The Paradox of Choice

I read the article “Winner takes all: Mass entertainment in the digital age is still about blockbusters, not endless choice” in The Economist, and it elegantly explained a phenomenon I’ve been thinking about recently.

Paradoxically, enabling every individual and product on the planet to find a market has made it next to impossible for the market to find them. Consumers generally favour whatever they find on their mobile screens or at the top of their search results. The tail is indeed long, but it is very skinny.

When there was a high fixed cost to access media there was more of an incentive for aimless searching and discovery.

Anecdotal Examples:

In the past, if you drove all the way to the record store you would not grab the single record you wanted and leave. You might not return for weeks. You would walk around and browse the entire store listening to anything that caught your eye.

With streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music the fixed cost is effectively zero to access music. I find myself listening to the same songs and playlists over and over again.

Personally, when I was younger downloading music on Napster/Limewire/torrents. The process was hard with a slow internet connection and flaky search so I would dedicate an entire night to download and find the best and newest music.

Questions to Ponder

  1. How will this impact creativity in the arts?
  2. Will the current trend of a longer tail and bigger head continue?
  3. How will new technologies like VR/AR change or sustain this trend?