The Long Tail works...because you have no chance at the Short Tail
The Long Tail is a great theory, but seems to provide no concrete, strategic direction.
I'm not sure what to do with this information, but I think Seth Godin is probably right in his estimation of the Long Tail theory:
A lot of people don't seem to understand a key implication of the long tail: Given the choice, it's better to make a hit. If you have a choice of cutting a top 10 record or making a track of Jamaican polka music for iTunes, go for the hit.
If you have a choice between being on page 30 of the Google results for "Bolivian sushi" or the number one match for "buy life insurance", go for the latter. No brainer.
The problem, of course, is that you don't have a choice. You can give the hit a shot, but it's awfully crowded at that end of the curve.
My question? Is the Long Tail where losers go to die? If so, is there a way to turn losing in the Short Tail into a strategy? I don't think so. I don't think there's a viable way to be "the lame alternative for those who don't want the hit." It's probably true that we have no choice but to be part of the Long Tail, but I can't see a way to decide to be second-best from the beginning.
In short, the Long Tail is a great theory, but seems to provide no concrete, strategic direction. At least it made Chris Anderson rich. It probably won't make you rich.