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Philippe Aigrain - Sharing: culture and the economy in the internet age

Philippe Aigrain - Sharing: culture and the economy in the internet age

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Available at: http://www.sharing-thebook.com/content/download

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Published by: Marcelo De Franceschi on Feb 07, 2012
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In 2004, Chris Anderson published his famous Long Tail article (Ander-
son 2004). This article forecast that the Internet would lead to more diversity of
attention, but stopped short of modeling this increase in detail. The article was
expanded into a book in 2006 (Anderson 2006). The same year, other researchers
(Brynjolsson et al. 2006) provided the first quantitative evidence for an increased
diversity of sales in the Internet channel for products also marketed in physical
channels. However, the increase was moderate: in a universe of 20,000 products,
it would correspond to a Zipf law parameter of 0.877 instead of 0.935.
In the years that followed, a number of critics challenged the accuracy of the
Long Tail theory or its relevance to business. A typically critical view was ex-
pressed in a research working paper by Tom F. Tan and Serguei Netessine of the
Wharton Business school (Tan-Netessine 2009). These authors studied the movie
ratings from the Netflix on-line movie rental company. The data presented by the
Wharton researchers provides an interesting test case and has led to a polite argu-
ment with Chris Anderson. Most critics of the Long Tail theory are not contesting
its accuracy, but challenging the feasibility of making a successful business out of
the increased demand for limited popularity titles. The Wharton researchers went
a bit further: they distinguished between the “absolute popularity” (how much
attention a work with a given rank receives), which they acknowledged to be the
core concern of the Long Tail theory, and a “relative popularity” expressed as the
share of attention which a given percentage of all available movies receives. They

diversity of attention for beginners


then conclude from their data that the relative share of the top 20% movies, for
instance, has increased over time from 86.6% to 90.08%.
From the viewpoint of the analysis of diversity of attention, this calls for a
number of remarks. First of all, the comparison is between 86.6% of 4,470 mo-
vies in 2000 and 90.08% of 17,468 movies in 2005. We can use our earlier experi-
ments on the impact of universe size on the share of attention going to the 20%
most popular works to explore the impact of this growth in the number of movies
available. Keeping the Zipf’s law parameter at 1.075, the initial value, we find that
the share of interest would rise from 86.6% to 89.1%. In other words, the “effect”
observed by the Wharton researchers would have occurred even if the underlying
law had not changed at all because of the behavior of Zipf’s law when the uni-
verse of works expands. More importantly, as Chris Anderson remarked in an
email made public on the Web (Anderson 2009), from a cultural diversity per-
spective, what is important is the share of attention received by the titles of inter-
mediate absolute popularity rank, for instance those ranked between 1000 and
4000: films which are not hits, but are still popular. Taking 2002 as a starting
point (there were not enough rated movies to study this popularity range before
that), we find that the proportion of ratings going to this range of absolute ranks
went up from at most 12% to at least 28% of the total.
These intermediate popularity works may not receive enough attention to be
conducive to classical commercial activity (revenues from sales or rentals). How-
ever, there is no doubt that they can be rewarded by an indirect scheme such as
the Creative Contribution.
What remains to be shown is whether the corresponding level of attention can
be measured accurately enough. This is the object of appendix C.



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