A niche piece of the pie

A couple of years ago Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, produced an essay called “The Long Tail.” It showed how e-commerce is revolutionizing industries like books, music and film by moving us from mass production and mass marketing to niche products and niche marketing.

The paper was a huge success. Anderson has since turned it into a book of the same name, which was released this summer. It is an exciting account of how new technologies are changing the economy.

The “old economy” emerged in the early 1800s with the shift from cottage industries to factories. Then, about a century ago, Henry Ford launched a second revolution with his invention of the assembly line. It took the complex tasks in a factory, broke them down into their constituent parts and arranged them in a line.

Ford’s brilliant insight was that the assembly line would let him produce a particular item — the Model T — cheaply enough to make it affordable to the average American. The era of mass production, distribution and marketing had arrived.

Over the last few decades, business has been through yet another organizational revolution, moving from factories to networks. Nike is a striking example. It is more of a ‘brand identity’ than a manufacturing firm, using legions of contractors to handle the actual production of running shoes and clothing while it concentrates on design, organization, marketing and promotion.

Nevertheless, while companies like Nike may have left the factories to build networks, they still have one foot in Henry Ford’s world. The supply chains Nike manages still aim at mass-

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