3-D Printing and the Long Tail

I recently finished reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.  I was familiar with the concept already, being an avid blog reader, but the book fleshed out a few more concepts for me.


The basic idea of the long tail refers to a graph showing fewer products selling in large quantities versus many more products that sell in low quantities (Source).  Here’s picture of the graph:


It really shows how the world is simultaneously homogenizing and splitting into niches.  Hits will always be with us, of course, but also less well-known stuff.  Rankings help people to weed out the good from the bad and also find things they never would have found on their own.  For me, mostly, that’s been blogs, but it also has applied to books.


One of Anderson’s points is that as the cost of storage goes down the value of the long tail goes up.  Digital storage costs almost nothing, and that’s why downloading music results in better profits for the seller than if they have to send out a CD with a jewel case.  Still, you need to have a variety of ways, so some customers may prefer the seller do the burning for them, while others just want to download the stuff themselves and make their own CDs or put the music on their iPod.


One of the things I love about the blog world is that it results in synthesis.  I had just read a post by Neville Medhora about 3-D Printing and desktop manufacturing, where you can actually print out a product on your desk and I realized that’s the ultimate long tail.  Of course, then I got to the end of Anderson’s book and he points that out himself!


I want to take a look at a couple of things, though.


1.)        The long tail will be storing the manufacturing files (CAD, etc) digitally and making them

available for download.


2.)        Multiple designers can upload multiple designs for the same object.


3.)        Recommendations and reviews will help people to find the best designs.


4.)        If you don’t want to print it yourself, you can get the seller to do it and send it to you. (Multiple types of distribution)


4.)        People will find products they never even thought about


5.)        Designers will have a chance to show their work to anyone – this lowers the barriers to



6.)        Cost to store the digital files?  Low!  This is high profit for whoever stores the designs.


The problem of course is making the desktop manufacturing device affordable.  And getting it to the point where it can do more than print out a big piece of plastic.  It’s coming though, and it should be interesting to see how it all plays out!