The Technium

1,000 True Fans

[Translations: French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish]

The long tail is famously good news for two classes of people; a few lucky aggregators, such as Amazon and Netflix, and 6 billion consumers. Of those two, I think consumers earn the greater reward from the wealth hidden in infinite niches.

But the long tail is a decidedly mixed blessing for creators. Individual artists, producers, inventors and makers are overlooked in the equation. The long tail does not raise the sales of creators much, but it does add massive competition and endless downward pressure on prices. Unless artists become a large aggregator of other artist's works, the long tail offers no path out of the quiet doldrums of minuscule sales.

Other than aim for a blockbuster hit, what can an artist do to escape the long tail?

One solution is to find 1,000 True Fans. While some artists have discovered this path without calling it that, I think it is worth trying to formalize. The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

Truefans-1

To raise your sales out of the flatline of the long tail you need to connect with your True Fans directly.  Another way to state this is, you need to convert a thousand Lesser Fans into a thousand True Fans.

Assume conservatively that your True Fans will each spend one day's wages per year in support of what you do. That "one-day-wage" is an average, because of course your truest fans will spend a lot more than that.  Let's peg that per diem each True Fan spends at $100 per year. If you have 1,000 fans that sums up to $100,000 per year, which minus some modest expenses, is a living for most folks.

One thousand is a feasible number. You could count to 1,000. If you added one fan a day, it would take only three years. True Fanship is doable. Pleasing a True Fan is pleasurable, and invigorating. It rewards the artist to remain true, to focus on the unique aspects of their work, the qualities that True Fans appreciate.

The key challenge is that you have to maintain direct contact with your 1,000 True Fans. They are giving you their support directly. Maybe they come to your house concerts, or they are buying your DVDs from your website, or they order your prints from Pictopia. As much as possible you retain the full amount of their support. You also benefit from the direct feedback and love.

The technologies of connection and small-time manufacturing make this circle possible. Blogs and RSS feeds trickle out news, and upcoming appearances or new works. Web sites host galleries of your past work, archives of biographical information, and catalogs of paraphernalia. Diskmakers, Blurb, rapid prototyping shops, Myspace, Facebook, and the entire digital domain all conspire to make duplication and dissemination in small quantities fast, cheap and easy. You don't need a million fans to justify producing something new. A mere one thousand is sufficient.

This small circle of diehard fans, which can provide you with a living, is surrounded by concentric circles of Lesser Fans. These folks will not purchase everything you do, and may not seek out direct contact, but they will buy much of what you produce. The processes you develop to feed your True Fans will also nurture Lesser Fans. As you acquire new True Fans, you can also add many more Lesser Fans. If you keep going, you may indeed end up with millions of fans and reach a hit. I don't know of any creator who is not interested in having a million fans.

But the point of this strategy is to say that you don't need a hit to survive.  You don't need to aim for the short head of best-sellerdom to escape the long tail. There is a place in the middle, that is not very far away from the tail, where you can at least make a living. That mid-way haven is called 1,000 True Fans. It is an alternate destination for an artist to aim for.

Young artists starting out in this digitally mediated world have another path other than stardom, a path made possible by the very technology that creates the long tail. Instead of trying to reach the narrow and unlikely peaks of platinum hits, bestseller blockbusters, and celebrity status, they can aim for direct connection with 1,000 True Fans. It's a much saner destination to hope for. You make a living instead of a fortune. You are surrounded not by fad and fashionable infatuation, but by True Fans. And you are much more likely to actually arrive there.

A few caveats. This formula - one thousand direct True Fans --  is crafted for one person, the solo artist. What happens in a duet, or quartet, or movie crew? Obviously, you'll need more fans. But the additional fans you'll need are in direct geometric proportion to the increase of your creative group. In other words, if you increase your group size by 33%, you need add only 33% more fans. This linear growth is in contrast to the exponential growth by which many things in the digital domain inflate. I would not be surprised to find that the value of your True Fans network follows the standard network effects rule, and increases as the square of the number of Fans. As your True Fans connect with each other, they will more readily increase their average spending on your works. So while increasing the numbers of artists involved in creation increases the number of True Fans needed, the increase does not explode, but rises gently and in proportion.

A more important caution: Not every artist is cut out, or willing, to be a nurturer of fans. Many musicians just want to play music, or photographers just want to shoot, or painters paint, and they temperamentally don't want to deal with fans, especially True Fans. For these creatives, they need a mediator, a manager, a handler, an agent, a galleryist -- someone to manage their fans.  Nonetheless, they can still aim for the same middle destination of 1,000 True Fans. They are just working in a duet.

Third distinction. Direct fans are best. The number of True Fans needed to make a living indirectly inflates fast, but not infinitely. Take blogging as an example. Because fan support for a blogger routes through advertising clicks (except in the occasional tip-jar), more fans are needed for a blogger to make a living. But while this moves the destination towards the left on the long tail curve, it is still far short of blockbuster territory. Same is true in book publishing. When you have corporations involved in taking the majority of the revenue for your work, then it takes many times more True Fans to support you. To the degree an author cultivates direct contact with his/her fans, the smaller the number needed.

Lastly, the actual number may vary depending on the media. Maybe it is 500 True Fans for a painter and 5,000 True Fans for a videomaker. The numbers must surely vary around the world. But in fact the actual number is not critical, because it cannot be determined except by attempting it. Once you are in that mode, the actual number will become evident. That will be the True Fan number that works for you. My formula may be off by an order of magnitude, but even so, its far less than a million.

I've been scouring the literature for any references to the True Fan number. Suck.com co-founder Carl Steadman had theory about microcelebrities. By his count, a microcelebrity was someone famous to 1,500 people. So those fifteen hundred would rave about you. As quoted by Danny O'Brien, "One person in every town in Britain likes your dumb online comic. That's enough to keep you in beers (or T-shirt sales) all year."

Others call this microcelebrity support micro-patronage, or distributed patronage.

In 1999 John Kelsey and Bruce Schneier published a model for this in First Monday, an online journal. They called it the Street Performer Protocol.

Using the logic of a street performer, the author goes directly to the readers before the book is published; perhaps even before the book is written. The author bypasses the publisher and makes a public statement on the order of: "When I get $100,000 in donations, I will release the next novel in this series."

Readers can go to the author's Web site, see how much money has already been donated, and donate money to the cause of getting his novel out. Note that the author doesn't care who pays to get the next chapter out; nor does he care how many people read the book that didn't pay for it. He just cares that his $100,000 pot gets filled. When it does, he publishes the next book. In this case "publish" simply means "make available," not "bind and distribute through bookstores." The book is made available, free of charge, to everyone: those who paid for it and those who did not.

In 2004 author Lawrence Watt-Evans used this model to publish his newest novel. He asked his True Fans to collectively pay $100 per month. When he got $100 he posted the next chapter of the novel. The entire book was published online for his True Fans, and then later in paper for all his fans. He is now writing a second novel this way. He gets by on an estimated 200 True Fans because he also publishes in the traditional manner -- with advances from a publisher supported by thousands of Lesser Fans.  Other authors who use fans to directly support their work are Diane Duane, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and Don Sakers. Game designer Greg Stolze employed a similar True Fan model to launch two pre-financed games. Fifty of his True Fans contributed seed money for his development costs.

The genius of the True Fan model is that the fans are able to move an artist away from the edges of the long tail to a degree larger than their numbers indicate. They can do this in three ways: by purchasing more per person, by spending directly so the creator keeps more per sale, and by enabling new models of support.

New models of support include micro-patronage. Another model is pre-financing the startup costs. Digital technology enables this fan support to take many shapes. Fundable is a web-based enterprise which allows anyone to raise a fixed amount of money for a project, while reassuring the backers the project will happen. Fundable withholds the money until the full amount is collected. They return the money if the minimum is not reached.

Fundable

Here's an example from Fundable's site;

Amelia, a twenty-year-old classical soprano singer, pre-sold her first CD before entering a recording studio. "If I get $400 in pre-orders, I will be able to afford the rest [of the studio costs]," she told potential contributors. Fundable's all-or-nothing model ensured that none of her customers would lose money if she fell short of her goal. Amelia sold over $940 in albums.

A thousand dollars won't keep even a starving artist alive long, but with serious attention, a dedicated artist can do better with their True Fans. Jill Sobule, a musician who has nurtured a sizable following over many years of touring and recording, is doing well relying on her True Fans. Recently she decided to go to her fans to finance the $75,000 professional recording fees she needed for her next album. She has raised close to $50,000 so far. By directly supporting her via their patronage, the fans gain intimacy with their artist. According to the Associated Press:

Contributors can choose a level of pledges ranging from the $10 "unpolished rock," which earns them a free digital download of her disc when it's made, to the $10,000 "weapons-grade plutonium level," where she promises "you get to come and sing on my CD. Don't worry if you can't sing - we can fix that on our end." For a $5,000 contribution, Sobule said she'll perform a concert in the donor's house. The lower levels are more popular, where donors can earn things like an advanced copy of the CD, a mention in the liner notes and a T-shirt identifying them as a "junior executive producer" of the CD.

The usual alternative to making a living based on True Fans is poverty.  A study as recently as 1995 showed that the accepted price of being an artist was large. Sociologist Ruth Towse surveyed artists in Britian and determined that on average they earned below poverty subsistence levels.

I am suggesting there is a home for creatives in between poverty and stardom. Somewhere lower than stratospheric bestsellerdom, but higher than the obscurity of the long tail. I don't know the actual true number, but I think a dedicated artist could cultivate 1,000 True Fans, and by their direct support using new technology, make an honest living.  I'd love to hear from anyone who might have settled on such a path.

Updates:

One artist who partially relies on True Fans responds with a disclosure of his finances: The Reality of Depending on True Fans

I report the results of my survey of artists supported by True Fans: The Case Against 1000 True Fans

Posted on March 4, 2008 at 1:51 PM | Comments (282)



Comments

Kevin,

I don’t know where to begin. Amazing insight.

As an artist, the dream is to “hit it big” or sell out. As you mentioned, “poverty” is the alternative to creating relationships with 1000 True Fans. Either financial poverty or worse: the poverty of a talent unfulfilled.

It is so clear to me now that “creating” (online or not) should be about relationship generating. I’ve long said that all comedy is niche — it’s all an inside joke. You’re either on the inside (and get it) or are on the outside (are put off, don’t like it, don’t connect, etc.).

Moving towards developing financial relationships with 1000 is certainly not a difficult task, but a observable goal; thanks for the clarity.

I’m looking forward to reading this again, and to sharing it with everyone I know.

apm

Posted by Alec McNayr on March 4, 2008 at 3:22 PM

Kevin- was referred to your post from Seth Godin’s blog. Your observations are insightful and, it seems to me, mostly accurate. I think your comments also tie in nicely with what Seth observes about branding, and also with some behavioral economics as noted in the fascinating new book: “Predictably Irrational” by Daniel Ariely. Ariely might say that “True Fans” derive add’l value from the knowledge that they are unique and “in the know” regarding (insert name of artist here) I am a photographer about 90 miles north of NYC in a lovely area of NY State that receives a fair amount of tourist traffic and I have been able to operate a gallery in the black, including a FT employee, due to: 1) exploiting an unfilled niche 2) providing a quality product at a reasonable price 3) making the gallery presentation museum-quality (see Ariely where he notes that a high priced menu item generates sales for the lower priced offering) 4) branding my name with advertising. Not everyone will be able, or want to do all these things, and the variables, e.g., proximity to a metro area will not always be possible, but the principles are the same and technology, esp the web, is the new railroad — a paradigm-buster. My weak link remains the web but we’re re-designing the site and looking to utilize this venue more efficiently and in keeping with our customer expectations. It’s a wonderful time to be an artist because of this technology! Though I am not a designer, every year I design on my computer and have printed in China (!) 2000 calendars for $2.50@ and sell them here for $14.95 - thank you technology! And every year the True Fans come out of the woodwork to purchase them. At this point, like Jimmy Buffet (perfect example of a True Fan artist) says about his hit song “Margaritaville,” “It’s not really mine anymore - it’s theirs.” Thanks for the insights!

