The Long Tail and Stadium Cakes


Much has been written about the long tail created by the Internet, and I’ve said before that I don’t think the long tail is anything new. It’s just that the Interent has made the tail infinitely more discoverable.

My dad reminded me of this earlier today. He grew up just a couple hours from Chicago, so came over to watch the Bears beat the Saints for their first Super Bowl berth in 21 years.

He showed up this morning with a cake to enjoy at halftime. But this wasn’t just any cake. It was a stadium-shaped cake. He’d frosted the entire thing to look like Soldier Field (the Bears’ home turf), complete with fans and grass.

Fifteen years ago, stadium-shaped cake pans existed. If you could find it, you could buy it. But that was the problem. Unless you knew specifically which vendor sold them, you likely were out of luck.

Specialty catalogs for such obscure items as stadium-shaped cake pans have existed for decades. But unless you were mailed such catalogs (let alone flipped through every page), your chances of buying them were slim.

This channel problem impacted more than just discoverability. It also had an impact on availability. Twenty years ago, stadium-shaped cake pans weren’t widely offered to the public. They were primarily available directly to bakers and caterers. Why? Because manufacturers of stadium-shaped cake pans could only profitably sell those pans through more efficient sales channels. Finding consumer buyers just wasn’t cost-efficient.

But the Internet has changed that. I can do a search for “stadium-shaped cake pans” on Google and be linked straight to a seller. Now, obscure products can find their buyers far more efficiently, and with greater volume.

This will continue to accelerate the variety of products at our fingertips, catering to increasingly specific interests.

Update: My wife read this post, and she wants to know why I can’t just enjoy a good piece of cake…