The PRX Long Tail

In web buzzword bingo, “The Long Tail” is a sure win. After Chris Anderson popularized the phrase in his 2004 Wired article, pundits have been scrambling to define, explain, and frame his argument. He explained that online aggregations of broad catalogues serve large markets made up of one-off sales–rather than just enabling millions of sales of a few mega-hits. We suspected that the licensing habits of radio stations on PRX resembled that of long-tailers like Amazon and Netflix, so we ran the numbers.

What we discovered was a very long tail. The above graph represents all pieces (items) sold on PRX, ordered by number of licenses (sales). The highest sellers are on the left-hand side, proceeding in classic long-tail shape to the single sales on the right. So, what does that mean?

At least half of PRX licensing happens in the “long tail”
We separated the graph into two sections, each representing 50% of the total licensing activity on PRX. In the green “top sellers” section, each piece was licensed between four and 33 times. Almost all of the rest of the pieces were licensed three or fewer times, stretching out in a long tail in which many pieces were licensed only once.

80/20, PRX-style
In the original Wired article Anderson says, “The 80/20 rule is all around us. Only 20 percent of major studio films will be hits. […] We’re stuck in a hit-driven mindset – we think that if something isn’t a hit, it won’t make money and so won’t return the cost of its production.” Others have suggested a variety of 80/20 interpretations, but in our graph the ratio appears in a new and interesting way. Once we inserted the 50/50 line, we noticed that the “long tail” half accounts for about 80% of the pieces licensed.

Successful PRX producers upload a broad catalogue
When we examined the producers that were most successful on PRX (ie. had the most total licenses), they were not the ones that had the most popular individual pieces. Instead they were the producers that had uploaded many pieces, several of which attracted a few buyers. Note to producers: upload your back-catalogue!

All of this leads us to believe that PRX helps give exposure to a large body of desirable work that would otherwise be overlooked. We’re doing this by lowering the overhead to access, providing plenty of storage, and mixing in the collective wisdom of our intelligent reviewers.