From the 1926 birth of the Book-of-the-Month Club to the advent of Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, consumers have relied on tastemakers to determine what's hot or not in mainstream pop culture. But this inventive crop of post-Amazon companies shines a guiding light into the underground.
Can't find the CD by a band out of music's latest hotbed, Omaha, Nebr.? Try CD Baby, which sells music online by more than 45,000 indie recording artists, both breakthrough acts like Jack Johnson--whose bluesy pop album Brushfire Fairytales stormed radio airwaves in 2001--and lesser-known, critically acclaimed gems like Ordinary Peoples (hip-hop), Q*Ball (electronica), or Garth Steel Klippert (rock). By dealing directly with artists, CD Baby can pay them 10 times more than other retailers. The site's editors recommend personal favorites--acts you may not know but ought to--on a free compilation CD. (www.cdbaby.com)
Each month, cineastes who subscribe to the online Film Movement receive a new DVD release of award-winning films from top festivals such as Cannes, Toronto, and Sundance. Don't expect to find these selections at Blockbuster or NetFlix--Film Movement secures exclusive DVD rights. Memberships cost $19.95 per month (or $189 annually) and include such perks as e-mail access to directors and screening invitations. (www.filmmovement.com)
Budding art collectors browse the online gallery of Mixed Greens, which sells limited-edition works by more than 30 American artists and photographers. Potential buyers take advantage of online consultations with curators who make recommendations based on a digital photograph of your space and personal style preferences. (www.mixedgreens.com)