The Canadian Long Tail

My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version), analyzes of the application of the Long Tail, now a popular book, to Canadian cultural industries including book publishing, music, and movies.  From a Canadian perspective, the importance of the Long Tail should resonate strongly with businesses and policy makers since we don’t have to look very far for Long Tail markets – with few exceptions Canadian culture is in the Long Tail.

For example, David Suzuki’s The Autobiography and Stephen Lewis’ Race Against Time are currently two of the best-selling Canadian non-fiction books.  Their popularity is reflected in’s sales rankings where the books hold the 406th and 2260th position, respectively (ranking as of July 21st).  Each book is readily available both online and offline with booksellers unsurprisingly stocking sufficient copies to meet consumer demand.

Contrast those sales with demand for the books outside the country.  Suzuki’s book has not even been released in the United States where the book ranks 627,515th on the sales list.  The Lewis book is sold in the U.S., ranking 149,526th on  Given its relatively low ranking, the Lewis book, whose coverage of the AIDS crisis in Africa is meant for a global audience, is unlikely to be found in most U.S. bookstores.

The same is true for Canadian music. Billy Talent, an emerging Canadian group, has garnered critical and commercial success in Canada since releasing their new CD last month.  Apple iTunes Canada ranks it as the eighth most popular full album and ranks two of its songs as the 35th and 53th most popular downloads.  In the U.S., however, neither the CD nor the songs have cracked the Apple iTunes U.S. top 100 chart.  While the music may still on iTunes, the lower numbers suggest that it may not be heard on U.S. commercial radio stations or found in U.S. retail stores.

In the movie sector, one need not look outside the country to find evidence of the Canadian Long Tail.  According to the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, Canadian English-language films garnered just $12.1 million in box-office revenue in 2004.  The 2004 figure, of which more than 40 percent came from Resident Evil: Apocalypse, constituted just 1.6 percent of total English-language box-office revenues (an increase from 0.9 percent in 2003).  Despite the small revenues, there are dozens of Canadian English-language feature films made each year, many of which will never be screened in theatres.

For businesses and policy makers, the message of the Canadian Long Tail is clear – Canadian success, whether in domestic or foreign markets, will increasingly depend on Internet-based distribution that can overcome the scarce availability of Canadian content in book stores, music shops, and movie theatres.

One Comment

  1. Where we could go with this:
    I’ve been long petitioning my employer (Telus) to include long-tail streams into Video on Demand for the new TelusTV initiative.

    I think it’s the perfect medium for the huge catalog of mostly unrecognized Canadian content.
    If tv shows were $1.50 per episode, and movies ranging from $2 to $5, depending, it’s not only a boon to people like myself (hungry for good content), but would generate almost free net profit; storage costs functionally little, and the infrastructure is already in place for V.O.D.

    Netflicks makes more, in aggregate, on the huge library of documentaries, than on the big sellers.