Posted by G. Steve Jordan on March 4, 2008 at 3:42 PM

Kevin, first off I saw this because Seth Godin sent out a tweet, and I believe it’s one of the best articles I’ve read in a long, long time. I am a woodturner. I turn exotic bowls, wine stoppers, and make small items for wedding favors. I think you are right in that 1,000 true fans is something to shoot for and should make an artist sustainable. I also believe that 1,000 true fans will obviously lead to more than 1,000 true fans due to just sheer mass. I would say, online I have between 50 and 100 fans. I am not sure exactly how I would define “true fans” I have not been in it long enough to generate a lot of second and third purchases. However, I did do a social media experiment where as by I needed to make a last ring payment for my girlfriends ring to ask her to Marry me the night before Podcamp Toronto. I sold more than I needed in bowls and it was the busiest 4 days of my life. This being said, I hope to have generated some “True” fans through this method. I also plan to do some partial charity work where inspired pieces will go to “The Frozen Pea Fund” I think following your heart, being upfront and honest, and helping where you can will go a long way to building a very loyal following of “Super Fans”
I am an artist, and I know many artists…I think their one stumbling block is not staying in contact. I went to an art show and wrote my name on every mailing list sheet I could get a hold of. I was never contacted once by any of them. So in my estimation, it will not be hard to stand out, it is not hard to be different, and it is not hard to be “Excellent” as Seth Godin would say. Seth was interviewed by Mitch Joel at Tedd, and I listened to the podcast. One thing he said really resonated with me and please don’t quote me. The gist was that the barrier to entry has been dropped. You could have an obscure craft that was in demand by 5000 people 50 years ago, but these people were located all over the world. That artist would probably have starved. These days with the barriers broken, those 5,000 (Fans) people, purchasers of your product can keep an artist thriving! I guess, I see my self as that obscure artist who does beautiful work, but not always in the mainstream eye. If you ever wanted to work one on one with anyone and test this theory, I would be 1000% game. I am very committed, and I work smart. If nothing else I am a true “Fan” of your blog now. Thank you for the post Keith Burtis

Posted by Keith Burtis on March 4, 2008 at 3:45 PM

Wow…quite thought provoking. Definitely going to be on my mind for a bit while I try to figure out how to work it into my business.

Posted by Mike Piper on March 4, 2008 at 4:53 PM

I think this is te most compelling factor on the long tail… we don;t have to reside in the infinite to benefit. we can simply find a cluster who care. Steve.

Posted by Steve Sammartino on March 4, 2008 at 5:12 PM

This is absolutely brilliant - bang on. As an artist myself, I always wondered exactly how I would fit into the Long Tail. Turns out I’m already on the path to 1000 True Fans (well, just part of the way there), without having defined it that way. Thanks so much for sharing this.

Posted by Marc Johns on March 4, 2008 at 5:45 PM

My goal is to get 1,000 true fans.

My website is about overcoming addiction. I currently have 40 true fans (RSS subscribers….these are the people who have elected to read every thing that I publish on the site).

In some niches, 1,000 RSS subscribers isn’t worth a hoot. In fact, 10,000 isn’t worth all that much in some niches. But because my particular niche is so young in the online world, it is prime real estate.

I don’t think the monetization is so important just yet. Having a 1,000 true fans represents a turning point with a blog such as mine. It starts building on itself, and creates leverage for other projects and monetization options.

I definitely think 1,000 true fans could put me into “make-a-living” territory, if I play my cards right. Awesome ideas here, thanks for the excellent post!

Posted by Patrick on March 4, 2008 at 6:00 PM

Well-developed theory and, as you point out, already in practice by some creative people who don’t have delusions of blockbuster success, yet would prefer not to be completely starving artists. However, I wonder if more thought could be paid to this note of caution:

“Not every artist is cut out, or willing, to be a nurturer of fans. Many musicians just want to play music, or photographers just want to shoot, or painters paint, and they temperamentally don’t want to deal with fans, especially True Fans.”

Even if they have a manager to help be the front person for their fan-cultivation needs, there are still more marketing responsibilities required of artists (even indie ones) than in the past. And this weirds out many introverted, yet ingenious, creators.

Therefore, I wonder, is the popular reclusive artist a notion of the past? Will nearly every artist of the future have to be a little bit more marketing-minded, a little more in touch with their fans? And, if so, what will that do to art? Will the world simply miss out more often on the next Salingers, Jandeks and Pynchons?

Posted by Jeff on March 4, 2008 at 6:15 PM

I think this is just about right on.

I’ve estimated I have about 300 of what Kevin Kelly calls “true fans”, and I am earning about 1/3 of my living with my self-publishing (in print and eBooks). Over the past three years it has been my objective to shift my position left-ward on the “long-tail”, increasing access to my “fans”, and increasing my income, largely using interactive video over the internet to connect more closely with those who can pay me for my helping them care for their historic buildings.

This past year it really seems to be working and Kevin’s essay “1000 True Fans” crystalizes my thinking on this and gives me new criteria for measuring my success, and two new ways to push in that direction.

Kevin, thanks for posting this.

John by hammer and hand great works do stand by pen and thought best words are wrought by cam and light he shoots it right

www.HistoricHomeWorks.com

Posted by John Leeke on March 4, 2008 at 6:36 PM

You mention fundable.org as a good resource… my absolutely favorite site for raising funds and creating useful campaigns is www.thepoint.com. Their site is really well put together, community-driven, and is effortlessly integrated with a lot of social networking stuff to make it easier to spread the word.

Before you ask, no I don’t work for them, but my friend does, and the company really is a super useful tool for artists to raise funds via a tipping-point model.

-Mark

Posted by Mark on March 4, 2008 at 6:44 PM

Great post, Kevin! I totally agree with what you’re saying here, and so does Malcolm Gladwell. He once wrote that becoming the “famous superstar” is like a tournament - many people start, but only one comes out on top. And as you mentioned, too, the chances of getting there are slim to none. Furthermore, according to Duncan Watts (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/122/is-the-tipping-point-toast.html) the chance of reaching super-stardom status are quite random!

Posted by Shawn@MoneyBrick on March 4, 2008 at 7:08 PM

Kevin, Thanks for the great post. It gave me a new approach on how I really should be tailoring my marketing campaigns as an independent filmmaker.

Kevin Tostado Director of indie award-winner Yellow Lights DVD Now available at http://www.yellowlightsmovie.com

Posted by Kevin Tostado on March 4, 2008 at 8:40 PM

Selling out at its apex. Needs to be done? yes no… maybe. interesting post to say the least.

Posted by Steven Jacobs on March 4, 2008 at 9:43 PM

Great article. This is an approach that often gets overlooked, but it is probably the most rewarding for creators who value their work and its results over their own personal fame. That being said, 1,000 true fans will last you a lot longer than the standard 15 minutes from 10,000 bandwagon jumpers…

Good writing, good examples, good point. You may have earned yourself a new fan.

Posted by Keeyai on March 4, 2008 at 10:04 PM

This is excellent, thank you. I have been meaning to do some more research on understanding the long tail and this is an informative place to begin.

This clearly makes sense to the creator/artist, but I am more curious how well this parlays into the niche service industry.

Posted by Conor Neu on March 4, 2008 at 11:53 PM

Thank you Kevin for this enlightening write-up - for those who like me and my readers who strive to become independent of the existing work system, your ability to have articulated this out is absolutely fantastic.

Not only.

I believe that the greatest outcome of this may go actually well beyond the economic benefit that such people could gain.

It is in fact in our newly conquered ability to do what we really want and what we are inspired to that in my humble opinion will create the biggest impact and the most positive consequences.

Identifying and articulating so clearly how those who have something to share can indeed not only survive but also create more wealth and opportunity for themselves and for others is certainly the greatest news you could ever bring here for me.

Thanks from the heart.

Posted by Robin Good on March 4, 2008 at 11:55 PM

Excellent article but I think there is another thing worth mentioning. Most creative artists I know would rather create things than market them, but I think this is because of two main reasons. Firstly you need to learn marketing the same as you need to learn to compose music, paint, perform etc. Secondly most creative people cannot distinguish between the mendacious hype of wall to wall, bad advertising and true marketing, i.e. reaching the people who are interested in what you do. I am certain that no matter how shy your are there is a marketing style that will be concomitant with your personality. We all know about the private lives of many singers and seen provocative photographs of them. Yet there are also people like Enya who has kept her private life almost entirely to herself. This shows that many different ways work within the same business.

Posted by Ian Stewart on March 5, 2008 at 12:21 AM

You linked Tipjoy as as tip-jar that is an exception to the most common blogger route to monetization: Ads. Links themselves are a form of currency exchanged in a blogger support network with link, commenters’ URLs, trackbacks, blog-rolls etc.

Links are an interesting micro currency because they are really all about building notoriety to increase the fan base. A good example is Instapundit, a lone power blogger. I’ve seen it countless times where a linked smaller blog posts an addendum saying “Thanks for the link, Instapundit. Readers, check out the rest of the site and stay a while”

To use your parlance, the blogger network is a recommendation system to bring new lesser fans and hopefully True Fans to a blog.

Services that nurture and grow a fan base, connecting fans to content creators in new ways, will grow. MySpace exploded because the connection between musicians and fans scaled perfectly from high school punk bands to major musicians. The former use it as a forum for friends with the latter as a news and information dispersion system.

I’ve seen a number of new startups going after the patronage model. A well designed mechanism to allow connections between creators and patrons online needs to scale well across fans categories. A very small number of True Fans can give significant support, some will use tools like Tipjoy to give micro-support, and a great many will simply discover the artist with their work available, distributed, and promoted through the system.

Posted by Ivan Kirigin on March 5, 2008 at 12:35 AM

Really great post. I doubt that most artists would take the time to gather and manage 1,000 true fans. Most of them do not have time/patience/know-how to do such thing. So there’s a great opportunity for “a mediator, a manager, a handler, an agent, a galleryist” to promote long-tail artists and manage their tribes/fans. But that’s a real full time job, and it also requires the artist and the manager to collaborate well together.

Posted by Gael Ovide-Etienne on March 5, 2008 at 1:21 AM

Hey, just a correction to the info above regarding Jill Sobule. Jill is an American (not Canadian) artist, born in Denver and currently residing in Los Angeles. She was interviewed recently by the Associated Press about her fan-financed CD project (www.jillsnextrecord.com), and the resulting article was picked up by a number of media outlets, including the Canadian Press. Just thought I’d set the record straight on that.

Posted by BoTo on March 5, 2008 at 2:22 AM

That is true. But everybody dreams big. That is why nobody will go for a 1000 true fan policy.

Posted by Niyaz PK on March 5, 2008 at 2:34 AM

Fantastic. I love how it quantifies and places a finite (although slightly arbitary) on the concept. So many times wonderful ideas fall short in their ability to convert to practical application without work by the user. Not saying this should not be done, but it’s refreshing when an “author” takes that further initiative. Will let you know when I have successfully used this model!

Posted by Dini Dangerfield on March 5, 2008 at 2:45 AM

Nice theory, but only really applicable to the ‘performing’ arts or the ‘fine’ arts � in other words, those which are directly purchased by the consumer. ‘Commercial’ art such as photography, feature writing or design is more often based on a model of selling to an outlet - a publication, website, agency, gallery etc - either on a bespoke, commissioned basis or as a one-off sale. In which case, the ‘1,000 true fans’ are more like ‘100 (or 10, or whatever number works) reliable clients’, which has been the ideal for most freelance commercial artists for a long time. A mix of the two is an interesting concept, though.

Posted by bylinegoeshere on March 5, 2008 at 3:34 AM

Simply a great post! Here my post to spread your theory also in Italy:) http://internet.blogosfere.it/2008/03/1000-veri-fan-questa-teoria-e-gia-nella-storia.html

Monty

Posted by Marco Montemagno on March 5, 2008 at 3:39 AM

Wonderful post, I don’t have 1,000 True Fans yet, but now that I have read this, I want 1,000 True Fans. I have never been shooting for stardom, but living above the poverty level is my main goal. I have accomplished this [living above the poverty line from my work] but it has taken 10 years to get there. With this model, I know it could work a lot faster. Lots to think about, thanks for that. :)

Posted by Heather on March 5, 2008 at 3:51 AM

That’s a very insightful post.

I fall in the category of someone making a comfortable living through my blogs - do you have any suggestions to make to people like me about how to gain “true fans”?

