The Web vs The Long Tail

Chris Anderson has argued that the web is moving us away from mainstream products and towards the "long tail," the vast number of obscure products on the web. A recent study comes to a different conclusion:

In a recent study Anita Elberse, a marketing professor at Harvard's business school, looked at data for online video rentals and song purchases, and discovered that the patterns by which people shop online are essentially the same as the ones from offline. Not only do hits and blockbusters remain every bit as important online, but the evidence suggests that the Web is actually causing their role to grow, not shrink.

Anderson's response:

...there is a subtle difference in the way we define the Long Tail, especially in the definitions of "head" and "tail", that leads to very different results.The best example of this is in what she describes as a growing "concentration" of sales around a relatively small number of blockbuster titles. In the Rhapsody data, she finds, the top 10% of titles (out of more than a million in that data sample) accounted for 78% of all plays, and the top 1% account for 32% of all plays. That sounds pretty concentrated around the head, until you reflect, as she notes, that "one percent of a million is still 10,000--[...]equal to the entire music inventory of a typical Wal-Mart store."