iTunes Store: Leveraging the Long Tail

iTunes Store: Leveraging the Long Tail

This week’s blog is about ‘Leveraging the Long Tail’, another one of Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Patterns. I will cover the application, iTunes Store. I will also give an overview of Leveraging the Long Tail and how the iTunes Store relates to this weeks pattern.

What is Leveraging the Long Tail?

‘Leveraging the Long Tail’ is a concept that was first coined by Chris Anderson in an article for Wired Magazine in 2004. Anderson’s theory behind the ‘Long Tail’ is that nowadays, our culture and economy is shifting from mainstream products and markets (the head) to niche products (the Long Tail). In an internet crazed era, ‘niche products’ have been able to connect/reach out to a larger audience within the market as almost everyone in the world can connect to the internet. The benefits of Leveraging the Long Tail are:

  • Low costs of production and distribution – Hosting an application using the ‘cloud’ has made it very cost effective and easy for users from anywhere in the world to access iTunes.
  • Combined with infinite shelf space – iTunes has been able to make their product/service available for the whole world to use with no geographical limitations.

An application that has made the most out of ‘the Long Tail’ is the iTunes Store.

iTunes Store and ‘the Long Tail’

The iTunes Store is the World’s number one music store. It not only lets you preview songs before you buy it, but it also allows you to rent or buy HD blockbuster movies and episodes of your favourite TV shows and shop for audiobooks and download apps for your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. However, not all of these great features were available when Apple first released iTunes in 2003.

Initially, iTunes only hosted 200,000 tracks and only Mac users we able to buy and transfer music onto their iPod. iTunes was then expanded to the mass market with the introduction to PC users who had to wait until October 2003 for the Windows version of iTunes. The iTunes Store was so successful that only 18 hours after the service first went live, it had sold approximately 275,000 tracks. In June 2004, Apple began its international expansion of iTunes Store in the UK, France and Germany. In 2005, iTunes 6 was released with video support and introduced music videos, short films and televisions programs to the store. in 2006, Apple changed the name from the ‘iTunes Music Store’ to the ‘iTunes Store’ in order to expand their product lines such as movies, apps and audiobooks. In January 2008, Apple launched movie rentals.

It is clear from this brief outline of Apple’s iTunes Store history that Apple made the ‘tail’ longer and longer. Apple’s initial concept was to provide a virtual store where people could buy and download music. This however, changed from just being a music store and hosting 200,000 tracks. Today, iTunes is the world’s number one music store and more than 10 billion tracks have been downloaded.

References (2011). iTunes Store History – The History of the iTunes Store.

Apple. (2011). iTunes.

Computerworld. (2010). Timeline: iTunes Store at 10 Billion.


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  1. #1 by Nicole G on May 17, 2011 - 1:47 pm

    This was great to read! I never really thought of iTunes leveraging the long tail, generally because everyone listens to music and watches movies etc etc. I never knew the services it allows its users to use (renting, previewing, etc) were available! I will surely have to check out my iTunes.
    Do you think the target audience for iTunes however would be people who listen to music (hence the online store) or people who own an apple device?

    • #2 by bkb90 on May 18, 2011 - 1:42 am

      Hi Nicole,
      Don’t worry, you’re not the only one that doesn’t know about the renting service. I didn’t know about it until someone mention it to me as well!
      Good question! I really think it depends on the user. For me, I didn’t own an Apple device until two years ago and I used to use iTunes before just because it was a piece of software that allowed me to keep my music organised. But in regards to your question, I think the target audience would be both, although, it would be better if you had an Apple device in order to make use of all the services iTunes offers.

      Thanks for the post!
      Would be good to hear your thoughts?

    • #3 by DJ on May 19, 2011 - 12:26 am

      @Nicole G: iTunes is not the only one offering the service of previewing and renting movies. If you go to YouTube, they have also added the service to their portfolio.

  2. #4 by benry07 on May 17, 2011 - 2:23 pm

    I really like using iTunes for some of the reasons you stated above about being able to preview the song before buying it. What do you think the next step for iTunes would be to increase its niche market?

    • #5 by bkb90 on May 18, 2011 - 1:54 am

      Hi benry07,
      To be totally honest, I’m not sure what Apple holds for the iTunes Store’s future. I’m sure you know that Apple don’t really give anything away when it comes to releasing information on the developments they are working on. However, one area that I think should be looked at is the previewing song service. Currently, users are given a 30 second preview of songs. I think it would help Apple if they extended that preview to at least 60 seconds. I think the extra 30 seconds makes a hell of a difference and will help users to make more comfortable decisions.
      What are your thoughts on this?
      Thanks for the comment.

      • #6 by benry07 on May 19, 2011 - 11:26 pm

        I think that would be a good step for iTunes to make. I think they could more move into having a wider range of eBooks as a lot of people who are buying the iPads are wanting to read books on it. Would you say that the preview could be for more then just the songs as in for previewing movies or tv shows?

      • #7 by bkb90 on May 19, 2011 - 11:39 pm

        I agree with you in increasing the range of eBooks. As for previewing movies and TV shows, I know iTunes currently allows you to view Movie trailers and the TV shows for 30 seconds. I also know that, that is the case with Podcasts and AudioBooks.

  3. #8 by DJ on May 19, 2011 - 12:20 am

    Hi bkb90,

    I noticed in this blog you didn’t mention the benefits of the pattern. Could you explore/add the purpose of leveraging? Also if you can add how leveraging can be used to the advantage of the developers/organisation, that would be great! 🙂

    Great to see your interpretation of leveraging the long tail and the analysis you provided showing Apple’s influence on making the tail longer and longer.

    Feel free to checkout my blog:

    twitter: dj91

    • #9 by bkb90 on May 19, 2011 - 12:29 am

      Hi dj,
      I actually have mentioned the benefits of Leveraging the Long Tail. If you have a look at the ‘What is Leveraging the Long Tail?’ section, I have mentioned the benefits there. It seems as if you skipped through my blog post (hopefully you didn’t).
      But thanks for the suggestions. I will surely try and add those in.
      Thanks for the comment!

      • #10 by DJ on May 19, 2011 - 12:47 am

        Hi bkb90,

        I actually meant to say, “you didn’t explore the benefits of the pattern”. How do the benefits directly relate to the chosen applciation?

      • #11 by bkb90 on May 20, 2011 - 2:03 am

        Hi DJ,
        Sorry for this late comment, but I actually fixed this quite a few hours ago. And once again, thanks for the comment and suggestion.

      • #12 by DJ on May 20, 2011 - 10:59 am

        Thanks for taking my feedback on board.

  4. #13 by empecee on May 19, 2011 - 12:40 pm

    Itune doesn’t just lerage the long atil, but it has managed to succesfully stop it’s competitors from doing the same. it is for these reason I don’t use it. it’s poularity is stiffling the music industry.

    • #14 by bkb90 on May 19, 2011 - 8:02 pm

      Hi empecee,

      I would have to agree with you that iTunes has managed to successfully stop its competitors from doing the same. However, I feel things would be a lot more interesting if there was a competitor that offered a better service than iTunes. Google maybe?

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. #15 by reeced on May 4, 2012 - 8:48 pm

    I would have to say that iTunes hasn’t leveraged the long tail very well at all. There is only a minute portion of artists on iTunes (much less than there ever was on MySpace Music and an incredibly small amount compared to participatory platforms like Soundcloud).

    See my article for more information (

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