At the moment bloggers tend to use the number of RSS readers as a measuring stick of “fans” they have but I’m not sure if it’s an appropriate measure

FYI I found this article via http://www.seobook.com/can-you-build-1-000-true-fans

Posted by Neerav Bhatt on March 5, 2008 at 4:26 AM

Getting fans to fund artists has been something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and after a couple years of talking about it, my friends and I are working on the idea at paycreate.com.

Drop me an email, let me know what you think.

Posted by Jesse Arost on March 5, 2008 at 5:05 AM

Kevin- Great post! I’m a longtime marketing guy who has been teaching young musicians a CRM approach to building their fan base. We usually divide fans into three or four levels…at one end are the “super fans” who will book a berth on your music cruise…at the other are “casual fans” who get dragged by friends to your show and buy a CD. Setting goals for numbers of fans at each level and then customizing a set of money-making offerings for each level can help the artists build a sustainable following without selling their souls to the record companies. The direct connection tools of the Web 2.0 world help facilitate this approach as they make the traditional record-company model obsolete.

Posted by Fred Hundt on March 5, 2008 at 5:13 AM

VERY interesting thought. My wife and I are looking at starting a landscape photography business and I see a lot of wisdom in the 1000 True Fans. Used to work near a Thomas Kincaid gallery and you are most right about how much True Fans are willing to spend. Their devotion is aweinspiring.

Posted by Erebus on March 5, 2008 at 5:29 AM

Brilliance! Seth pointed me in your direction. I’m a budding author (first book to be published spring 2009)generating a growing base of “true” fans. I love the idea that 1000 seems like a doable number. The obscurity associated with the publishing industry coupled with my recent arrival in my fan niche left me feeling doubtful about potential success. Thanks for moving me forward. Regards, Joe

Posted by joe bruzzese on March 5, 2008 at 5:34 AM

I love this idea.

I help out a nonprofit that doesn’t have a marketing department and I run fund raising events for them. The 1000 fans idea would be a great model for us to get money from donations.

Posted by Brett Evans on March 5, 2008 at 5:44 AM

I think you have hit the nail on the head here. This is a really fascinating report. I am an artist and journalist and have for three years been out on my own as a sole proprietor running an indie music label company, a consultancy that takes me around the world and the founder of a non-profit charity. Maybe I have 1,000 true fans but not in any single one of these jobs I perform.

So it is interesting to also consider running multiple solo ventures as a business model. That’s what has worked for me. I started the non-profit to give back to students and pays me nothing.

Yet, through it - I have become networked to many hundreds of others “True fans.” People who support me indirectly through my other businesses. That wasn’t the original plan but it has worked out that way and benefits everyone in a really nice way.

The one thing you need to have is a lot of patience and remain nimble if this is your calling. Things change fast.

Posted by Robb Montgomery on March 5, 2008 at 5:51 AM

The proverbial nail has been hit on the head. A small group of artists here in Chicago have been talking around this belief for some time.

The trick is: how can part-time artists find enough avenues to reach the 1000 true fans. If you consider standard “conversion rates”, somewhere between 1000-10,000 people need to be exposed to your recorded works to capture that one true fan. Maybe it’s less, but that’s a popular ratio.

For a songwriter, live shows provides the greatest potential to capture true fans. In my experience, live shows yield about a 200:1 ratio. So, if you believe this formula, after playing to about 200k people will you find 1000 true fans.

Posted by Mike on March 5, 2008 at 5:57 AM

Great post again Kevin. I’ve tried to elaborate on your thoughts and give some tips on how to actually go about doing this on my own blog.

Fundable is a good tip. One of the problems I see people having is that they have mailing lists but still aren’t engaging properly with their fans. Fundable is still ‘asking for the sale’ and artists are still scared of doing that.

Posted by Julian Moore on March 5, 2008 at 6:03 AM

Great article.

I’m so glad that you explained the concept so clearly.

I’ve had a similar model in my head as I started my own business, publishing illustrated books/products about friendly monsters.

It wasn’t named “1000 true fans” or anything like that, but it just seemed like creating and selling directly to the fan-group is the way to go for people like me.

I hadn’t really equated it to how many fans it might take; I just know I need to bless as many as possible.

Here were my thoughts: (echoing yours)

  1. Don’t rely on a big break; I don’t want my chances of success to ride on the back of an endorsement by Oprah.

I’d rather build my base myself, by hand, because this doesn’t require a rare, crazy-lucky break. I also don’t buy lottery tickets for the only chance to live my dream.

  1. Create relationships directly with the fans. Talk to them, listen to them, and offer them products, directly.

  2. Produce quality stuff that I can be proud of. I’m tired of seeing great ideas watered-down by committees.

  3. Think long term. I try to make things that I can hopefully be proud of 10-15-20 years from now. If I can still be selling my first book when I’m 77, then I’m probably doing something right. (And have probably made a good return on that effort)

The Big Challenge for someone like me is creating enough products that can engage the super-fans for your $100 per fan example.

$100 per person a lot of product, since I can only afford to produce one book per year.

However, you’ve spelled out some other ideas (virtual product, print on demand, donations) that might fill that void.

Okay, back to building.

Thanks again.

Posted by Daniel on March 5, 2008 at 6:12 AM

Thanks for this. It supports my notion that what former CEO of Technorati, David Sifry, called the “magic middle,” is the place to strive to be. While having a hit would be great or being an A-lister something to envy, I think reaching the plateau you’ve described is very realistic. The other is not. And, as your argument so expertly outlines, is unnecessary as well.

Posted by Paul Chaney on March 5, 2008 at 6:14 AM

This is EXACTLY what pharmaceutical marketers do when we work to connect with patients who will tell other patients about our products. We call them Advocates, and they’re people with long-term conditions such as lupus or diabetes who have successfully managed them using pharmaceuticals, lifestyle changes and education. I wrote a lengthy post about Advocates on my blog.

Posted by Alfred O'Neill on March 5, 2008 at 6:33 AM

On this one, I seem to agree with you. I have my own thoughts on this, which I am writing online. See http://paragraphr.com/pages/show/11. What you described as 1000 true fans seems related to what I call success 2.0. We are entering the longtail world, where we will have so much variety in everything. But we still want the fame and fortune of mass production age - the billionaire, the world star. In the world of longtail, especially in the mass niche kind of longtail, we will have more of smaller successes. Rather than a company of 10,000 generating 100M dollars of profits, we will have a one-person business earning 100K a year.

Posted by hyokon on March 5, 2008 at 6:36 AM

This is a brilliant piece of work. I just printed it out for my teenage daughter who wants to be an artist.

BTW, your post made Boing Boing. You should increase your own number of “true fans” today.

Alex

Posted by Alex on March 5, 2008 at 6:37 AM

I am a True Fan of at least two people who seem to recognize the phenomenon, musician Robert Pollard late of Guided By Voices, and presidential candidate Ron Paul. Both of them seem to be following, among other strategies exactly what you have laid out here, the beauty of the approach is that dead-weight overhead is minimized, and the ability to diffuse the message by multiple paths is unhindered by the lack of conventional “blockbuster” success. Superb article.

Posted by Vince Daliessio on March 5, 2008 at 6:38 AM

Personal coaches, who are creative entrepreneurs, use this approach. Actually the number of True Fans needed for a coach to prosper is probably much less than 1000, because coaching clients pay a pretty high fee to work one-on-one with their coach. Perhaps we could call these Ultra True Fans.

Fortunately for coaches, most of us love nurturing our fans. As a former choreographer, I must say that for me, co-creating with my clients is much more fun than being an artist!

Posted by Julia Stewart on March 5, 2008 at 6:41 AM

This is so great - thanks very much.

I’ll add another strategy based on the same idea - maybe you need 10 Superfriends.

These Superfriends are probably companies. If you’re a musician, maybe in addition to your 1000 True Fans you need 10 contacts who place music in TV shows and films. Any one of these superfriends could be worth $10,000 or $50,000, all at once and all of a sudden. They buy a song, they hire you to score something…you get the idea.

Posted by Lee Stranahan on March 5, 2008 at 7:08 AM

great essay…it’s the way I’ve built my magazine…

1 rider at a time 1 reader at a time 1 subscriber at a time

I boil this philosophy down to one basic idea:

either you are a beach ball or a ball bearing.

Beach balls are bright, seen everywhere and require a tremendous amount of air to keep them afloat. One major prick, and they run into trouble…

Ball bearings are small, continually polished and while they are hard to find but leave a huge impression.

Posted by michael on March 5, 2008 at 7:09 AM

IMO the film “Be Kind Rewind” illustrates the points laid out in this blog perfectly.

Posted by Geoffrey Longman on March 5, 2008 at 7:09 AM

Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) gets it:

http://www.psfk.com/2008/03/nin-markets-new-album-from-free-to-300.html

Posted by Rick Liebling on March 5, 2008 at 7:12 AM

I should think that a company would do best by trying to convert their customers into “True Fans” as well. The catch, though, is to have a remarkable product that people will get excited about.

Or make your existing, boring product the best it can be.

Posted by Xander Becket on March 5, 2008 at 7:29 AM

I really really enjoyed this. As someone who is trying to think outside of the box when it comes to making my creative mark in my world it was insightful and fresh.

Posted by J Johnston on March 5, 2008 at 7:54 AM

If nothing else, having a goal of 1,000 true fans gives a person a realistic, attainable goal. Even if an individual doesn’t get there in the first months or the first year, you have a number to tell you that you’re on your way.

Thank you for such an insightful and logical post, it is truly appreciated. Plus, I’ve seen it on at least four different Twitter streams.

Posted by jennydecki on March 5, 2008 at 8:08 AM

I like the way you’ve quantified this. It nicely describes how I’ve been making a living for the last four years. I sell an average of 4,000 books (collections of my online comic, Schlock Mercenary) per year to pretty much the same two- to three-thousand people. I pre-sell the book, and with each release I pay the bills for about six months at a go.

So… from where I’m sitting, you’ve nailed it. You’ve described what I do, and more importantly (for me, anyway) you’ve described why it works, and what I need to do to keep it working.

Thanks!

—Howard Tayler

Posted by Howard Tayler on March 5, 2008 at 9:00 AM

Great post! I’ve heard reference to this from a music perspective but you really captured how this thinking can work in other arenas too.

I’m a baker and am working on building my “true fan” base, contacting them directly (with permission of course) and baking based on their wants and needs. In a few short months I can already see the concentric circles forming. Until now I hadn’t really thought about what my magic number is, but I suspect it’s less than 1000.

Wow, you know, I’ve been struggling with how to expand my operations to bake more and get more customers. This might be the secret to knowing how small I can stay and still make a living. Thanks!

Posted by Mark on March 5, 2008 at 9:21 AM

Hi Kevin - You might check out Jane Siberry (now Issa) who has been operating under many of the 1KTF model for quite awhile:

http://www.issalight.com/

Also, Robert Fripp runs his label/online distribution site Discipline Globabl Mobile Live much like a 1KTF business:

http://www.dgmlive.com/index.php

Of course, there are many others.

One idea: it may be that there are more ‘formerly successful’ artists moving away from the head toward the long tail who could benefit from a 1KTF model. These artists have already proven they have ‘something to offer’ for True Fans, and converting a subset of 100K passive fans to True Fans may be easier than developing 1K True Fans from scratch?

Keep up the great work and best wishes, -Steve

Posted by Steve Ball on March 5, 2008 at 9:34 AM

This makes really good sense to me as it gives artists a tangible goal to work towards and lessens the fear of the unknown.

For musicians, what do you think of applying the model of “100 True Fans” in major cities, for ticket/touring purposes?

Thanks for this, the wheels are spinning…

Posted by dot on March 5, 2008 at 9:38 AM

More artists artits making a living from the 1000 True Fans model:

Like Jonathan Coulton “More than 3,000 people, on average, were visiting his site every day, and his most popular songs were being downloaded as many as 500,000 times; he was making what he described as �a reasonable middle-class living� � between $3,000 and $5,000 a month � by selling CDs and digital downloads of his work on iTunes and on his own site.” http://tinyurl.com/yrwsdw

Or the “Einst�rzende Neubauten” In brief, for a financial contribution of 35 � (CD only) or 65 � (CD+DVD), the supporters will receive: - an exclusive CD (and DVD, for the CD+DVD option) in deluxe packaging - regular live webcasts and chat for watching the working process of the band at rehearsals and recording; - at least one exclusive live concert (via webcast) from the band, band member(s), or related parties; - etc. http://supporter.neubauten.org/

And of course, Nine Inch Nails Label official: “Ah, well, you’re right, it doesn’t. Basically it’s because we know you’ve got a core audience that’s gonna buy whatever we put out, so we can charge more for that […] True fans will pay whatever”.

