by Whet Moser
When I first read Scott Eden's profile of Chicago Review Press, Inc., I thought, hey, this isn't so improbable. It's just the Long Tail.
The Long Tail is an economic phenomenon that was first described by Wired editor in chief Chris Anderson in 2004; he's since developed it into a book and a blog. In short, Anderson believes that the Internet is changing existing sales models, particularly in the culture industries, from a focus on extremely popular mainstream products ("hits," in other words, or as Anderson calls them, the "Short Head") to more obscure products that are overshadowed or unavailable in traditional brick-and-mortar retail stores. Thanks to search technology and warehousing, it's easy for people to discover and purchase such products.
As Eden shows, CRP's business model was essentially a Long Tail model before the term was a twinkle in Anderson's eye, and before the Internet even existed, bringing obscure but promising titles to the attention of retailers. When Internet sales became big business, CRP's model meshed perfectly with the Long Tail of the Internet economy.