Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Popular ≠ Mainstream

When we don’t know what book to buy, we often turn to a bestseller list. Because what’s popular ought to be good. Problem is, what’s on a bestseller list often isn’t popular.

You’d think selling more books than all the other authors lands you a place on an acclaimed list. Not quite. To make it onto the list of the New York Times, you need somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000 book sales and a few friends in important places.

Hardly the requirements you’d expect from a bestseller list.

Movie success is more straightforward: success is dictated by sales. But even America’s most popular movie of 2019, Avengers: Endgame, only sold about 93 million tickets. Which means most Americans did not see the most popular movie of the year.

And it’s no different when it comes to hit songs, viral videos, or dank memes.

What’s popular is actually NOT mainstream. It’s a niche.

The Super Bowl may be the most watched American event of the year, but most of the world doesn’t even know it’s going on. Your Facebook may be blowing up with posts about Tiger King, but your neighbor across the street may have no idea what a Tiger King is.

Because the internet connects all of us, it’s almost impossible for anything to be truly mainstream. No new book, sports event, sneaker, hairstyle, artwork, or song is liked the world over.

Today, almost every fad is liked by a clear and identifiable minority with shared beliefs. In other words, fads are enjoyed by cults.

What does that mean?

If you’re a consumer, it means: don’t fall for the popularity trap. That book you saw didn’t make the bestseller list because it was loved by everyone, the book made the list because it was loved by a minority.

If you’re a producer, it means: your audience is never the world, your country, or an army of people. Your audience is likely much smaller.

In fact, your audience is probably a cult with very clear tastes who wouldn’t like to be mistaken for the mainstream. More than anything, your audience would like to be told, “You’re special. And I know you have trouble finding what you want in the traditional places. Which is why I made you this.”

Why else do you think we have so many different news outlets? There’s no majority who gets their news from one source.

For some Fox News is too right, NPR is too left, and CBS is too centrist. So everyone tunes in to the media channel who thinks most like them.

The mainstream is wrong. Only cults are right.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach