Are modern societies condemned to a mass market culture based on bestsellers and publishing phenomena like the Harry Potter books? No, that's all in the past, argues Chris Anderson in his book The Long Tail, which Geoffrey Delcroix examines here.
From now on, the markets for cultural goods are likely to operate according to the principle of the "long tail". Alongside a few bestsellers will be "niche products" with much smaller sales. Firms may henceforth find it just as worthwhile to offer a vast range of CDs, books and films as to put all their efforts into selling a handful of high-profile products.
Yet this principle will require firms to hold stocks of goods that they know will sell more slowly, which is why the Internet is a great boon in coping with the long tail. Thanks to e-commerce, it is now possible to offer an enormous range of goods on the Internet for an indefinite period at minimal cost. This concept, it must be acknowledged, ultimately also benefits consumers and promotes cultural diversity.