Chris Anderson has done some excellent work on the economics of the Long Tail (weblog and presentation). The concept of the Long Tail is that globalization, new tools of production, and the Internet have made it possible to radically increase the supply and demand of niche products (in certain product categories). In traditional markets, based on scarcity of shelf space and limited product diversity, the vast majority of revenues are derived from a very limited number of products. In long tail markets, a diversity of products made by new entrants (via newly democratized tools of production and globalization), in combination with unlimited low cost shelf space (the Internet), and an accelerated word of mouth (the Internet) have radically expanded the supply curve. Additionally, this newly diverse supply has energized demand for niche products that meet specific needs.
In a traditional market, hit products often get 80% of the revenue. In a long tail market, hit products get 50% of the revenue while the other 50% is shared by a plethora of niche producers. Niche demand and supply shifts the revenue to the tail.
The long tail has applicability to my work here on Global Guerrillas. Traditionally, warfare (the ability to change society through violence) has been limited to nation-states (except in rare cases). States had a monopoly on violence. The result was a limited, truncated distribution of violence (a power law). That monopoly is on the skids due to three trends:
- A democratization of the tools of warfare. Niche producers (for example: gangs) are made possible by the dislocation of globalization. All it takes to participate is a few men, some boxcutters, and a plane (as an example of simple tools combined with leverage from ubiquitous economic infrastructure).
- An amplification of the damage caused by niche producers of warfare. The magic of global guerrilla systems disruption which turns inexpensive attacks into major economic and social events.
- The acceleration of word of mouth. New groups can more easily find/train recruits, convey their message to a wide audience, and find/coordinate their activities with other groups (allies).
The result: a long tail has developed. New niche producers of violence have flourished. Demand for the results these niche suppliers can produce has also radically increased. Big concepts (such as a struggle between Islam and the US), not championed by states, has supercharged niche suppliers like al Qaeda and its clones. In some cases, the niche producer creates its own demand (see Transnational Gangs) or through its activites create demand for other niche producers (see Primary Loyalties). I have taken liberties with a very small portion Chris' presentation to describe how the tail developed (Download warfare's_long_tail.ppt ).
This new distribution shows a balance of power between nation-states (and their proxies) and non-state producers (global guerrillas). In warfare, a 50/50 distribution of power is the recipe for an epochal conflict. As always, please feel free to post a critique and thereby improve my effort here.