where the bottlenecks are; and how they shape the slope and edges of the power-law curves.

It drives me crazy that he appears to be willfully blind to how market players strive continously to create, own, and defend these bottlenecks. While he is enthusiastic in celebrate the freedom created when older bottlenecks are swept away he is entirely silent about the concern that the new bottlenecks might be more or less troublesome than the old ones.

Here, just to take one example, is a nice article in Fortune about how Google holds the fate of so many businesses carelessly in it’s hands now. The elephant doesn’t even notice when it steps on the ants. But actually it’s worse than that. In these Long Tail markets the giants aren’t elephants, they are ant eaters.

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