Vast majority of online music tracks fail to sell
More than 10 million of the 13 million music tracks available on the internet failed to sell a single copy last year, a study has found.
It showed that for the online singles market 80 per cent of all revenue came from around 52,000 tracks.
Of the 1.23 million albums available, only 173,000 were bought, meaning 85 per cent did not sell at all.
The study, by Will Page, chief economist of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, a not-for-profit royalty collection society, challenges the idea that niche markets were the key to the future for internet sellers.
Chris Anderson's 2006 book The Long Tail, used data from an American online music retailer to predict the internet economy would shift from a relatively small number of "hits" toward a "huge number of niches in the tail".
Anderson challenged the widely accepted "80/20 rule" which suggests selling the most popular 20 per cent of products is the way to make a profit as they will account for 80 per cent of sales.
Mr Page, who carried out the economic modelling for Radiohead's In Rainbows album, which was released free on the internet, said: "The relative size of the dormant 'zero sellers' tail was truly jaw-dropping. Rather than continue to believe the selective claims of 'here's another great example of the long tail at work', we wanted to find out how long-tail markets should be analysed, plotted and interpreted."
He continued: "There is an eerie similarity between a digital and high-street retailer in terms of what constitutes an efficient inventory and the shape of their respective demand shape of their respective demand curves. I think there's something more going on there: a case of new schools meets old rules."
Mr Page's co-researcher Andrew Bud said: "I think people believed in a fat, fertile long tail because they wanted it to be true.
"The statistical theories used to justify that theory were intelligent and plausible. But they turned out to be wrong. The data tells a quite different story. For the first time we know what the true demand for digital music looks like".
Mr Anderson accepted the researchers had found a dataset in which the "long tail" principle did not apply but said further conclusions could not be drawn until the data and its sources were published.