His 300$ special edition (limited to 2500) of the latest CD was sold during only a few days! http://swen.antville.org/stories/1637132/

But not everybody has luck with the Street Performer Protocol

In 2000, King published a serialised novel “The Plant” over the internet, bypassing print publication. Sales were unsuccessful, and he abandoned the project

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Plant

Posted by Swen on March 5, 2008 at 10:05 AM

Congratulations and THANK YOU for an amazing post. I’m sending it around the world.

Ryan Michael Galloway

Posted by Ryan Michael Galloway on March 5, 2008 at 10:29 AM

Independently of the SPP, I came up with the Digital Art Auction (http://www.digitalartauction.com). This let’s all fans keen enough to overcome the decision cost of pledging anything for their favourite artist’s next work, express the maximum price they’d be willing to pay for a copy. Bearing in mind the shape of the long tail, the Digital Art Auction reveals the revenue available at all price points and the artist can pick the price they want, e.g. that maximises revenue. Each fan whose max price covers this, pays just the artist’s chosen price. and gets a copy of the work. Everyone else pays nothing, gets nothing - but this doesn’t stop them buying a copy from anyone else (or getting one from a file sharing network).

QuidMusic is a simpler variation, e.g. the ‘True Fans’ pledge a quid for the musician’s next single - no matter its quality.

I’m now working on 1p2U.com - A blogger’s ‘True Fans’ pledge a penny for their next article.

You can tell I’m continually lowering my sights can’t you? ;-)

Posted by Crosbie Fitch on March 5, 2008 at 10:51 AM

I’m a painter who’s made a living selling my own work for 7 years. I’ve never thought of it in these terms, but this is essnetially the idea that has allowed that to happen. I may only have 200 true fans. But I would guess I have several hundred average fans. With the prices of original art this has allowed me to do quite well the last few years. Ever year I gain some new fans, and every year I can expect certain customers to want to buy a painting again. Alot of my sales are to repeat customers (who I would consider True Fans.) My goal is always winning over peole who are just learning about me. Once they’ve bought one painting, I feel like I’m halfway to a second sale. And the best part is that I am able to continue painting the pictures I want to.

Great Article. Thanks. And by the way I found it through a link from www.linesandcolors.com, which wrote a review.

Posted by Colin Page on March 5, 2008 at 11:12 AM

This is very interesting.

What’s been keeping me a going as a recording artist for the last several years has been the “commission-only” music that I make available. For a fee, I will create an album (more like an EP, actually) of music for someone, and then transfer all of the rights to the composition and recording to them. They can do whatever they want with it, including put their own name on it and sell it (although I warn that doing so will lower the value). I charge on a sliding scale based upon income (and yes, I request proof of income) and political orientation. I started this experiment in 2002 and in that period, these commissions have been my best source of income as an artist.

It’s allowed me to connect with a small group of people who have an interest in my music (I’m not comfortable calling them “fans”) and then to create a relationship with them that spills over to the people in their lives, with whom they share the unique work that I made for them.

Posted by Waxwing Slain on March 5, 2008 at 11:34 AM

Kevin, thanks for putting your concept into words, and doing it brilliantly. Your 1000 True Fans idea is sort of what I’ve been trying to do on my site. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one thinking this way. Looks like I’m not crazy after all. (Oh, wait—-this might not actually prove that.)

Two years ago I decided to go directly to readers online, figuring that if enough people enjoyed my writing I would eventually earn a living from it—-and probably make more money than I would have through the traditional publishing route.

I write and post mystery novels on my website at a rate of two to three chapters per week. I’m now on my fourth book. It’s taking a while to earn enough True Fans, but it’s happening for me.

Thanks again. This is encouraging.

Robert Burton Robinson

Posted by Robert Burton Robinson on March 5, 2008 at 11:38 AM

amazing post - thank you. this is one more piece of the puzzle in figuring out how to be a profitable ‘content creator’ in this economy. I’m a professional photographer, and am curious about your thoughts on adapting this model to B2B. I can see how fine art print sales dovetails nicely with the True Fan model, but I’m looking for a new model for selling commercial illustration. The most successful (currently) model for commercial photography appears to be microstock sales. Under scrutiny, however, it’s a great model for the companies that sell/license/own the images and a terrible model for photographers (minus the few rock starts making a pile of money - but that’s true in any business model) -

thanks

andy

Posted by andy batt on March 5, 2008 at 12:01 PM

Coincidently the Center for an Urban Future held an event yesterday on Brooklyn’s creative freelance economy. According to the Center Brooklyn has 22,000 creative self-employed workers -independent artists, writers, photogrpahers, jewewly makers, designers etc.

I also think your point is broader than artists. There are roughly 21 million personal businesses (self-employed and/or solo practioners) in the US and their numbers have been growing much faster than the overall economy. The majority of these folks are not artists, but they all need “true fans” to survive and thrive.

The center is at www.nycfuture.org and a post on the event is at www.smallbizlabs.com.

Posted by steve on March 5, 2008 at 12:04 PM

Nancy Baym has an entry in her Online Fandom blog about musician Jill Sobule raising almost $74,000 from fans to record a new album.

Posted by MattFriedrichs on March 5, 2008 at 12:08 PM

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, lately, about how I might move from the world of “corporate jester” to providing something creative that a smaller audience might find more useful. Right now I engage with a very few corporate types (about four) who value me very highly to get to that 100K — actually more than that, as expenses to find and satisfy them are pretty high.

I’m going to do some thinking about what it would look like to make 1000 people a little bit happy instead — would it be writing, or helping them improve their skills, or offer them a way to lessen their pain? I could do all or some of those, I’m sure.

Nice post.

Posted by Dick Carlson on March 5, 2008 at 12:19 PM

“Not every artist is cut out, or willing, to be a nurturer of fans.”

That is true, but that doesn’t mean that a major record label is required. If a solo artist can nurture enough fans all by themselves to make a living, then can’t the artist who isn’t interested in doing it themselves hire one person to do it for them? Perhaps someone who does it for several artists.

Posted by Winston on March 5, 2008 at 12:26 PM

Good old boingboing, they’ve just turned me on to this site, and I’m soaking this up like a sponge.

I’m a digital artist, and over the last 3 years, am pushing to make a go of my artwork. I’ve been getting fine art prints into local gift shops and stores, and have my first real gallery opening coming up in May.

This article is just perfect, it adds a piece to the puzzle on how to get things rolling. But I’m still struggling to find an avenue for my work, to find my audience. Once people go through my online galleries and see my artwork, I receive quite a few emails from visitors, saying they’ve never seen anything like the work I create, and they love it.

So my biggest obstacle right now is a very fundamental, basic problem- exposure. I have set up online galleries at the usual artist promoting websites, but my work is lost amongst thousands of other artists. I’m residing near Knoxville, Tennessee, which isn’t a hotbed of artistic growth, although things have been improving the last few years. I don’t know if my work is too modern or cutting edge or what, but I can’t get things rolling.

My work is pretty unique, so I’m either doing something really cool that people just haven’t seen before, or I’m so far off into the weeds I’ll never be discovered.

I’ve about run out of options on what to try next. I’ve emailed the link to this article to numerous struggling artists I know, and I know that help in trying to figure out how to find your audience would be most welcome by a lot of people.

Thanks for this article, it gives me hope that I might actually make this art thing work.

Steve

Posted by Steven Lareau on March 5, 2008 at 12:31 PM

An interesting article but I think unrealistic for most starting and even established solo artists.

I’m a freelance artist and have been trying to make a living selling my personal art since around 2005. Even though I have had a website since mid 90s and know the web tech well (I enjoy programming almost as much as art making) the process of promoting my work has been enormously difficult for me.

I find the recommended no/low cost methods of online promotion mentally exhausting to the extreme. Networking on social networks, social bookmarking, participating in blogs, forums, link building, SEO, adwords, etc.

If it wasn’t for my persistence and good knowledge of the web technologies I would have given up the whole idea of making a living online doing what I love long time ago.

You wrote that “Not every artist is cut out, or willing, to be a nurturer of fans.”, I think this is generally true for most artists. Artists, the majority of them, are introverts. They thrive living in their worlds (writing, painting, composing, etc) and get quickly overwhelmed by too much external input. And hiring a manger is not an option for most artists either. Yet, promotion through social interaction is essential for success.

You end by writing about the study in which “Sociologist Ruth Towse surveyed artists in Britian and determined that on average they earned below poverty subsistence levels.”

My guess is that the primary reason for that is the nature of most artists. They are not made for things like promoting their work, selling it, or maintaining and increasing their fan base through constant social interaction. Artists are made to create art - first and foremost.

Posted by Dawid Michalczyk on March 5, 2008 at 12:59 PM

The awesome animator Nina Paley of

http://www.ninapaley.com

used her true fans to get a 35mm print of her cool animation feature Sita Sings The blues out in time for a showing in Europe. Each person who contributed gets a credit at the end of the film, which is funny as it’s a whole on-woman film show.

But she got what she needed in time from her true fans donations.

Posted by cainmark on March 5, 2008 at 1:23 PM

Feh, superstardom has never been for me. My goal as an artist has always been simple: make a living from my creativity. The 1KTF method makes sense, and puts in words some of the ideas I’ve been batting around.

My challenge is that my current True Fans by one of my products for one event - their wedding. My job has been trying to figure out how to convert these specialized Fans, into fans for all of my work.

Posted by Daniel Sroka on March 5, 2008 at 1:33 PM

The value of a network is not n^2 where n is the number of nodes. It is n*log(n).

Posted by Matthew Stoltenberg on March 5, 2008 at 1:57 PM

It all sounds so easy. Until it meets real life.

When One Thousand Means Over Fifty Thousand

Posted by Mike Cane on March 5, 2008 at 2:30 PM

I’ve written a book for a very niche target audience (classic longtail stuff), and while Oprah still hasn’t returned my calls, the ride on the longtail has been a rush. Many of my readers who have written me have become friends (what the “F” could stand for in 1KTF), and I’ve paid a few bills with my book sales. It’s been hard work, but that’s the new barrier of entry into the longtail market, isn’t it?

Posted by Jason Comely on March 5, 2008 at 2:47 PM

Hey Kevin,

Really enjoyed this article. I play in a Canadian based band just starting our career in music and the article has given me lots of new ideas about ways we could potentially generate income to keep our creative dreams alive.

On a similar note: I’m sure you must have seen how Nine Inch Nails recently used their “true fans” to almost instantly sell out 2500 copies of their Ultra Deluxe Limited Edition packages of their new record for $300 a piece. Obviously they are an established act who sit a lot higher up the long tail, but still, they used their “true fans” to cut themselves a $750000 paycheck in an era where many formerly successful bands are fumbling to find a way to convert their popularity back into cash.

Anyways, looking forward to reading more of your articles.

Cheers, Tyson ACRES OF LIONS http://www.acresoflions.com

Posted by Tyson Yerex on March 5, 2008 at 3:05 PM

Check out Jambase www.jambase.com Dan Heimbrock told me exactly this number back in 2001 and they have built a fantastic business helping musicians do exactly this.

Beyond Art and Music this theory has a lot of application to business as well. The Long Tail is alive and well in the mundane world of Dry Cleaners and gift shops too.

A lot of people think that the long tail only is applicable to dispirsed geography. The reality is that it’s about being able to find small niche audiences. Home Depot is on the far left, Joe’s Hardware in Greenfield Indiana is towards the far right. But thanks to the Web Old Joe can compete fair and square with the big box through blogging, email etc….

Joe acually has an advantage….he lives in Greenfield.

Posted by Chris Baggott on March 5, 2008 at 3:08 PM

For visual artists out there looking for more ways to get the word out about themselves: I once found an artist because someone had made a LiveJournal icon of their work and put the artist’s name in the icon info. I thought it was a neat bit of art and wanted to see the rest, and searched for the artist, and found that she only showed her work at a physical gallery in Tennessee. Might have bought something otherwise. Anyway, the thought is, perhaps if you make icons/avatars of some of the neatest bits of your pictures and release them under a free attribution license, you’ll get totally random fans.

