Popular or Best?

This was originally published at About This Particular Macintosh, January 1998.


I recently had a computer purchase discussion with my sister—She and her husband would like to have a PC so that Jake and Jamie (my niece and nephew—ages 2 1/2 and 4 1/2) can learn computers and have some fun. Every time the Js are over, they have a great time on my Quadra, playing kids’ games I downloaded off the net.

The bad news is my brother-in-law—an otherwise decent fellow—is considering purchasing a Wintel machine for their home. The reason Sis gave for possibly making this egregious error was curious: “Windows is the most popular” computer option.

The phrase “most popular” not the “best” or “most useful,” but most popular—stuck in my craw for a few days.

I was disturbed by the thought of my niece & nephews’ first real computer experiences being Wintel; Disturbed enough to do a little research into some of the world’s most popular (but not necessarily best, or even 3rd or 8th best) things:

• The single that spent the most consecutive weeks (54) on the US charts is “The Macarena,” by Los Del Rio. “The Macarena” dethroned the previous consecutive chart topper, “Oh, What a Night” (by The Four Seasons)

• The world’s most translated author is everyone’s favorite commie, Vladimir Lenin. (3,842 translations). William Shakespeare is a distant fourth with 1,689 translations.

• The longest running Broadway play of all time is Cats (1982 to present).

• The U.S. President who was elected with the largest popular majority was none other than Tricky Dick—Richard M. Nixon won with 47.1 million to McGovern’s 29.1 million votes.

• The most-watched weekly program in television history is Baywatch. Nielsen Media Research puts its weekly viewership in 110 countries at 2.3 billion (That is right, billion). At a distant second is Jim Henson’s The Muppets. With barely 10% of Baywatch’s audience, a mere 235 million people in 106 countries enjoy Kermit the Frog weekly.

• The best selling novel of all time—at 30 million copies—is Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann.

• The Number 3 Best Selling Music Video of all time is “Step By Step” by New Kids On The Block. The Number 2 best seller is “Hangin’ Tough” by—that’s right again—New Kids On The Block. Incidentally, Hangin’ Tough was previously the number 1 best selling music video of all time, until it was displaced by (I couldn’t even make this stuff up if I tried) “Hangin’ Tough Live,” by New Kids On The Block.

• The world’s best selling prepared food is that gustatory treat, the Big Mac, at over 14 billion served.

• The world’s largest daily circulation newspaper is neither the Wall Street Journal nor the New York Times, but Pravda, at 10 million copies per day.

• Though not a public corporation (with no accompanying public financial disclosure required), the highest revenue generating infomercial is believed to be The Psychic Friends’ Network (1-900 Psychic).

• The final numbers have not been tallied yet, but it appears that Elton John’s re-release of “Candle In The Wind:” Rose of England (Tribute to Princess Diana) is about to pass Bing Crosby’s White Christmas for best selling single of all time.

• The world’s best selling brewery is Anheiser Busch; makers of many fine products—most notably its biggest seller—Budweiser Beer.

• Not too long ago, “(Whoomp) There It Is” by Tag Team was the year’s best selling single.

• 1996’s best selling non-fiction book was Make the Connection by that literary lion herself, Oprah Winfrey (co-written by her dean of letters, Bob Greene).

• The most watched event in television history is Princess Di’s funeral, which displaced the previous number one: The Royal Wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. Man’s landing on the moon is a bit further down the list.

• The best selling film soundtrack of all time is The Bodyguard.

• The fastest selling Debut Album of all time was Hootie and the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View, which sold 14 million copies.

Sources: Top Ten of Everything, by Russel Ash (DIK Publishing); Nielsen Media Research; The Book of Mosts, Aaron Cohl (St. Martin’s Press); Guinness Book of World Records, 1997; Issac Asimov’s Book of Facts.

My purpose in putting together this assortment of “Best Sellers” is not to mock or humiliate people who are fond of popular things (Okay, maybe I can mock fans of Hootie and the Blowfish and tweak Nixon supporters a little). Rather, it was to gather some ammo to poke holes in the blind argument used by the Wintel crowd: it’s the most popular platform, therefore, you should get it.

My apologies in advance if this comes across as too pretentious or condescending; obviously, it is a selective list. There are many fine products and services that sell well—the Beatles, Star Wars, and the Honda Accord are just a few examples. It just seems to me that, for the most part, people have a hard time distinguishing between qualitative and quantitative factors.

I hope my little diatribe provides you with a suitable response the next time you overhear some pinhead using this nonsense to talk someone out of getting a superior product.

-Barry Ritholtz, January 1998.

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