By Yonatan Gordon
When a term takes on an identity of its own, its worth looking into the deeper meaning behind it. Whereas books come and go, terms are more placeholders for timeless concepts or ideas. This is not to say that books don’t have their place, just that a book should not be seen as something than obscures concepts. If anything, our physical (or digital) bookshelves, help us by serving as continual points of symbolic reference; even if we only look inside these books on occasion.
All this was an introduction to explain what the “long tail of business” means to me; even beyond the points and examples brought forth in the book itself.
Long Tails in Business
First let’s sum in what the term means in a business setting. Amazon is a “long tail” business, and so is Ebay, Google, and iTunes. The general definition is that the company has a business model that includes as many possible niches and interests as possible, no matter how specialized. So the fact that Amazon offers best sellers, along with thousands of self-published books from first-time authors, indicates that their business model is more “long tail” than not. It seems that online businesses are more easily able to be “long” than “short,” given the physical constraints of brick-and-mortar stores. This of course is not always a merit, as sometimes, customers prefer being directed to the best choices for their needs. While there are thousands of possible niches, the fact that Amazon makes them all available, may also make it harder to sift through to find the right one for me.
Swatting Away Opponents
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that the reason we may need a “long tail” approach to life, is in order to swat away opponents:
One day, Rabbi Zeira saw that his teacher, Rabbi Yehudah, was in a very happy mood, and that any question about nature that he would ask him he would answer. So he took the opportunity and asked him; “Why does the camel have a short tail, while the ox has a long tail?”
Rabbi Yehudah replied that camels eat thorns, and if its tail were long, it would get caught in the thorns and be injured by them. Why then does the ox have a long tail? He answered this is because the ox lives in areas that have a lot of mosquitoes (Aramaic: בקי), so it needs a long tail to swat them away. Therefore, God gave him the defense mechanism he needed.
But a great tzadik is like a firstborn son, who receives a double portion of the inheritance; as in the blessing Jacob gave to Ephraim and Menashe; “To his firstborn ox is [given] glory” (בְּכוֹר שׁוֹרוֹ הָדָר לוֹ). Whatever the great tzadik speaks, it always has two meanings. While this can mean that his words carry a double reward—as was the case with Jacob’s blessing, as each of the two sons of Joseph became a full-fledged tribe—he can also be easily misunderstood.
This is the trait of a great tzadik; that even earnest people might comprehend the complete opposite of what he is really trying to say.
Double Portion of Blessing
How then is it a blessing to have a long tail? Because God gave these tzadikim ‘long tails’ for a reason; so that they could swat away the opponents that they created themselves! Even though they are the source for many of these kelipot, since they can also swat them away, the fact that they live in a ‘mosquito’ ridden environment is ultimately for their own good.
Similar to the double-portion of the firstborn, God gave great tzadikim a ‘long tail’ as a gift. That while they will need to swat away the external forces that oppose them, they also have a much greater ability to bring down a double-portion of blessing.
Long Tail of Blessing
We can now appreciate why it is so marketable, or meritorious, to endeavor to have a ‘long tail.’ While the simple understanding is that a ‘long tail’ model signifies an open and inclusive company, the deeper meaning is that there is an inner search also taking place. More than the queries that people type into Google, is the search for this “double portion of blessing.” While camels are happy eating with short tails, anyone who considers themselves more similar to the ox, does not content themselves to a ‘camel’ way of life.
What then are the “opponents” in the long tail business model? These are the distractions, and inappropriate content, that attempt to distract people in search of truly beneficial content.
Excerpted and adapted from “Why Does the Camel Have a Short Tail?” from Rabbi Ginsburgh.