Posted by Madeline F on March 5, 2008 at 4:34 PM

I am an Australian Singer who has just launched an interesting concept to fund and promote my new EP. I have a mosaic image divided into lots of little pieces, each one can be purchased for AUD$10 each. Each purchase gets to include a hover over message with their piece and they get a limited edition copy of the EP when it comes out!

I am interested to hear any feedback on the concept!

Thanks

Posted by Courtney Act on March 5, 2008 at 6:01 PM

This is an excellent post. You have inspired me to beleive once again that success is possible.

Posted by BrentD on March 5, 2008 at 7:27 PM

It strikes me that some writers and publishers already pursue a similar idea through cultivating “true fan” booksellers through review copy mailings, author’s personal email lists and things like that. I know a couple of smart publishers who keep individual booksellers in the loop about writers we’ve reviewed or blurbed before, and some go above and beyond by occasionally getting new writers to us whose work they think we might enjoy (based on those earlier reviews) and hence sell to many, many “casual fans.” But most just take the review and run, pursuing the holy grail of high-profile TV show appearances, and discounting the importance of frontline booksellers who can handsell 50 to 100 copies of writer X’s new book (and keep handselling past the first 15 minutes of TV fame).

You find 50 true fan booksellers and they’ll find you 5000 sales. You build on that and pretty soon those 50 booksellers are accounting for solid, dependable backlist sales and an ever-growing frontlist success.

I love this idea. It’s a great way to reframe the way we think of our businesses. Thanks, Kevin.

Posted by RichR on March 5, 2008 at 8:50 PM

I’m pretty overwhelmed really. In a good way. I’m a designer and entrepreneur. I have several projects in the oven and I’m constantly thinking about how to improve, make more authentic, reach out on an emotional level, with every venture. Thank you for inspiring a new level of thought and promise.

Posted by Mike Dunford on March 5, 2008 at 8:57 PM

This is a great post and I shared it on my blog. I’ve been thinking about it since it first posted and here’s one thing that comes to mind: I’m a massage therapist and I’ve worked freelance for almost two decades. The third year was the year I was in the black, and that was the year that my client base reached about 1,000. That was the year I quit the day job.

Now, 1,000 folks didn’t see me all at once and I certainly didn’t work every day but I always made my rent without a problem. Each client had a different rhythm. Some only saw me in crisis-mode. Some saw me weekly. Some only worked with me during birthdays or holidays. The exact number of clients was a bit fluid and many came and went.

It’s worth noting that I launched my practice pre-Internet, but I still think you’re on the money. Although, I wouldn’t say my clients are fans although they must think I’m pretty cool or they wouldn’t return.

I guess the point is that in reference to your topic, the same concepts hold true for small service oriented business and freelancers like myself.

Posted by T. Barnes on March 5, 2008 at 10:01 PM

john sinclair, the detroit poet, has espoused this identical idea for a while now (10 years?), based on actual experience from the ground up (which means it triangulates your perspective), but he pegs the number at 2000

so artists, don’t give up if “it’s not working” when you hit 1000! because the first thousand makes it that much easier to get the second…

-bowerbird

Posted by bowerbird on March 5, 2008 at 11:47 PM

Good article. I’ve been thinking along the same path for a while, but I haven’t even dared think the thought of giving up my full-time job to actually try it. I run a blog, and I create music, but so far it hasn’t paid off. I’m running a few small Google Adsense text-ads, but the traffic on my site is really low so I make next to no money ($30 in half a year). Google Adsense is obviously not intended for strange little blogs about moustache wax and fixed gear bicycles. A tip-jar would probably work better. Out of the 100 or so people who actually visit the blog every day maybe one can become a True Fan?

Posted by Martin Olsson on March 6, 2008 at 1:07 AM

Fantastic post Kevin, you’ve clearly hit a chord with lots of people, and explained the idea in a really clean way - you make it sound so simple! As a lifelong music fan and founder of We7 which is all about countering piracy, championing and paying new artists I really enjoyed reading this and the enthusiastic response you’ve had. The True Fans have always been out there acting as motivated evangelists, I hope that changing models in the arts and the online world means these die-hard enthusiasts get the thanks they deserve. For all the upheaval in the music industry, this is the sort of positive outcome I’m delighted to hear being discussed. Steve Purdham, CEO, www.we7.com

Posted by Steve Purdham on March 6, 2008 at 3:23 AM

It’s interesting (at least to me) that I arrived at my current ‘fiscal plan’ nt by having a vision and setting a goal, but by backing into it. Why release ‘Meatbot Massacre’ over the internet? Because the hobby game magazines that might have considered it were dead. Why free? Because I didn’t want the hassle of building an online store. Why ransom it? I knew about how much I’d get paid, one time, if I’d placed it in one of those defunct magazines. I put a greed premium on that and asked for it. It was all a process of making sausage out of scraps.

Turns out, sausage is delicious.

Something I keep coming back to, when contemplating the changing landscape of publishing and creativity, is a William Gibson riff in ‘Spook Country.’ One character is an ex-pop star turned spy* and in one conversation, someone points out that the time when there could BE pop stars was less than a hundred years. The technology had to be at a certain, very unstable point: Advanced enough to make recorded music, but still so clumsy and fussy and primitive that professionals were required to operate it. That expertise allowed the record companies to exist, because releasing a record was too expensive or time-consuming to do on a lark. Now, that’s no longer so. To get a really good, professional-quality recording mass produced on a CD released into Wal-Mart… okay, sure, that’s still a job of work. But so many listen to mp3s that can’t even capture a professional degree of clarity, and they don’t care. Why should the artist?

Posted by Greg Stolze on March 6, 2008 at 5:16 AM

Thank you for the words of inspiration.

It is difficult to succeed as an artist, or in my case, a fan making the case of becoming an artist. I feel that most of my peers (DJs and musicians) have this belief that the only way to make an artist living is to ‘sell out’ to what the majority is demanding.

That ideology has produced the likes of MTV or anything on YouTube with over a million hits. So much talent has fallen into groupthink when there were so many that could have done the 1,000 True Fan model and managed to live comfortably.

Since selling out to make a blockbuster is beyond my integrity (or skills perhaps?), making 1000 true fans will definitely be a plausible goal as I dream of getting to do what I love to do for people that find it lovely!

I once heard someone say (I think it was Dan Dennet at a TED conference) that the secret to happiness is to give your life to a cause greater than your self…something along those lines… -A.J.

Posted by A.J. on March 6, 2008 at 6:54 AM

Great article, i have been doing this style of thing for the last 4 years (of the 13 years i have been running a label). Totally abandoning the distribution deal i had and going it completely alone.

My own magic figure is lower than 1000 but i break even on a yearly basis and am free to create what the hell i want when i want it. A lot is given away for free, for example the whole of 2006 i worked on a project where each day i made and gave away audio for free online giving away over 600 tracks in this time. That is an unprecidented project even now.

Other releases are pre-sold directly to the people i know are interested totally bypassing traditional forms of distribution completely.

I also achieve this with no press anymore because i send no promos out and people just find what i do via online search and links which build up from those who support what i do.

Ultimate freedom is the way forward with no link to the dying industry and other social networking waste of times like myspace, facebook, iTunes and last fm. Although these can spread the word they also eat into your creative time it’s a balancing act. Also charging for MP3s is laughable certainly in the way iTunes run their business in a per track model.

The main thing is the work and being able to work, do the work and don’t worry about distribution. Ultimately it’s all about what you create.

Support total independence.

Posted by V/Vm on March 6, 2008 at 7:38 AM

We never put it quite this way, but the “1000 True Fans” was on our minds when we founded TuneCore. We wanted to give artists a way to monetize that relationship, and the best way was to break down barriers to the digital shelves. With iTunes now the 2nd largest music seller in the world, of any kind, it’s a place to send those 1000 folks.

Because we don’t take any %, we don’t exploit the long tail, we let the artist exploit it. Isn’t that the only fair way?

—Peter peter@tunecore.com

Posted by Peter Wells on March 6, 2008 at 8:09 AM

Excellent post. In the last year and a half I started seriously pursuing a career as a visual artist and have already acquired several true fans. This post is a great encouragement to keep going personally and helpful for anyone else whose just starting out.

Posted by Anima on March 6, 2008 at 8:47 AM

Kevin: This is a great post. Thanks for writing it. I love the idea of 1,000 true fans.
Your post has changed my thinking about how to build my career and life success on line coaching business. All the best, Bud Bilanich The Common Sense Guy www.SuccessCommonSense.com

Posted by Bud Bilanich on March 6, 2008 at 8:56 AM

I love this concept. It give me hope that I will be able to make even a modest amount of income with the art I am going to begin selling. Thanks for expressing this so articulately and providing real examples of how this can work.

Posted by Denise Mares on March 6, 2008 at 9:47 AM

Kevin, found this post through Wil Wheaton’s blog, and I have to say it’s brilliant.

The 1,000 True Fans model is the perfect compromise between endless (and near-impossible… and do you really want that anyway?) striving for (cough) Britney-level crazed stardom, or toiling for years in Ramen-noodle-fueled obscurity.

I think you inspired a lot of people with this one. Thank you.

Posted by Kristi on March 6, 2008 at 10:00 AM

True fans look for the thing that lights their tree. I am a true fan of Joni Mitchell, Terry Pratchett, Saffire, and other artists, who have no relationship to anyone else—no kind of demographic or other statistic.

only a 1000 of the millions of folks out there…what a concept!

Posted by Charlotte Babb on March 6, 2008 at 10:25 AM

Kevin,

Outstanding and infinitely inspiring post. Based on your ideas, I’ve started a fan-based initiative to publish a biography of 90s alt-rock giants The Smashing Pumpkins.

Details here: http://www.fundable.com/groupactions/groupaction.2008-03-05.4170411700/view?searchterm=

Posted by Trace Thornton on March 6, 2008 at 10:52 AM

Personally I’m a bit sick of hearing about the long tail but this article got me thinking. 1000 seems like a good number yet to find 1000 you typically need to be seen by 100,000 or more don’t you? Any thoughts on how to get 1000 more quickly than building an audience of lessor fans in the range of 100 K?

Posted by Adam on March 6, 2008 at 11:28 AM

Funny you should mention it. This is a large part of the business model we work on…

SITE: http://toughcustomer.org/

SOUNDS: http://toughcustomer.org/wire

Posted by Tough Customer on March 6, 2008 at 12:07 PM

Kevin,

Fantastic insight here… and it certainly has hit quite a few heads [which i’m glad to see!]. 1,000 seems like a solid, reasonable number to me. In my chosen field (music and performance) it is definitely viable but perhaps still difficult to maintain on my own.

I’m thankful for the ‘patrons’ i’ve had so far, have a donation button on my official page and myspace page that hints at special gifts for those that donate a bit more than postage would allow, and even have a few things hidden online that i send them as a way of showing gratitude for their support. Though i’m far from a comfortable living at the moment, the inroads i’m making are in line with your thoughts here.

The one stumbling block i see in this model [even as evidenced by this page] is that there are simply SO MANY people with creative aspirations these days, and the number continues to grow. I can foresee a point where everybody with access to a computer believes they should be nurturing some outlet, and thus expect their desire to result in financial gains too.

If everybody is fostering product-involved-genius, how do you justify your want for income? Where does the money ultimately come from if it’s just exchanging hands in support of one another?

As much as i enjoy the idea of being completely independent, i’ve enjoyed the ‘old-model’ way of label-side patronage for musicians more and feel it may still be the best way to kickstart one’s work towards artistic feasibility. My output as Phylum Sinter has involved about 12 independent labels so far [including compilation releases] and i’m still grateful for the offers to release with those that believe in my work enough to let me realize what i want to release without oppressive creativity shaping tactics on their part.

The one-to-one contact involved in keeping my fanbase alive has been an inspiration on it’s own, but maintaining it has a few implications for me — perhaps i’m not strong enough to take that much input directly and not have it influence what i had in mind?

Thanks for this one, i’m bookmarking it and will be re-reading it as i conspire in the near future.

Best regards, c.todd phylum_sinter

Posted by c.todd [phylum sinter] on March 6, 2008 at 1:36 PM

Hm, this is something I wrestle with in my professional artistic life a lot and this is the first time I’ve seen it boiled down to achievable-seeming numbers like this; thanks, I needed that!

Posted by samantha Lynn on March 6, 2008 at 1:59 PM

Fantastic article - as an artist I’ve been trying to tackle the problem of making a living as an artist in a long tail economy on my blog, and your article has really helped.

Posted by Paul Watson on March 6, 2008 at 2:24 PM

Kevin, you omit mentioning one obvious point —- don’t get involved with large corporations who are positively hostile to true fans.

(1) We all know the sad on-going story of fan-fic.

(2) Just because you have true fans, doesn’t mean they’re actually in a position to send you any money. I happen to like a number of (on-American) artists from my youth in the early 70s. Has the long tail helped me? Not yet. In spite of the fact that it would cost EMI nothing to make this material available for purchase via Amazon or iTMS, it’s not there. So these artists I like are making nothing, as is EMI —- a lose-lose situation which EMI appears to have zero interest in rectifying. I’ve no idea why they imagine that a middle-aged man with fixed music tastes is going to spend money on this week’s manufactured rap band rather than the tastes of his youth, but that seems to be their strategy for getting rich.

Posted by Maynard Handley on March 6, 2008 at 2:24 PM

Working on our version. http://www.artemiseternal.com It’s a hard, hard, hard journey that is also long as all hell.

I hope everyone who loves the “1000” idea here can and will find an artist and/or project to get involved with. Talk is cheap. ;-) Do something. Move and be moved.

Posted by jess on March 6, 2008 at 3:45 PM

Trace, good luck on your fan-funded biography of the Smashing Pumpkins. Let me know how it goes.

Posted by Kevin Kelly on March 6, 2008 at 4:09 PM

A.J., Whether it was Dan Dennet or not, it’s good advice:

“The secret to happiness is to give your life to a cause greater than your self.”

Posted by Kevin Kelly on March 6, 2008 at 4:54 PM

Bowerbird, thanks for the tip on John Sinclair, whom I had not encountered yet.

Posted by Kevin Kelly on March 6, 2008 at 4:56 PM

T. Barnes, that’s a fantastic piece of data. Seems to work even in the service field as well.

Posted by Kevin Kelly on March 6, 2008 at 5:01 PM

Chris Baggott,

I’ll have to check out Dan Heimbrock. Thanks for the pointer.

Posted by Kevin Kelly on March 6, 2008 at 5:58 PM

Cainmark, I appreciate the pointer to Nina Paley.

Posted by Kevin Kelly on March 6, 2008 at 6:07 PM

David Michalczyk,

The purest, most introverted, most maniacally focused artist has to reach his audience somehow. Great artists will have patrons, or managers, who let them work and deal with the messy stuff. If fact many world-class artists have a True Fan base of LESS than 1,000.

Posted by Kevin Kelly on March 6, 2008 at 6:12 PM

Thanks to Swen for the data on Coulton. I am very eager to get more examples of those who are doing this.

Posted by Kevin Kelly on March 6, 2008 at 6:17 PM

In Walden, Thoreau writes: “I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them.”

For an artist, art is that thing which simply must be done. I have experimented with a number of lifestyles and have schemed various schemes to make my art connect with money, but the result has always wasted my time and demeaned my art.

After 20 years of making art, what works best for me is doing the work without thought of consequence (neither money nor celebrity) and keeping the livelihood entirely separate.

It’s possible to find deep satisfaction in a “day job.”

I’m afraid there’s a prevalent attitude that a job must be a chore to be escaped at earliest opp, which is why so many artists and wannabes dream of instant wealth—a mindset which results in much conformist art.

They dream of the golden key which will unlock the door to a life of everlasting leisure.

In the meantime they dabble in get-rich-quick schemes and whittle down their art to the lowest common denominator.

Not everyone, of course.

And not me. (OK, maybe once.)

Least of all you.

But I suspect those people are out there—they might even be reading this article!—with dollar signs in their eyes and a hankering for making YOU their next True Fan….

Posted by robert on March 6, 2008 at 8:09 PM

Kevin —

Great summation of something I’ve got some data on, that I addressed in a scholarly article, called The Deep Niche (Journal of Electronic Publishing), regarding our experiences at the National Academies Press.

A large proportion of the publications of the Press are exceedingly small-market publications — things that could not be affordably “marketed” in traditional terms. But many of our publications are sustainable because we’ve found the “1,000 true fans” of some abstruse topic.

While you’re mostly talking about artists — writers, artists, musicians — the same can also be true about ideas, or memes, or scientific conclusions.

In a world of a billion Web users worldwide, there’s a remarkably resilient market of interest in specific, pertinent content that is of use, and of interest to, a thousand (or ten thousand) readers who care enough to want the final publication. Making the material openly available means they find us, and can browse, and can make use of the content.

Thanks for your smart distillation of the functional application of the phenomenon. It may lead to some new economies, and new opportunities for creative expression, of small-market (and large-market) ideas.

Posted by Michael Jensen on March 6, 2008 at 9:17 PM

This is inspiring. I used to be a magazine editor penning editorials to 100,000 readers, and I used to joke that I already knew what it felt like to be famous since 100,000 readers (or at least those who read the editorials and noticed the top of the masthead) knew my name. Just the other day it occurred to me how successful I would be if I had 100,000 fans of my music. The irony is, even with 100,000 fans, I would be far from famous. Frankly, it would be perfect — no paparazzi, no plastic surgery! Now you’ve made me see that perhaps I can set my sights on 1000 (and in truth I have about 500 True Fans right now) and be closer to my goal than I imagined.

Thanks for this!

—Alexa

Posted by Alexa Weber Morales on March 6, 2008 at 11:40 PM

Hey Kevin, great post. I also think this is very applicable to the world of standup comedy and it reminds me of what comedian Doug Stanhope has been doing (on a slightly smaller level).

He’s realized that it’s easier for him to play in bars (where he can keep the tix fee) and draw true fans than to go the traditional comedy club route where he would get a flat fee. Plus, the crowds he draws are way better I’m sure.

Posted by Josh on March 7, 2008 at 12:13 AM

Great post indeed, thanks and congratulations! One point though and sorry if others made it before. Actually it may not be so easy for an up-and-coming artist to create content that even a die-hard fan would spend $100 on over a year. Take a musician as an example. Just by a rough theoretical calculation, content that is worth $100 would call for 150-170 new tracks on iTunes. 10+ different CDs via CDBaby. All within a single (!) year. Of course, you can also rely on concert tickets, merchandise and stuff, but still, it may not be easy. Just think about your favourite band or artist. When did you really spend $100 on them in a year? I’m just thinking out loud.

Posted by Zoltan on March 7, 2008 at 4:21 AM

To Kevin and others,

The issue of how to help creators in the long-tail market and monetize their work is exactly what we set out to address with Buzzfuse.com - a marketing service for blogs, music, photos, and flash.

Buzzfuse was created by myself (a cartoonist & photographer) and other creatives because we needed something powerful to help us both market and monetize our work, wherever it was hosted. I’m very pleased to say that nearly 2 years later, our system is in beta but it works well - we are driving traffic at a fraction of the cost that Google Adwords can, and we are paying real money (either through our rewards program or on a pay per download basis) to our premium subscribers.

The fan model is key to us. We try to make it really easy for a creator to ‘collect’ fans. These fans in turn get immediate notifications of anything the creator produces, and also get discounts on any premium items released. So far, the system works well and feedback suggests we’re onto the right approach.

We’d appreciate anyone to go out there and test buzzfuse.com - feel free to email me garethochse at gmail dot com with your feedback or simply invite me into your circle on Buzzfuse. It works (but we’re young and learning so please feel free to suggest features/improvements that you, as a creator or fan would like).

g

Posted by Gareth Ochse on March 7, 2008 at 5:40 AM

Kevin,

What an inspiring piece. I really enjoyed Anderson’s Long Tail and you seem to have captured a tangible way forward for artists, be they musicians, photographers, writers or whatever. It’s a great concept, “1,000 True Fans”.

thanks very much

Andrew

Posted by Andrew Munro on March 7, 2008 at 6:51 AM

Great article Kevin and bang in line with our philosophy here at Slicethepie.

We are an intermediary between artists and fans that enables any artist who can pre-sell copies of their album to raise $30,000 to go and record and release it. The artist keeps 100% of their publishing/copyright and the fans get the album plus a share of the sales proceeds.

The model ensures that the artist makes money from the first copy of the album sold and the fans begin to profit if over 1,000 copies of the album are sold.

14 artists have raised the money in the past 7 months and the first album financed this way (by The Alps) is released on 10 March.

We use Tunecore (above) for digital distribution - and they are great!

Posted by David Courtier-Dutton on March 7, 2008 at 7:15 AM

Great thought. The Guerrilla Marketing has argued this: cut the middlemen — screw Amazon and the other Big Guys — and go directly to people. If you can provide something for a global audience, then that 1,000 becomes a very small percentage.

I think that there is still a place for joining together, trying to get your 100.000 lesser fans to be one of mine, and vice versa.

Posted by manasclerk on March 7, 2008 at 8:53 AM

Thank you for this thought-provoking article. It managed to turn what looks like a nearly impossible situation into an achievable goal. As a musician, I keep trying to wrap my head around the concept of trying to sell something that, honestly, I’d rather that my people traded freely in order to get more fans.

One of the earlier posts asked how to get those fans in the first place, which is an excellent question. That got me thinking, what about blending this idea with Fred Wilson’s “freemuim” concept discussed in Chris Anderson’s recent “Free” article? I don’t want to write a long entry here in this comments section, so I wrote about it in my own blog here http://www.indiebandsurvivalguide.com/blog/

Very thought provoking article!

Posted by Randy Chertkow on March 7, 2008 at 9:48 AM

Excellent post.

Agree completly that the trick with the long tail, is to focus on relationships with your fans and building them organically.

While with long tail an artist likelihood of being a super star is still as low as its always been, the chances of making a living have vastly increased. Its a lot easy to produce, record, and distribute your music right now then at any point before. The trouble is finding out how to make it work.

Dan http://www.VolumeEleven.net

Posted by Dan on March 7, 2008 at 10:22 AM

I always tell myself and other musician clients and fans, “You don’t want transitory, massive Digg-like traffic hits on your stupid shit. You want to cleverly poise and promote your stupid shit to key fans who understand your message and aesthetics. Loyal intelligent fans who have good connections or lots of smart energy.”

You seek the music aficiandos and elite change agents, plus regular fans with COLLECTOR MENTALITY who will seek out every fart you emit, and pay any price for it.

But give most of your stupid shit away for free, to generate buzz and addictive behavior modules.

STR8 SOUNDS Therabusive Noise Carnival

Posted by vaspers aka STR8 SOUNDS on the edge of everywhere on March 7, 2008 at 10:45 AM

AmAZing post! Now I have to figure out how to apply the thousand-fan idea to my blog, http://dave-lucas.blogspot.com to build my blog into a monster. Is it even possible? One could blog for two or three years only to have a CORE of maybe 25 to 50 regular readers. How to increase that to THOUSANDS? Some lucky bloggers have been able to accomplish that: Blogs like Xu Jinglei, TechCrunch, Gizmodo, Michelle Malkin. But how do YOU or I accomplish that? Read. Network via MyBlogLog, MySpace, Facebook. Comment on other blogs. You have to make the effort, whether you spend a rainy evening on the PC or a day when you’re home sick with the flu… With a little luck, some talent and persistence, you may slowly but surely build up your own personal legion of fans… or not.

Posted by DaveLucas on March 7, 2008 at 1:17 PM

I think one “really” needs to examine that 100.00 number to find the reality of this thesis.

Even a top 10 STAR with Millions of PR dollars spent on them each year dosent GARNER 100.00 a year from a typical fan.

Lets take Speilberg, Ford, Cruise, and a Lucas etc. etc. and lets use their MOVIE release schedule … Even if they did release 10 movies a year, at 10.00 a ticket for a total of 100.00 per “fan” What consumer is it that can spend that 100.00 dollars an all 4 of these “stars of IP content”?

OK, lucas has hasbro toy licenses and so does Speilberg, but both didnt come from any long tail, only an all boys old media type network:)

How about Ford, or Cruise- tell me how many 100.00 action figures need to be sold for them to work outside of someone PAYING them to “act”.

You suppose we’re now expected to find another 100.00 a year to support how many “B C D” level list creators?

hmm

Again somthing smelly in this new free meme.

