The Popularity Issue

Even in our present era of 10,000 niches, mass customization, and the “long tail”—of companies selling fewer items from a far vaster inventory—we are, arguably, governed more than ever by what’s popular. Thanks to the Internet’s ability to rank everything, one can dwell almost exclusively in the world of trending Twitter topics, of top-reviewed restaurants, of bestselling books, of the cutest cute-cat YouTube videos. News sites all feature tallies of the Most Read, Most E-mailed, and Most Commented On articles—creating a self-reinforcing conversation.

Is all this popularity data enriching us, or does it obscure new paths of discovery? Are crowds wise, or do they follow the pack and middle-of-the-road? A deep dive into what’s totally beast, right now—not just the bestselling, but the fastest-selling; not merely the market leaders, but the ones gaining the most market share—proves that while there’s no accounting for taste, the data can be helpful and even inspiring. It highlights huge, wealth-creating opportunities as well as under-appreciated ways that cash flows to the sublime.

Each entry in this survey represents either a market leader or the person, product, or trend that experienced the greatest commercial growth or surge in popularity during 2010, or between last year and this one.

We plotted the entries based on a relevant number along a scale beginning at 0 and running to 14,594,874,110,347. Some figures are literal (Nordstrom’s revenue, $9.7 billion), others symbolic (the rpms of the top-selling turntable, 33⅓).

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