Tall Heads vs. Long Tails: Do Consumer Reviews Increase the Informational Inequality Between Hit and Niche Products?
38 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2008 Last revised: 15 Apr 2008
Date Written: December 1, 2007
By providing a platform where consumers can discuss obscure products not covered by mainstream media, user-centered media, such as online product review forums, are expected by many to reduce the informational inequality between hit and niche products and thus help shift demand towards the long tail of less popular products. Some researchers have challenged this viewpoint, arguing that other aspects of the Internet, such as the prevalence of prominently displayed statistics about the actions of prior consumers, end up reinforcing consumer attention on already popular products. In this paper, we empirically test the merits of these two hypotheses by investigating how a population's propensity to contribute post-purchase online reviews for different products of the same category (motion pictures) relates to offline and online indicators of those products' popularity. We discover the presence of an interesting tension between the population's preference to review products that are lesser known in the offline domain and its simultaneous attraction to discussing products that many other people have already commented on online. Overall, it appears that the latter effect dominates: A Gini coefficient analysis reveals that the weekly volumes of user-contributed movie reviews in our sample are even more skewed towards popular movies than the corresponding weekly box office revenues. Our findings have implications for online forum designers and for ongoing research on the long tail theory.
Keywords: user-generated content, online product reviews, word-of-mouth, long tail, motion pictures, event count modeling, Gini coefficient
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