Only those made famous on the old media seem to believe it. Nine inch Who without Mtv and millions spent in the 1990s by an “industry”

Cottage industry and craft industry was a fine model for a world not “able to calculate” every lost cent, and every possible buyer” as in the last 50 years of the “old machine”

Nothing is ever free, everything has a cost or a effect. even Anderson had to admit it on Charlie Rose last night after 5 bumps….lol.

The Only thing I agreed with that he said is that GOOGLE is handing over Humanity to the machine….

It would be funny if we didnt already know that garbage in always produces garbage out.

no cost? we shall see….

doubting tomas

Posted by doubt on March 7, 2008 at 5:04 PM

Writer Jack Vance has True Fans. How do we know? Well, they got together, and with the author’s help, they re-edited and re-published his collective works. It only came to about 60 hardcover volumes. Check out:

http://www.vanceintegral.com/

Posted by Don Lindsay on March 7, 2008 at 5:09 PM

I think this is based on the classic concept of customer servicing only the platform and mode has changed.. basically it works on the concept of C.A.R.I.N.G - that illustrates showing consitency, attentiveness, reliability, individualized,noteworthy and generous services towards customers so as you can maintain the long lasting relationship with them. I could get some fans if not all through this for my business. thanks

Posted by Navtej Kohli on March 7, 2008 at 5:43 PM

the main question seems to be: “so how do i find my 1000 fans?”

patience, grasshopper.

hopefully sooner rather than later, collaborative filtering will arrive to your rescue, finding your fans for you.

forget marketing. it will be seen as a kiss of death, a mark of a weak product.

go concentrate on your art.

-bowerbird

Posted by bowerbird on March 8, 2008 at 1:20 AM

Kevin

A brilliant article. I’m going to publicise it widely.

Your advice to creative individuals is intelligent and appropriate. It fits in with my own experience and my own advice to the creative people I help in a professional capacity.

There is a free eBook for creative people who want to know more about cool business ideas, called ‘T-Shirts and Suits: A Guide to the Business of Creativity’. It’s online here: http://www.davidparrish.com/dp/uploads/TShirtsAndSuitsAGuideToTheBusinessOfCreativityDavidParrish.pdf

It’s free! And it’s a Cool Tool !

Keep up the good work…

David http://www.davidparrish.com

Posted by David Parrish on March 8, 2008 at 7:54 AM

We’ve been doing exactly what Jill Sobule is doing now since 1992, for the last six albums, though on a smaller scale - we don’t need to pay Don Was $50,000 (I’m guessing, but I bet I’m not far off) to do the producing.

I’m guessing we’ve got 300 true fans - but we’re an eight peice band. Basically the music breaks even and I pay the band when we play. I get to produce a body of work and my wife makes the money that supports us. Without her, I’d still be back at album number 1 or doing something else that actually pays.

1000 true fans is a nice way to frame the goal. These days anything that makes this business more doable is a gift.

Posted by Chriostopher Bingham on March 8, 2008 at 11:11 AM

You have reached viral stage on this post, I think I’ve seen it mentioned in posts and twitts and such now more than any other post of the last week. Congratulations at least on that! You’ve struck a chord.

As for 1,000 true fans, I have to agree with a few of the commenters who suggest they would like to reach the magic 1,000 RSS subscribers so they know that each time they post they are opening possible communication with 1,000 daily readers.

Posted by Daltonsbriefs on March 8, 2008 at 3:27 PM

This article deserves note for anyone who aspires to be fully indendent and thrive on their creativity monetarily.

Personally, the idea of 1,000 true fans is probably close to where i am ethically… there are a few spots i’ve created online that allow people to donate as ‘patrons’ of my music, and included close to those tip jars are mentions of real payback or reward for their gratitude — usually in the form of mailed things or links to hidden albums i’ve got online.

The one thing this article doesn’t really expand upon is the amount of energy or time it can take to build that momentum and maintain it. As much as i love receiving fan letters, having my music propagate through the p2p and blogosphere and everything else it can get close to smothering; especially when the people gush and gush and included in this gush is suggestions of where to go next [because they’d totally buy something that sounded more blank with less blank blank]. Maybe i’m weak in that aspect, but i’m still hunting for a proper manager to filter some of the feedback and coordinate the appearance mechanisms a little more completely than i’ve been able to so far.

Posted by c.todd [phylum sinter] on March 8, 2008 at 7:23 PM

I can completely see how this relates to my business! I had been thinking for a long time that although we still need to expand, we don’t want to get too far away from our core, which is based on being a smaller business. Reading this, I can see that we need to grow but not set our sights on being the biggest of companies. We can focus on the people that we do have and turn some of our lesser fans into true fans.

Posted by Tricia Meyer on March 8, 2008 at 7:57 PM

Great article Kevin. I mentioned it as my DIY Filmmaker blog: http://diyfilmmaker.blogspot.com/2008/03/100-true-fans.html

  • Sujewa
Posted by Sujewa on March 8, 2008 at 8:38 PM

This is good analysis for sure. I am going to summarize on my website, which is focused on providing indie musicians advice on how to manage their music in the digital age. This definitely furthers some of the thought out there regarding J. Coulton and others. Great article.

Matt

www.VolumeEleven.net

Posted by V11 on March 8, 2008 at 9:02 PM

I really enjoyed reading this article. Very interesting theories. To everyone’s success!

Posted by alex on March 9, 2008 at 6:25 AM

Alright KK. I’ll sign up as one of your “founding 1000” :-)

Posted by William on March 9, 2008 at 8:33 AM

Thanks for the very inspiring post. I’m a kinetic sculptor, animator and fan of Seth Godin, found this from his blog. I’m printing out most of this and nailing to the studio wall. I’m somewhere > 300 and < 400 (true fans) I suspect and have been at this for 15+ years, long tail indeed!

Posted by Gina Kamentsky on March 9, 2008 at 6:28 PM

As always, content is king. One must not forget that getting 1000 people to like your stuff will take a lot of work (most likely many years) to build up. The main hurdle to overcome is consistency. Your fans must be constantly fed. Leave them without anything new and they vanish forever. It takes a LOT of work but is completely possible.

Posted by NerdkoreDotCom on March 10, 2008 at 7:24 AM

Yes, Nerdkore, feeding fans is like feeding an animal. Constant care.

Posted by Kevin Kelly on March 10, 2008 at 12:26 PM

@doubt: You say “Even a top 10 STAR with Millions of PR dollars spent on them each year dosent GARNER 100.00 a year from a typical fan.”

That is right. A typical fan, even of big stars, does not spend $100 per year on their fav. But True Fans do. Even Lucas and Speilberg have True Fans who buy every action figure, mug, and poster edition that comes out. They easily spend 100 bucks. The stars don’t have many True Fans, maybe no more than 1,000, but they do have millions of typical fans. I suggest not focusing on the typical fan and go after the True Fan.

Posted by Kevin Kelly on March 10, 2008 at 12:48 PM

Isn’t it time that ‘true artistes’ connect with ‘true fans’. This I truly owe to the web because it became the vehicle for me to reach out to people whom I felt had no inkling that their work left a lasting imprint on me, be that books and most especially, music (as we’ve all been through that ‘finding a role-model’ stage). And in most cases, they are what we can term as ‘obscure’ and that no one seems to remember them.

For true artistes, 1 fan is value enough but I guess, 1,000 gets them over the hump to let them be true to themselves and continue being uniquely special in their own way.

Oh yes, count me in as a fan, kev!

Posted by friarminor on March 10, 2008 at 8:25 PM

Does an artist “sell-out” when they start to make money?

In this age of “file sharing” how do we pay the artist to survive another day and make more music?

In 1969 the great Ginger Baker, drummer of Cream parted ways with Eric Clapton and stated that Eric sold-out and became commercialized…in todyas file sharing age would we have an “Eric Clapton”? Would we hear more from Ginger Baker?

How will we pay to keep the music going? There are costs to the musician to make the music. Whom will bear those costs?

Posted by Cam Caldwell on March 10, 2008 at 8:42 PM

this has been my philosophy on being a living artist for a very long time, I am finally building it. I will get there, hell who needs 1,000 I would feel like fucking bill gates making 100k a year, I could go for 500 true fans! Great article, thanks!

Baxter www.baxterorr.com

Posted by Baxter Orr on March 10, 2008 at 11:14 PM

I found this article through Damien Mulley’s blog at http://www.mulley.net/2008/03/11/stations-of-the-cross-true-fans-and-micro-training-classes.

It’s a great read and an interesting proposition. I’ve seen it in action. Where the profit comes in I’m not sure, but the passion is there.

Well done. I too will be reading this again.

Darragh

Posted by Darragh on March 11, 2008 at 7:18 AM

great post. i’ve been struggling on how to continue to cultivate a small but growing number of true fans. it’s easy to overlook this very important group in pursuit of a super large crowd. i’m going to scale back, stay focused and continue to nurture this group.

Posted by Steve on March 11, 2008 at 8:28 AM

Great idea. 1,000 fans is a great number. I’m not exactly sure how many we have. Maybe I should make a list.

Posted by JunaD on March 11, 2008 at 8:52 AM

simple, but possible… ;) but i don’t think this plan inspire the artits, perhaps in 10 years, when the web 2.0 will get more popular.

Posted by michael on March 11, 2008 at 12:35 PM

As a visual artist, I find this to be a very interesting and empowering concept. This true-fan ‘business model’ reminds me a lot of the independent rap artist from the Bay Area: Too Short, E-40, etc began their careers by “selling records outta the trunk”, bypassing major record labels and getting supported financially by local ‘true fans’.

I forwarded your article to all my artist friends. Thanks!

Posted by Jor on March 11, 2008 at 2:46 PM

Some of these comments from readers are asking how to go about getting those 1,000 true fans. It may not be as hard as you think. Watch a movie called “800 Cd’s”, google it. You’ll see. It works like magic, I’ve seen these people do it. It teaches you how to reach fans fast, in-person, and how to create quality relationships with them. You’ll see, as the artists try it, it changes things for them dramatically. Make sure to take good notes. Email me and let me know if it’s working for you, loribell@xmission.com

Posted by Loribella on March 11, 2008 at 3:06 PM

Kevin, this post should be called “THE TAO OF LONG TAIL.”

What you’ve articulated here is a classic middle way. You must have some Buddhist DNA!

It’s always amazed me that most of what you read about musicians seems to be focused on the exceptional success stories at the head of the power law curve, while those who inhabit “the flatline” as you call it, are left with their day jobs.

I’ve produced, published and advised independent musicians for 30 years, and the ones who are successful at making a living on their music have two things in common: they are realistic about where they exist in the music food chain, and they create and sustain themselves on multiple small revenue streams. These other revenue streams should be considered to round out the picture you paint above of direct support by users.

They include: teaching, performing on other artists live gigs and recording projects; producing and/or engineering other artists recording projects; selling studio time to other artists; scoring small films, multimedia and commercials; building instruments; writing for music periodicals, blogs and web sites; and for a few, product endorsements.

Then there is the whole category of “licensing income” which is only going to get bigger in the digital era: music publishing royalties from their composition copyrights (ASCAP/BMI/etc), residual payments for licensed use of their recorded music in films, television, and advertisments.

This is not an exhaustive list — there are many ways to operate if you want to make a living at music. For a more complete treatment of these ideas, please see my long interview with independent musician Jamie Bonk.

:: SH

Posted by Stephen Hill on March 11, 2008 at 7:33 PM

Kevin,

Very interesting article.

I agree wholeheartedly with Keith Burtis, the web makes it possible to find those 1000 people who can support you doing what you do rather than what you need to do to survive. The necessity of living in a large city like Paris, London or New York; for a long time the only way to make your way as an artist, is no longer so important. I live in the middle of nowhere in a small ruined hamlet in Provence, I have one neighbor, (a sculptor) and a DSL line. I have managed to make a living now for ten years by selling my paintings and as the internet and blogosphere grew (I set up my first website in 1998) I gradually increased my ‘fan base’. In 2006 I was fortunate to have the NYTimes published a small article on my 19th century meets 21st century life and I was given an energetic push over that 1000 base. I send out a new painting to three thousand people almost everyday of the week, I can experiment and always some people will come with me. As I mature(?) as a painter and my work changes I am confident that enough ‘fans’ will come with me to enable me to continue for the rest of my life (touch wood).

Posted by Julian Merrow-Smith on March 12, 2008 at 3:16 AM

It might be good to stress the preferred consumption method of particular media types in your formula.

