The Long-Tail of Business

long tail

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.

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2 thoughts on “The Long-Tail of Business

  1. Dear Yonatan,

    I really enjoyed the idea and I thought that it is right on! Having a long-tail ensures that the competition can’t get a market share, having a short tail means that you already have twice as much as everyone, or you are a firstborn, meaning a startup, which has to focus on doing one thing well.

    But, my question about your writing style remains, Who is the intended audience. If it is non-frum Jews then what does “a tzadik” mean to them? How can you quote from the Talmud without mentioning it’s from the Talmud and without explaining that a Rabbi Zeira is a sage of the Talmud, etc.? Why not include links to wikipedia or chabad.org articles on what the Talmud is, what a tzadik is, etc.

    Gut Mo’ed.

    Moshe

    • Dear Moshe,

      You’re right. The recent string of articles are written for a more exclusive audience. But since my other writing responsibilities take precedence, I would prefer to at least write down the material, rather than wait for a possible time when I can better elaborate these ideas. Whereas I used to spend an average of about three hours per article, I am happy to be able to devote one hour per entry these days. I am happy for the reason, but understandably, the articles will appear more densely compacted as a result.

      Ultimately, the best thing would be for students to take these ideas, and further elaborate on those that they are most interested in. Hopefully in future years, when I take to teaching, these articles will be able to serve more as reference pieces for the personal explorations of others.

      So to answer your question, the main thing I hope to accomplish is the conveyance of an approach. To start training readers to look at the world through the lens of Kabbalah and Chassidut.

      Gut Mo’ed,

      Yonatan

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