Amazon and Netflix: What a long tail they have

On the weekend I was at home in country New South Wales. Some friends and I decided we wanted to watch a scary movie so our plan was to hire a DVD. My younger brother, who still lives in the country town, informed me that all 4 video stores had closed down within the past few years so there was nowhere for us to access the movies unless we wanted to pay full price at the supermarket or illegally download the file.

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t steal movies.

My experience raises the question of why these stores are closing down. My answer: the long tail.

Online platforms such as Amazon and Netflix make use of the long tail effect which means that physical space is no longer an issue for them (Anderson 2004). In a traditional book store or video store each square metre of physical space is valuable because the products much be displayed in a visually-appealing manner. This is no longer an issue on the internet. The shelf space for Amazon and Netflix is in cyberspace and thus, stretches to infinity. In turn, this means the long tail stretches to infinity.

The long tail is a reformation of a power law distribution known as the Pareto Principle. This power law distribution was conceptualised in the early twentieth century by Vilfredo Pareto (Flaum 2007). It states that an estimated 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes (Flaum 2007). This power law distribution can be applied to a wide variety of things in society including distribution of wealth, medicine and business growth.

Amazon and Netflix have “discovered new markets and expanded existing ones” by overcoming the limitations of geography and scale (Anderson 2004). They give people a choice of more than just blockbusters or best-selling novels. The long tail connects niche audiences with niche products (Kelly 2008). While the best-sellers and blockbusters may still get the same numerical value of sales and views, the aggregate sales of the remaining products far outstrip the sales of the “popular” items (Anderson 2008).

But it is not all roses. Although convenience is great for consumers, there are issues of piracy and illegal downloading (as mentioned earlier) when the physical store is unavailable. Finally, as much as Amazon is amazing, I think it is much more satisfying to physically hold a book in my hands.

References

Anderson, C 2004, The Long Tail, Wired, 12 October, viewed 30 August 2014, <http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html?pg=3&topic=tail&topic_set=>.

Anderson, C 2008, The Long Tail: Why The Future of Business is Selling Less of More, Hyperion eBooks, New York.

Flaum, S 2007, Pareto’s Principle, Pharmaceutical Executive, vol. 27, no.2.

Kelly, K 2008, Better Than Free, Edge, viewed 30 August 2014, <http://edge.org/conversation/better-than-free>.

The decision of who makes the decisions

Statistics show that 36% of us are frequently connecting to work after hours. Our workplaces are now linked to us 24 hours through avenues such as email and Facebook which makes it difficult to ‘switch off’ (TD Magazine 2014). As the readings make obvious, communication is becoming the economy and there is a convergence of our work and home lives (Kelly 1999, Deuze 2006, Gregg 2008).

With the divide between work and home life become blurred we are working more than ever, but are we gaining any more control in these organisations as a result?

What is interesting is that you would assume that these organisations would have a flat structure but may are remaining hierarchical. Hierarchical structures allow less opportunity for control at lower levels (Deuze 2006). In these large and complex networks, their formal structure remains vertical but their information work is not. In the lecture, it was pointed out that the more nodes involved in decision-making, the longer it takes and the higher the transactional costs. Lower transaction costs result from giving workers the permission to make decisions.

This then brings us to the notion of formal structures and their relation to employee participation. Nico Carpentier (2013) said:

“The existence of a formal organisational structure allows an explicit definition as (one of) the objectives of the organisation, which commits the people involved and embeds the notion of participation in the material practices of the organisation, at the levels of decision-making procedures and production practices.”

It is evident through this and other work of Carpentier that he links decision-making to participation. The organisation must be structured to enable everyone to participate in this decision-making and feel involved. Henry Jenkins (2013) responds to Carpentier’s point in saying that networked communications support much more fluid and decentralised structures.

So perhaps a formal hierarchical structure was better suited to industrial assembly lines in the 1900s and a change is needed to remain on top in the new information-based society. The free flow of information evident today dictates local, real-time decision-making.

 

References

Jenkins, H, & Carpentier, N 2013, Theorizing participatory intensities: A conversation about participation and politics, In Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, viewed 20 August 2014, <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/266565/mod_resource/content/1/Jenkins%20Carpentier%202013.pdf&gt;.

Gregg, M 2008, Function Creep: Communication technologies and anticipatory labour in the information workplace, viewed 20 August 2014, <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/245657/mod_resource/content/1/Gregg%2C%20M.%20-%20Function%20creep.pdf&gt;.

 Deuze, M 2006, Liquid Life, Convergence Culture, and Media Work, Indiana University, viewed 20 August 2014, <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/245658/mod_resource/content/1/Deuze%2C%20M.%20-%20Liquid%20Life.pdf&gt;.

 Kelly, K 1999, ‘This new economy’. In New Rules for the new Economy, viewed 20 August 2014, <http://kk.org/newrules/newrules-intro.html&gt;.

TD Magazine 2014, ‘Technology Threatens Work-Life Balance, But Most Employees Say That’s OK’, TD Magazine, viewed 20 August 2014, <http://www.astd.org/Publications/Magazines/TD/TD-Archive/2014/08/Intelligence-Technology-Threatens-Work-Life-Balance&gt;.

Cyber-u(ser)topia

Cyber-Utopia or Dystopia?

