People Who Liked This Opera Also Liked...

by Barry Drogin

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I recently chanced upon an article in Wired magazine titled, "The Long Tail," by Chris Anderson. In it, Mr. Anderson points out a startling counter-intuitive statistic: amongst companies that make available lots of titles (be they of books, DVDs, CDs, single tunes, whatever), like, Rhapsody, Ecast and Netflix, Pareto's Principle, the 80-20 rule, does not apply. The top sellers, say the top 100,000 on Rhapsody, are guaranteed to sell at least one item a month, but so are the top 200,000, the top 300,000, and the top 400,000. There's a "long tail" that stretches into the niche markets, as long as the titles are available and don't "go out of print." This is in stark contrast to local stores, which have only so much shelf space, and can only afford to keep in stock the top 100,000 "hits." The article posits this is fueled by the "people who bought this item also bought" lists that make niche lovers aware of the discoveries of other niche lovers.

These insights provide hope to those of us who despair that the conglomerates' need for big hits will eventually kill off all of the niche markets - and contemporary opera and music-theatre is certainly a tiny niche market. Mr. Anderson points out that the big hits are still needed - if you provide nothing but niche market fare, you languish in obscurity - but that people discover their own niche interests through such linkages, with the resultant "long tail" making all titles long-term sellers. Go figure.

I've seen this marketing technique used in a small-scale way at a local not-for-profit theatre - the artistic director inserts a note in the playbills urging theatregoers to check out a play in another unaffiliated theatre. The artistic director is, in essence, saying, "If you liked this play, you may also like..."

I've been urging theatres to adopt this strategy. Not just printed brochures for other people's shows - how labor intensive, how expensive - but a kiosk near your box office, with your company's homepage, and links to other company homepages, local and out-of-town, as well. An American Express study showed that opera lovers on vacation often check out what is playing in their vacation spot. Some even plan their vacations around it.

There are three pages on the NewOp website - one about NewOp, one about C-Opera, and a third that is a list of participants, with links to their homepages. The site hits for NewOp and the NewOp list are about the same, but not where the searchers are coming from. For the NewOp page, 80% of the Googlers had typed "NewOp" into their search engines. For the NewOp list page, 80% had typed the search term "David Rodwin." Sure enough, there we are, on the third page of his Google listings. People who liked David Rodwin also liked...

Google helps niche markets. People are coming to my Internet book, "A Musical Contrarian," because they're searching for info about Michael Szpakowski and Thomas Ades. A twenty-year-old think-piece about the NY Phil's Horizons '83 festival is so popular, I met a music student a couple of days ago who said, "Barry Drogin? Are you the one who wrote that article about the Horizons festival I read a couple of months ago?"

So thank you, David, and Michael, and Thomas - your climb up the ladder of success - and your obscurity - helps us all. It costs nothing to put up a link to on your website - feel free to use the logo, as well. Because, remember, people who liked this opera also liked...

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A Musical Contrarian 1999-2007

Last Updated: August 4, 2007