This article is a first in a series of articles related to the often bizarre, unique and/or novelty items that are on sale on Amazon.com. Each article is intended to go in-depth and investiage the origins of the item and/or why it has culture significance.
First, let's start by discussing what the "long tail" is. In mathematics, the long tail refers to a statistical distribution where many occurrences are far from the head of the distribution. Perhaps a picture (below) will illustrate it best.
Chris Anderson and the Long Tail
The context that we use the term "long tail" in today's internet age has shifted to describe online marketplace theory. The Long Tail distribution now describes and predicts how the prevalence of the low occurrences of items (such as novelty items) if things are sold through online. This is made possible when the cost of holding the inventory and the distributions costs are relatively negligible. That way, stores like Amazon.com can house a great number of product in their distribution centers without a need for housing the items on shelf. The items can be ship to customers "on-demand". We no longer have to make the best product for a vast majority of people, but instead stock many relatively obscure items that sell to varying individuals.
This market theory was originally coined by Chris Anderson in his seminal book: The Long Tail: Why The Future of Business Is Selling Less of More.
Anderson argued that products with relatively niche demand or that have a low sales volume can collectively make up a good chunk of the market share. It's been estimated that niche books collectively make up 1/3 of the market share of all books sold on Amazon.com.
So there are so many items out there are only cater to a few people (perhaps hundreds, but definitely not thousands). Had the long tail not made this possible, these items may not be sold online or reach so many customers. My goal is to highlight these obscure items in the online marketplace through my series of articles called Unique Gifts and Novelty Items and to drive commentary and discussion on just how bizarre these items can be. Is there really a need for a horse head mask? Let's find out.
Unique Gift and Novelty: Item 1
The first item I've come across is a Horse Head Mask. It's kind of bizarre really, but until I read more on the subject, I didn't recognize the cultural significance.
A Horse Mask is used as a sign of anonymity. It's used as gag, like at a Halloween party, but one of the cited origins is apparently from Japan (and similar to the Guy Fawkes mask seen on V for Vendetta).
Another theory is that it originated from a popular travel guide, Lonely Planet, in which the the book called The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel was dedicated to exploring different traveling styles that are "unique". It encouraged people to travel with a horse mask as one of its suggestions.
I think probably the most prominent example of this in recent cultural references is the person nicknamed the "Horse Boy". You might have seen him in many Google Street-view images where you see him staying idly by as the Google camera van passes. Below is a picture of him.