The Long Tail Hates the iPod Shuffle

Last year, I wrote about the excellent Wired essay The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. If you haven’t read it, go and do so. The essay (quoting myself here) “discusses how the future of entertainment revenue is in a million niche markets, not in big, short-lived hits.”

Chris Anderson is writing a book about the subject. On his site, he recently discussed how the iPod Shuffle doesn’t adhere to long tail thinking:

So that, in a nutshell, is the case against the Shuffle. For anyone with a big music collection (thousands of tracks) a random walk through their entire library is statistically likely to be an unwelcome reaquaintance with mistaken purchases, whim rips, filler album tracks and embarrassing ghosts of music taste past. And if you’re anything like me, that gets annoying real fast.

Amen. When I listen to iTunes using Party Shuffle, which is nearly always, I skip at least one in four songs in my 5000 song collection (hello, I just skipped Jewel singing ‘Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer’ acapella–don’t even ask). This is why I was pretty excited about Synapse AI, which was a predictive music player that worked astonishingly well. Unfortunately, it proved unstable, and they haven’t released a new build for a year and a half.

On an unrelated note: should Mr. Anderson be capitalizing the ‘Long Tail’ when he discusses it as a concept? I know he’s the Editor-in-Chief of Wired, and no doubt could punctuate circles around me, but is that kosher? Isn’t it analogous to a philosophy, like, say, libertarianism? Maybe a closer analogue is ‘tipping point’ (the concept, not the book). I note that his magazine doesn’t capitalize that.


  1. strange. I don’t keep songs I don’t like. I have a fair amount of weird al that I frequently skip because well, one has to be in the mood for weird al (“dare to be stupid” once randomly came on while I was … well, doing something not suitable for discussion on a family website. It didn’t quite ruin the mood, but it did make us stop for a moment and start laughing at each other. Okay, maybe it did ruin the mood, but it was funny.) But beyond that, I *like* most of the mp3’s I have. Why would I keep ’em if I never want to hear ’em?

    For me… I love the party shuffle. It’s basically the same as how my usual listening methods worked.

    Besides, you can load specific playlists onto the shuffle as well. you don’t *have* to use it the way the marketing encourages you to.

    It’s possible that I’m rather unique in my music-listening habits, but the shuffle is like it was designed for me… damnit, come out in Canada already.

  2. Donna, exactly. I have a big collection (7000 songs) and I use shuffle a lot, either over the whole collection or within a whole genre (I do take the time to straighten out my genres occasionally.) But I have been a fan of Shuffle for a long time. Maybe it’s not for everyone… you know, like people with awful record collections.

  3. I use shuffle occasionally. I’m against it in principle, but in practice it’s nice when I don’t have the inspiration to choose something. iTunes has a little checkbox next to all your tracks: uncheck those you don’t want it to shuffle, and you’ll never have to hear them again (and you can tell it not to put them on your iPod, either). I do this for tracks I dislike, or albums I only want to hear on very specific occasions.

  4. You seem to have missed the point of the “Long Tail” article. It’s about distribution channel economics and consumer choice.

    You already bought your MP3s. You already shuffle. You must select some subset of your songs to fit on a small player. This is the problem the iPod shuffle is trying to address.

    I don’t understand your point unless it’s a overblown criticism of the lack of display.

    Great links though. Thanks 🙂

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