Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Long Tail

It's Girl Scout Cookie time again, the time of year where I reflect on my ability and motivation to sell to people. This year, the market for cookies was very saturated, and I did little more than hit my "regulars" at work for a few boxes, and one or two shameless affairs such as getting a woman 8 months pregnant to buy 13 boxes. But, I kept plugging away slowly until the numbers added up. Stacey and I also do the traditional door-to-door selling, which is becoming more frowned upon in "these times". I found out two interesting things while selling at the office: No one sells out of their racial preference, and with a modest amount of effort, most anyone can be talked into a box of cookies or two, even if they've already purchased from someone else.

The racial preference thing was unexpected. I work with a lot of Indian IT contractors, and I found that absolutely none of them had been pitched, while the white people around them had. I talked three Indians into buying a total of 6 boxes, two of them having never bought Girl Scout cookies before (the other Indians I pitched to politely declined, one offered to just donate cash, which I politely declined). So basically there is an untapped market of polite middle class people, some of whom are eager to participate in bizarre American rituals like direct marketing of snacks to pay for a girls' group's activities. Not being racist, in this case, could conceivably be a money maker.

The "Long Tail" is an economic theory used mainly in reference to The idea is basically that rare items will be in demand if you have a big enough collection of potential buyers. Amazon makes use of this idea by having access to a wide variety of rare items, and has a huge audience of buyers looking for some book from their childhood that they liked which isn't on the shelves of their local retailer. Undesirable men use this idea by not being deterred by the hundreds of women who reject their advances, until they find a "buyer" who sees some particular quality in them that is more important than their overall putridness.

Girl Scout cookies are neither rare nor putrid, but are available for just a few weeks a year, so it's easy to suggest a box or two to just about anyone, which I did. What I lacked in desire to hard sell a few people, I made up for in a long tail, selling 1-4 boxes to 20 people. Between that, Stacey and I hitting the neighborhood, and family sales, the Autery family had an above-average year with 140 boxes sold.

..and now for something completely different.

A gem from PRI's "This American Life", here's a depressing story about would-be Nazi Saboteurs, and the failed attempt by two of them to defect:
This American Life 2004 archive. Scroll to episode 260, The Facts Don't Matter, and look up some of what's being talked about here.

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