The long tail.

One of my business aims for the shop is to have as wide a variety of images as possible. To be honest I stumbled into this without really thinking too deeply, then realised I was tapping into something called the ‘long tail’. The graph shows how this works. The area in yellow is the same as the area in green, but represents a large number of distinct items sold in relatively small quantities. This is the ‘long tail’.


As a rule of thumb, for such population distributions the majority of occurrences (more than half, and where the Pareto principle applies, 80%) are accounted for by the first 20% of items in the distribution. What is unusual about a long-tailed distribution is that the most frequently occurring 20% of items represent less than 50% of occurrences; or in other words, the least frequently occurring 80% of items are more important as a proportion of the total population.

By aiming for wide variety, I am deliberately targeting this long tail. This is not the same as catering for a ‘niche’ market. As a strategy, niche marketing is aimed at being a big fish in a small pond, concentrating all your efforts on a small but specific and well defined segment of the population. Catering to the long tail is the opposite. Because I print to order and therefore don’t have to either anticipate what will sell or keep large stocks, I can spread my efforts very widely. As a comment on the Longtail blog linked at the end of this article put it “The market is a mile wide and an inch deep”.

I’m not alone in this of course, this is the Amazon model where over time products with a low sales volume collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, provided that distribution channel is large enough. This is why I wouldn’t attempt this approach on an independent web site. Etsy as a brand already brings huge numbers of people to their site and I can tap into their searches to make my sales.

This possibly explains why original art doesn’t sell so well on Etsy or similar sites. The market for ‘things to hang on the wall’ is huge. That part of it looking for original works of art is much smaller. Out of that smaller market the proportion who will like your style and subject will be even smaller. Although items on Etsy show up in Google searches, the search terms for original art are much harder to pin down, especially for abstract art. I aim to do more work on this however and I’ll share my thoughts then.

Based in part on:

I didn’t find it until I’d finished writing, but see also this site:


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