Who, What, Where, When

As accustomed as we have become to the idea that scientists “construct” theories and “produce” explanations, and regardless of the controversies among scientists, the fact remains that they only disclose to us a world that came into being without the sciences or other human contributions. Galileo may have conceptualized and formalized the phases of Venus, but the phases themselves had manifestly always existed. Galileo’s fabricated hypothesis simply became the acknowledged fact. By contrast, in conceptualizing technological projects, engineers produce fictions. The technology concerned does not, and by definition could not, exist, since it is in the project phase.

New business models, however, demonstrate that selling small quantities of many “niche” items can be more profitable than selling a few blockbuster items. In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson argues that niche markets—subsets of consumers interested in particular products—are more accessible today than ever, and that although the demand for any particular niche-focused product will be limited, there are so many niches that together these products make up a huge market. He mentions a large online bookstore, in which half of the top 10,000 books sold less than one copy per quarter.