The reading by Barlow (1996) speaks about the freedom and independence of cyberspace. He holds a cyberlitertarian view that users may express your beliefs without being coerced into silence. He says that all may enter irrespective of race or gender. As the lecture highlighted, in this cyber-utopian view, all nodes are created equal and all nodes can broadcast to the rest without being filtered.  There is no authority or regulation and the State is irrelevant. As the reading by Castells (2004) says, “power does not reside in institutions, not even in the State or corporations”.

This may be largely true in the Western world but if you were to look at users in China or North Korea you would see that their access is much more restricted. In China, Facebook and Twitter were blocked in 2009 due to riots in Xinjiang and since then, this ban has only been lifted for a small area in Shanghai in 2013 (Woollaston 2013). In speaking about participation, originally only roman characters could be communicated by users. This meant that some cultures were unable to participate as they didn’t use these characters.

The cyber-utopian view of the internet mirrors the words of Barlow. In this view, the internet is seen to have no governing force, encourages freedom of expression and will change the world as we know it. The same was thought of the telephone as it was believed that people across the world would be able to communicate leading to peace. This did not happen and with the introduction of the internet, this still has not happened.

Ulises Mejias, an assistant professor of new media at State University College of Oswego, believes that “as digital networks grow and become more centralised and privatised, they increase opportunities for participation, but they also increase inequality, and make it easier for authorities to control them”. We are moving on from our cyber-utopian celebration of cyberspace. We are moving into a moment of disenchantment and disillusion where we are recognising the full story.

References

Barlow, J 1996, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Electronic Frontier Foundation, viewed 13 August 2014, <https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html&gt;.

Castells, M. 2004, ‘Afterword: why networks matter’. In Network Logic: Who governs in an interconnected world?, pp. 221-224.

Mejias, U 2012, ‘Revolutions are made by people, not Twitter’, viewed 16 August 2014, <http://blog.syracuse.com/opinion/2011/02/ulises_a_mejias_revolutions_ar.html&gt;.

Woollaston, V 2013, China lifts ban on Facebook, Daily Mail, viewed 15 August 2014, <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2431861/China-lifts-ban-Facebook–people-living-working-small-area-Shanghai.html&gt;.

Communication Issues Will Never Die

Parallels across time

This week whilst viewing the lecture content and reading the set texts I noticed parallels between communication issues we have today and those from a couple of centuries ago (I’m talking 1800s).

Firstly, the commentary published in the New York Times in 1858 states that the telegraph is causing injury. It says, “how trivial and paltry is the telegraphic column? It snowed here, it rained there, one man killed, another hanged” (New York Times 1858). There are parallels between this and the way social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were first received.

How trivial and paltry is the Facebook newsfeed. I woke up, I walked to the kitchen, I drank juice, it tasted nice. Apps such as Spotify jumped on the bandwagon asking you to share the song you were listening to with all of your friends (‘no, I think they will survive without that detail’). Which reminds me of good ol’ MSN, you listen to a song on iTunes and ‘Oops you did it again’. You forgot that the song would pop-up under my name. Now everyone knows that you still haven’t got over Britney.

britney spears

Secondly, I turn to the issue of communication not yet being accessible to everyone. Back in 1866, the first trans-Atlantic cable was laid and it cost $100 to send a 10-word message. These days, that comes in at around $1500. This form of communication is not for the masses, only for the elite. James Curran, an author and a professor of communications at the University of London, released a book in 2012 called ‘Misunderstanding the Internet’. He speaks about the caution we should have in thinking that the internet is a democratic source bringing the world together. He says that it is the affluent that are being brought into the conversation. The total proportion of population who were internet users in 2011 was 30 percent (Internet World Stats 2011a). This means that the people with a lower level of wealth are disconnected and are not a part of the world conversation. The internet has joined the world closer together, more than any other technology, but we still have the same communication problem in 2014 as in 1866. The internet is not yet reaching everyone.

Thirdly, as discussed by Sterling (1993) in ‘A Short History of the Internet’ – users could not be stopped from using their electronic mailboxes for content which was not work-related. In North Korea, the internet is under strict control and “North Korea has for decades commanded its citizens’ loyalty in part by telling them that they live in the richest, most advanced society on earth” (Fisher 2013). Smuggling and black markets are highly illegal in North Korea, where they’re seen as direct threats to the government’s control of information. Yet the black market is a booming economy allowed by their access to the internet. As Lessig (2006) points out – the internet is difficult to govern; and as Sterling (1993) points out – it was created this way on purpose.

There are parallels between communication issues across time that may never be solved for each respective party as long as the internet remains a free network of information flows.

 

References

Curran, J 2012, Misunderstanding The Internet, Routledge, United Kingdom.

Internet World Stats 2011a, Internet World Stats, viewed 8 August 2014, <http://www.internetworldstats.com&gt;.

Lessig, L 2006, ‘Four puzzles from cyber space’. In L. Lessig Code version 2.0, viewed 5 August 2014, <https://www.socialtext.net/codev2/four_puzzles_from_cyberspace&gt;.

Stalder, F 2005, ‘Information Ecology’. In Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks, pp. 62-66.

Sterling, B 1993, ‘A Short History of the Internet’, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Connecticut.

Image: Britney Spears 1999, Britney Spears, viewed 8 August 2014, <www.britneyspears.com>.