There's an interesting, if not altogether surprising, article written by a professor who recently did a study on "cumulative advantage" which suggests, effectively, that popularity begets more popularity
. On its own, this shouldn't surprise anyone. We all know that once something starts to get popular, word of mouth discussions and just the fact that people tend to hear or see that thing more often tends to expand the market even further. The study done by the researchers suggests that there's quite a bit of randomness involved. They found that hit songs tend to become hits almost by accident (which probably won't make the folks at Hit Song Science
very happy). Basically, once a song catches on, it tends to snowball into popularity -- whether or not it's actually any good. As the author notes, this has many different implications.
One implication that isn't discussed in the article is that this actually supports the idea that giving away content for promotional purposes is a very important strategy in developing a brand. The results of the study suggest that obscurity is a major force in killing the prospects of just about any creative work -- and the real trick is to promote the hell out of content until it starts to catch on. So, if you're trying to grab attention, why not give away the content to build up the name and make it easier for the content to gain the necessary popularity to hit that tipping point where popularity snowballs? At that point, plenty of new business models are apparent, because now, as the creator of a "hit" you're in demand, and there's only so much of you to go around (basically, access to the hitmaker is a scarce resource
, while the content the hitmaker makes is not).