Last week the New York Times featured a great story about two friends who have been creating t-shirts targeted at residents of St. Louis. In contrast to most cities where t-shirt sales are targeted at tourists, the St. Louis duo are targeting sales at locals using inside jokes and geographicly-specific phrases.
I really love what’s at work here: it’s the long tail for hyperlocal products. Until recently, selling into the long tail has been outside the realm of possibility for most businesses — the cost of distributing niche products were too high relative to the return. However the web as a commerce platform has changed all that. During the pre-internet era, t-shirts generally needed to be bought and sold in bulk to make any profit. Today web services like Zazzle and CafÃ© Press are changing the game by allowing users to create free stores and then sell producst using on-demand production and low-cost shipping. In fact just the other day someone tweeted about â€˜Fail Whaleâ€� t-shirts being sold. I clicked on the link and was brought to a store powered by Zazzle. It was really cool. This means that the ability to create and sell hyperlocal products, or products niche to a particular community is now possible in a sustainable manner. Another interesting approach is Plum TV, a network that creates video content specific to vacation regions like Nantucket and Aspen. In this case the web has enabled anyone to produce and market video content at extremely low cost.
The web is transforming commerce and it’s flattening the playing field. The ability to create and sell niche content is not only enabling current business owners to diversify product lines, it’s enabling a new crop of entrepreneurs. For example, a college student can make money simply by being creative and having access to the web — no technological knowledge or even up-front capital is needed. Over the next 10 years I believe we’ll see increasing numbers of people look to the web to supplement, or replace their primary source of income.
I’m also excited by the role Workstreamer can play in this transforming economy.