The American Idol-ization of Commerce

Sean Carton of ClickZ wrote this article about, a community where the members vote on which T-shirt designs they like the best, and the top vote-getters are produced and sold.

To me, Threadless is just another example of the American Idol-ization of commerce. After all, the current system of producing content, where artists create content, and a publishing industry decides which artists to distribute, is terribly inefficient. The reason it exists is because the costs of distribution and infrastructure were too high for artists and audience to connect directly.

In the world of the Web, those costs have declined by orders of magnitude. But it isn’t enough to simply create a product and start hawking it. As Steve Jobs put it, “It’s called taste.” Not everything is fit to print.

That’s where American Idol comes in. What American Idol shows is that if you simply throw open a competition to every budding artist, and let the nation decide what it likes, you can eliminate the uncertainty of the publishing process. Each American Idol winner has a massive built-in audience of fans, which helps explain why recent Idol winners (and even runner-ups) have debuted with platinum records.

Threadless does the same, on a smaller scale, for T-shirts. What can you do to Idol-ize your business?

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