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Music study challenges 'long tail' theory as millions of tracks go unsold

LONDON - More than 10m music tracks available on the internet failed to find a buyer last year, raising questions about the credibility of the "long tail" theory, it has been claimed.

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A new study of digital music sales by Will Page, chief economist of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, the not-for-profit royalty collection society, challenges the idea that niche markets are one of the most important economic models of the internet -- a theory known as the "long tail".

Page carried out the economic modelling for Radiohead's 'In Rainbow' album, which was released free on the internet.

The idea of the long tail first came to prominence in a book called 'The Long Tail' by Chris Anderson, published in 2006.

It theorised that the internet economy would shift from a relatively small number of mainstream products at the head of the demand curve to a long tail or "huge number of niches in the tail".

The online retailer Amazon is often cited as an example of a business that generates huge revenues based on the long tail economy.

The study found that online sales success still relies on big hits, revealing that of the online singles market, 80% of all revenue came from around 52,000 tracks.

In the albums market, the figures were even starker, with only 173,000 albums purchased online from the 1.23m available to buy.

The data and its sources in Page's study have not yet been published, but 'The Long Tail' author Anderson has already refuted its claims in an interview with The Times.

Anderson told the newspaper: "I respect what Will's done and have no doubt that he has indeed found a dataset where it doesn't work, but I'm not sure you can conclude much, if anything, beyond that."

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