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Rethinking Everything: How The Long Tail Changed the Record Business

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

In 2004, Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired magazine, wrote an important article about the changing business models in the digital age, from a hits economy towards a robust niche market. The article was called The Long Tail, and most of the players in the music business paid careful attention. Mr. Anderson was, in fact, identifying the current trends in the music business though no one was publicly acknowledging it.

This week, the full length book, titled The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More has been released and it continues to help define the music business. As the cost of production and distribution is sizeably reduced in the online world, and the ability to purchase an infinite amount of goods online underscores the limits that brick and mortar retail can provide, the purchasing habits of the American public are making monumental shifts.

The Long Tail is not just about the music business. It's a phenomenon that could apply to any business in our digital age. But because of the mass appeal of music, the enormous volume of projects released every week, coupled with the ease of digital transfers, and the limited focus that physical stores can provide, the record industry provides one of the best examples of the way these issues play out in The Long Tail. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in our new economy.

In related news, consolidation among titans of industry has become the norm in the music business. Billboard magazine's parent company, VNU, this week announced the acquisition of the magazine, Radio & Records. The trade magazine, affectionately known as R&R;, is considered the bible of the commercial-radio market.

In addition, newcomers Live Nation announced they've acquired the House of Blues organization for $350 million. Just who is Live Nation?

None other than Clear Channel Communications, the media conglomerate. When Clear Channel decided to rename its concert division late last year, the company went from zero to 60 in practically no time, generating over $2.8 billion in revenue, with 3,000 employees handling concerts throughout the world. Now you can add to that equation a mean gumbo.

But lest you think the record business only cares about big business, just check out what The Residents have up their sleeve. The San Francisco-based band have always cursed the expected. For three decades The Residents have sung to their own tune appearing onstage in their famous giant eyeball heads and tuxedos. Once again, the band is breaking new ground with their new release, River of Crime. River of Crime is a 1940's style five-episode radio series scored by The Residents. Buy a copy and you'll find their signature CD artwork with two blank CD's and instructions on how and when to burn each of the episodes on the web. Inside the package is a unique code for the owner to unlock their subscription to the series.

The package is exclusively available at Virgin Megastores offline, and at IdealCopy.com online. Presented by the innovative Cordless record label, this takes the do-it-yourself model to a whole new level.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

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