I've been rewarded with excellent articles in Wired magazine, after nearly letting my subscription lapse earlier this year. That one year subscription is looking better every month!
This month's excellent Wired article is called The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson. The gist of the article is this: niche entertainment can now compete with mainstream hits, because there already is, or will be, no difference in costs to store or deliver either niche, or hit entertainment.
Here's a quote from the heart of the article:
To get a sense of our true taste, unfiltered by the economics of scarcity, look at Rhapsody, a subscription-based streaming music service (owned by RealNetworks) that currently offers more than 735,000 tracks.
Chart Rhapsody's monthly statistics and you get a "power law" demand curve that looks much like any record store's, with huge appeal for the top tracks, tailing off quickly for less popular ones. But a really interesting thing happens once you dig below the top 40,000 tracks, which is about the amount of the fluid inventory (the albums carried that will eventually be sold) of the average real-world record store. Here, the Wal-Marts of the world go to zero - either they don't carry any more CDs, or the few potential local takers for such fringy fare never find it or never even enter the store.
The Rhapsody demand, however, keeps going. Not only is every one of Rhapsody's top 100,000 tracks streamed at least once each month, the same is true for its top 200,000, top 300,000, and top 400,000. As fast as Rhapsody adds tracks to its library, those songs find an audience, even if it's just a few people a month, somewhere in the country.
This is the Long Tail.
If you're at all interested in alternative, niche products becoming more and more accessible, I highly recommend reading The Long Tail.