It strikes me that the “long tail,” the economic model popularized by Chris Anderson, either IS or IS NOT about extinction. With the long tail, says Wikipedia, “Businesses with distribution power can sell a greater volume of items at small volumes than of popular items at large volumes.” What this means to me is that I can find and buy whatever I want, usually on the Internet.
It’s well known around our parts that legions of bookstores have been forced to close directly or indirectly because of internet competition. No doubt this was a factor in brick-and-mortar Tower Records’ demise as well. This greatly affects the quality of life in our communities. Don’t get me wrong: it’s nice to have the choice of what I want to buy – and to be able to buy exactly what I want.
Take lightbulbs. I have a lamp that in rather ominous terms calls specifically for “Type B” lamps: “RISK OF FIRE. USE ONLY TYPE B LAMPS.” Now – I don’t even know what Type B lightbulbs are. And did I find them when I walked to the local hardware store? Nope. Did I buy the dangerous, threatening Type A lightbulbs instead? Yep. Could I have found Type B lightbulbs on the long-tail of the internet? Most certainly. Given the choice, here I am willfully risking fire over the potential closure of local hardware stores. Provided the dangerous B bulbs don’t burn our house down, this means I choose sustainability.
For local, sustainable food, the long tail might mean a species, one way or another. Oddly enough, as Barbara Kingsolver points out in her latest great book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which of course mildly ironically has a corresponding Web site), widely consuming and hence escalating demand for rare vegetable foods means they are more likely to survive as species – for instance, special heirloom vegetables such as tomatoes or potatoes. Not so for wild animals! For example, for our threatened pacific wild salmon. More consumption means more risk of extintion (though the salmon farmers would have you believe otherwise). It could be that long-tail models are both helping and hurting when it comes to sustainability.
Speaking of salmon, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s excellent seafood guides, the one place they still run abundantly free and wild is up in Alaska. And in fact I’ll be out for the next two weeks on the Dawn Princess as it leaves its long-tail wake in the oceans up towards Alaska. While I don’t expect to be twittering or flickring (well, probably flickring) nearly as much, you CAN catch a glimpse of everywhere we go with the bridge cam. I’m sure you’ll be on the edge of your seat!
We’ll try to leave a few salmon left over in the sea for everyone.