The Neue Galerie is a wonderful small museum (albeit with slightly eccentric opening times) opposite the much better known Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
It houses a collection of twentieth century German and Austrian art that includes wonderful furniture, exquisite silverware and some stunning paintings by Klimt, Klee and Schiele amongst others. It was a hidden treasure. I've never seen more than a handful of people there, yet now this townhouse museum with a capcity of 350 is overwhelemd by 1500 visitors.
The reason - a hit. Owner Ronald Lauder paid $135 million for Klimt's iconic portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer and suddenly everybody wants to be there to see the poster in real life.
It doesn't seem the long tail applies here. The wisdom of crowds dictates that this glitzy image is the one to see rather than the pieces that were there all along. Just as the Louvre is the home of the Mona Lisa, the Neue galerie has become the home of Adele Bloch-Bauer.
For me, this is going to be the key issue for all long tail businesses - how do you ensure that the consumer discovers that unpopular item that exactly meets their needs? At this stage, my thinking is that you still need the hits to subsidise the promotion of the tail but even then there has to be a changed mindset to ensure that the tail is marketed.
It galls me that it seems that whenever I attend an exhibition - be it the Max Ernst show at the Met, Basquiat in Brooklyn or Frida Kahlo and the Michalanegelo drawing exhibitons here in London - that I can never find the image that I loved reproduced in postcard form.
OK my taste may not be that of the masses, but then maybe the people to whom I might send a postcard (and in doing so promote the less well-known "product-lines" ) might have smiliarly atypical or long tail tastes. In a time when blurb.com amongst others allows for the "vanity" printing of books on demand, it could surely be viable for galleries and museums to utilise digital technologies to maximise the ways their customers market every aspect of the collections on their behalf.
I can tell you that I think the Nigerian barber shop signs hidden away on a British Musuem are fantastic, but I doubt you'll pay much attention. But if you get a postcard from me, you'll be able to see that I'm right.