Feb 11

The Long Tail

I talked with the owner of my favourite pub in Cambridge last night. The pub shall remain nameless for reasons that will become apparent.

He refuses to sell Carling, Stella, Bulmers, etc. on tap. Instead he sells fine whiskeys and rums, real ale (offering 2 guest ales which change regularly), and decent ciders. His landlord and financial backing (brewery) insisted he sold the big brands, in order to have the pumps installed in his pub when they started. He agreed to the deal as he couldn’t afford to buy pumps himself, ordered a single barrel of Carling, didn’t connect it up to the pump, left it for a few months until the beer was out of date, and sent it back saying there was no market for it in his pub.

To this day he only sells decent, CAMRA-happy real ales.

In one sense, he was shooting himself in the foot. There is always a market for the lowest common denominator. To prove this, he sold Carling for one night for a trial, and apparently it sold far better than the other drinks put together.

But he then went on to say that he didn’t want that kind of person in his pub. Whilst you might think that’s a bit “Basil Fawlty”, it is now three years later and his pub is extremely popular. Instead of a television, they have live folk music and jazz nights, they sell the work of local painters and graphic artists, and the pub is very well-loved by locals. The locals in this neighbourhood are quite unique in that they consist of people like bow-makers, musicians, artists, and academics.

Although he still doesn’t make as much money as he would if he sold the popular brands, he also doesn’t have to deal with rude, drunken males (Stella), packs of abrasive middle-aged women (Barcadi), and the like. Instead, most of the people who turn up at 6pm are distinguished men and women who come with newspaper and conversation. Whatsmore they campaign on his behalf.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with selling certain types of product to certain types of people. This pub is not at the very highest-end of the market in wine, for example. Nor does it shun the popular brands of bar snacks, as another example. It’s just that I was impressed by this pub owner’s vision. The fact that he saw this vision through means the local neighbourhood really benefits; localism has increased, people talk to each other more – which even has knock-on effects to crime prevention, and it makes accessible a sense of community that otherwise may not have been apparent. And community amongst the British middle classes – particularly in city life, is something that is so rare.

Of course it’s a well-known phenomenon that great businesses, however big or small, create their own market. However what impresses me is that in order to find your own market, part of this process is denying the existence of the market you don’t wish to serve. In a world that, given the chance, would rather drink Stella Artois, it takes a certain vision to carry-on with what you want instead of going with the economic flow.

It’s like the Radio 4 effect vs. the Radio 1 effect. Radio 4 caters for 5% of the radio-listening population (I made that figure up). But of those people, 100% would complain if the channel went off-air for a few minutes. Conversely, Radio 1 caters for 80% of the radio-listening population, but a far smaller proportion (2%?) would notice let alone complain if it were to go off-air.

I suppose in marketing terms, this effect is called the short tail vs. the long tail. I know where I’d rather be, in my life and in my work.

Feb 11

No2AV – more expensive

Doubtless you know the arguments for and against AV; I credit readers of this article with enough intelligence to understand the difference between AV and FPTP, as well as what it would mean in the bigger picture – how it would change politics over the course of a number of years, and over a number of terms and elections.


“AV is complicated and expensive”. Whilst the claim that AV might increase your council tax is something that technically could hold true, a little more probing shows that the cost of an election in its current form is negligible in comparison to the cost of many more meaningless things councils spend their money on. I don’t have figures for the 2010 election but for example, BBC cites that the 2005 general election cost more than £80m, whereas late last year Hertfordshire Council alone made savings of £150m to be had from an efficiency drive. (Source)

  • Cost of possible efficiency savings for one council: £150m
  • Cost of general election for whole country: £80m

Surely our national democracy is worth more than half the potential savings from a mere efficiency drive by one constituency in the home counties?

More to the point, democracy should have no price.

Feb 11

Cycling is for the stupid and/or idealistic

(UPDATE 2014: Cycling is no longer stupid. It’s beautiful. My new bike is also lovely.)

Cycling is for stupid people. My brief love affair with the humble bicycle officially ended tonight in Cambridge. There is something positively Darwinian about the concept of getting on a 30kg skeleton of poles and axles and thinking it’s somehow okay to share the same piece of tarmac with one-tonne lumps of steel travelling at 40mph (with Ordinary Human at its helm). It’s not. It’s a bloody stupid idea and I’ve learnt my lesson.

To the taxi driver on Mill Road who didn’t bother to pull out when overtaking me tonight, I really, really appreciate that you didn’t kill me, and it was good that you stopped and calmly wrote down your details for me as I was in shock, however driving into me in the first place, when there was absolutely no obstruction on the other side of the road, was stupid and careless in the extreme and you must be really damned stupid because I’ve never not given a cyclist a huge wide berth when driving in MY car and overtaking a cyclist.

And to the passenger of the taxi who got out to tell my girlfriend who was ahead of me on the bike, before I had even got up from the pavement, that my lights were obviously not powerful enough: you are a horrible insensitive woman and I hope our paths never cross in the future.

(To the nice girls who crossed the road and told me they saw what happened and gave me their numbers… thank you.)