It's useful as a librarian to stay informed about what books are on the weekly and yearly bestseller lists. That led to my musing about what makes a book, CD, or movie have mass appeal. And it's not just a James Patterson who dominates the lists. Look at Kathryn Stockett's The Help, for example, a debut work of historical fiction that's done incredibly well this year, the longest-running fiction title of the year on the Publishers Weekly hardcover bestseller list. (Related thing to consider: what makes a debut author take off?)
Maybe it depends whether we're talking about books, music, or film for what constitutes mass appeal. The audiences differ in that some people aren't interested in buying books and the same applies to buying CDs or movie tickets.
Of course marketing is a huge factor for any type of media. Projects with well-known names and plenty of money behind them have the advantage. But is that as much of a factor for staying power? Books like The Help must get bolstered by favorable reviews and, more importantly, word of mouth. It has become the book club book of the year--along with Three Cups of Tea in the nonfiction category.
Perhaps for their leisure reading, people across the board don't spend a lot of time digging for lesser-known titles and can just be guided by bestseller lists and what has gotten a lot of publicity lately. And once an author has caught on, people will be waiting expectantly for his or her next title, and series are hot. It would be interesting to know the statistics about what people expect from their leisure reading.