Music is totally virtual now. No need for a physical media distribution network. Movies are quickly moving in the same route.

However, the example with books is far too premature. The preferred consumption method is still ink-on-paper and that means that your costs to produce are going to much higher and the individual artist’s take will be less than 10% of gross receipts (probably far less than that).

Maybe this will change in the future but it’s not quite there yet.

Posted by Jamie on March 12, 2008 at 5:53 AM

Hi Mr. Kelly,

Great post. The simplicity of this concept struck me when you talked about this, when we where at your place. Never acted on it though, it is about time I do something with it.

Thanks again for diner. A white suit guy.

Posted by Arjen Schat on March 12, 2008 at 8:03 AM

Interesting article. I agree to a certain extent. I used to run a fan club for David Cassidy and to this day, it’s the “avid fans” that have kept him going in-between being in very well done projects.

However, he has a very split fan base of “Partridge Family” and “Post Partridge Family” fans. Sometimes he’s catered too much to the PF fans by doing songs he said he’d never sing again, etc. Even though, it’s the projects that have had nothing to do with the PF that have done the best. Finding a “balance” between nurturing your fans when you’ve become famous for something that’s not really you is a very difficult position to be in though. So I try not to be overly critical about any of the choices he’s made in his career. He’s still a great talent and because he has been so nice to me and many of the die-hard fans, I’ll always support him.

It’s also true that many devoted fans will bring along family & friends and encourage others to listen to their favorite artist.

However, there are also some very “devoted” fans who become very “obsessive” over artist. They will become so “over-protective” and pounce on anyone who has any critical comments about the artist or their works and that will actually drive away some of the more “casual fans.” I’ve also seen a few fans who have become very competative towards other fans as they want the artist for just themselves and/or their small group of friends. Sometimes it becomes like a “clique” in Jr. High or H.S. This is when these type of fans will actually be hurting the artists career.

So I feel it’s important that the artist makes it clear that they appreciate ALL their fans and that they appreciate both positive feedback and “Critical Critiques.” Not every fan can afford the money and/or time to fly all over the place to see a performer. However they should feel just as welcome at a local performance and/or M&G, otherwise they may be “put off” if they are made to feel less important just because they’re not rich, may have kids and a job - and a “real life” outside of enjoying a particular artists works. Otherwise, you’ll see the number of “devoted fans” becoming less & less.

Still, I do agree that the artists should nurture those who do go to the extra effort to support them. It only makes sense.

Thanks for this very intersting & informative article.

Posted by Cat on March 12, 2008 at 8:43 AM

This is the sort of marketing strategy that could use Propagate Ltd most effectively. By listing a work there and then directing “true fans” to bid on it, an artist could get his/her pay day and then sit back to watch true fans distribute the work to new fans world wide (when digital works are released via Propagate Ltd, duplication and redistribution rights are released to the public domain). Not only would the artist make a living, but the artist’s work would be spread to a larger audience, and true-fans would be rewarded for doing so.

Posted by Resolving Digital Piracy on March 13, 2008 at 2:41 PM

Hi Kevin and everyone,

I got inspired by the discussion of the 1000 True Fans idea and I noticed a few people asking about hiring people to help you do the work of reaching out to the fans, particularly if you’re more introverted and want to concentrate on your creative work.

I’m taking an Entrepreneurship class in university right now and our main project is to come up with a proposal and a plan for a business idea. My idea is a 1000-True-Fans inspired artist management and development service, which operates on a smaller scale and helps creators get the side admin tasks and connect to their fans better while having more time to create.

I would like to invite all of you to take my survey here: http://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?key=pEQ56W2Qsqh-TMjXxRub8JA&email=true

No identifying information is collected. If you’d like a copy of the results, let me know.

Thank you!

Posted by Tiara on March 13, 2008 at 11:03 PM

A glowing chorus of blog approval, the like of which 2.0 business modellers will no doubt strive to grow and revel in following this fine vanguard thinking.
The figure of 1,000 True Fans represents a grand (hehe) headline. It�s simple and judging by the comments, overwhelmingly inspirational in its achievability. Yet may I be drawn to illuminate an alternative figure. It’s just that the arbitrary nature of the mille-mark troubles me as a one-size-fits-all stamp.

I empathise with the problems of art and commerce as notoriously irritable cohabiters, being someone with a foot in both camps. Can debate be encouraged further around a pair of evolutions?

‘building block plans’ — Namely, adapting what the ‘one-to-one’ and ‘relationship’ marketing crowd have banged on about for years, whereby to succeed with such believers, you need a multi-layered plan to contact different levels of engagement with different ‘content’ — this is indeed more hard work, yet the rewards not only promote Lesser- to True-Fans, but also introduce that wonderful economic concept of ‘scarcity’ to your top-line offering.

‘bill payers’ — It’s clear that for different people, different numbers of True Fans are required in order to pay the bills. You could take a leaf here out of the lectern-army of entrepreneurial business consultants. Such self-styled luminaries as marketing experts and sales trainers that set out on their own often determine their daily rate by a simple formula: Gross Salary Target / 100 = Daily Consultancy Rate The reason for division by 100, is supposedly that these types of consultants tend to end up being able to bill for 100 out of the available 240 working days a year. So, taking this idea on a level, you can isolate your own tailored ‘1,000’ figure based on some kind of financial target. To make it even more incentivising, this target should be based on profit. Target Profit / average profit per item / average purchases per Fan = Number of True Fans required Being English, I’ll work in Pounds Sterling for an example and use as my target the alleged ‘mean’ wage here. I know of all I sell, I tend to make, say, a tenner margin per item (whether book, gig ticket, mp4, whatever). I also suspect that my True Fans would or do buy twice from me during a year. In this case, I need 1.5 thousand such followers to plough my own successful furrow: £30,000 / £10 / 2 = 1,500 True Fans required

How much value do these points add for you, I wonder?

Posted by harrison (from harrisongalaxy) on March 14, 2008 at 8:52 AM

Kevin, I will never think of it the same way again. Thanks! You (or listmates) might be interested in Steven Van Yoder’s book, Slightly Famous at www.getslightlyfamous.com. It helps you figure HOW to get 1,000 True Fans. It’s aimed at businesses and self-employment in general rather than just creative endeavors.

Judith,who’s slightly famous at homeschool conferences

Judith Waite Allee Co-author “Homeschooling on a Shoestring” and “Educational Travel on a Shoestring”

Posted by Judith on March 14, 2008 at 6:22 PM

The 1000 True Fans concept is a simple and amazing one. I already mentioned it at the SXSW (South By SouthWest) panel I participated on; Knowing your Audience. At IndieGoGo.com we are empowering artists to engage their fans. From fundraising to connecting with their 1000 True Fans, IndieGoGo was built with the independent artisit in mind so they can DIWO (Do It With Others). You mentioned Fundable.com, but now with IndieGoGo, the artist can share their creative vision in own place and turn the 1000 True Fans passion in action.

Thanks again for the great article and I look forward to spreading the word.

Posted by Slava Rubin on March 15, 2008 at 9:31 PM

Wow. Kevin, this is just golden.

You’ve been able to put everything we’ve all been observing, thinking and talking about into clearer words than I’ve been able to find.

I rave about this article on my music marketing blog at maxlowe.net. This will be the new model of sustainable arts and culture.

Posted by Max Lowe on March 19, 2008 at 12:04 PM

My experience so far is this: I have been an independent musician for years. Traditional cd sales have been small but widespread thanks to places like cdbaby. Recently I decided to release my newest cd as a free download on my site. Within 2 weeks it had been downloaded more times than sales of my 3 cds on cdbaby combined. Yet no one had clicked my paypal donation link. So what is better? Having more copies (exposure) out there or having some form of (small) income? Right now I fall on the exposure side, I’m also giving away a lot of my sheet music. But I worry that giving things away in hope of attracting fans will diminish the likelihood that they will become “True Fans” and pay for things down the road.

Posted by Sean on March 19, 2008 at 12:44 PM

I accidentally cultivated 15,000 True Fans by filling a need in an underserved niche online while following my heart…Ummm, so like I put up a little website about my family living on a raw-vegan diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds - unheated - oh, yeah, everyone knows about this now right? Well, anyway, it was one of the first raw sites about 10 years ago and after reading an article about Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing in YIL (remember them?) - I put up a newsletter. For many years I slaved away maintaining my list through entourage groups - I should have my head examined, I know! But now all’s well with dadamail and life is good!

So, I understand how to do this in an underserved niche I think - But how do you stand out as a musician - my next test…..Maybe out of those 15,000 I can find 1,000 True Fans!

Thanks for putting this concept into concrete form! The Internet saves starving artists and keeps them off the street at the same time! Cuz y’know it takes a lot of work but yes it is so gratifying to actually communicate with your fans, read their emails, soak up that love! :)

Posted by Jinjee on March 19, 2008 at 8:49 PM

Well, obviously if you’re going to follow this strategy, you should aim for True Fans with a lot of money. One rich True Fan is worth infinitely many True Fans who have no money to give you patronage. Generally the noun “patron” is modified by the adjective “wealthy”. So appeal to the rich. Make your art a luxury good.

Also, this strategy is more likely to succeed for certain types of art than for others. Hard to imagine it working well for something like music, since the appreciation of music is almost inherently social. If you’re out with your friends, you want to listen to the same thing. Even more true if you’re at a party. Going to concerts is a social thing. Furthermore, music has strong ethnic and subcultural affiliations. It’s an important ingroup/outgroup marker - the people who listen to rap aren’t the same as the people who listen to country. So, what music you listen to depends on what other people are listening to. This creates a sort of positive feedback effect that makes big bands bigger and small bands smaller. Thus, bands usually wind up hitting it fairly big (at least regionally or within a certain subculture) or staying pretty small (maybe they play gigs covering popular music at local bars, but nobody buys their CDs or cares much for their original stuff).

So, if I were a musician, I certainly wouldn’t count on having any success with this True Fan idea. For authors, though, the same reason why the idea fails miserably for music make it more practical for literature. Reading is almost inherently anti-social - you have to do it alone. True, people do like to read the same things as other people, so that they can talk about what they read, or also to look smart or cool by reading certain books, but the effect is not nearly as strong as it is for music. So for writers, having a small base of isolated fans is a tenable strategy.

Posted by Sam on March 20, 2008 at 9:50 PM

this is really inspiring. I have a deal with a Global New Age Record company and I love it! But CD sales are down everywhere, so now more than ever its down to the artist to get out there…And the ineternet is THE TOOL..My space has been very good for me to get interest and alot of love of my music…but turning that interest into 1000 true fans, well I could do with help on that!

Posted by kavi on March 22, 2008 at 6:45 AM

Kevin, thanks for verbalizing what I was trying to tell my business partner for some months now. Since true fans are now hidden somewhere in between the massive amount of free downloaders of music that are scattered around the Internet world.

We are now offering musicians in rap hip hop and reggae an opportunity to use free beats http://rap.jairdynast.com to remix our rapper for a chance to win a grand prize plus get featured, promoted and distributed internationally at absolutely no cost to them. We want to reach “truly talented and skills artists” and give them an opportunity to gain valuable exposure free. We know first hand that artists struggle with day jobs in order to perfect their craft and continually feed the habit of music.

Your article is definitely thought-provoking and subscribes to “out-of-the-box” thinking. This requires a second read and is achievable at any level and can have many applications. It allows someone to target, start small and build a network of true fans.

Kevin, thanks for keeping my creative juices flowing on what was a pretty slow day…lol

Posted by Beau Trickey on March 24, 2008 at 9:05 AM

Great post. (thanks Seth Godin) This has obviously worked for bands like the Dead and Phish, who didn’t worry about mass marketing and didn’t worry about people ripping off their stuff, but instead worked on making sure that the people who did and would like their stuff got a chance to enjoy it and pay for it. Very possibly every guitar lick Jerry Garcia played live (both the good ones and the horrible ones) are available somewhere for free, but all that did was encourage fans to go out and participate in the live shows, which is where most bands make their money anyway.

Posted by Mike Keller on March 24, 2008 at 10:03 AM

This is right on. Speaking as a musician, I don’t want stardom, I just to make a living so I can make more music.

Most bands dream of getting signed, as an end in itself, not realizing that label money is an extremely expensive loan. They will be dropped as soon as their sales start to decline. Better to be small, to grow slowly and to have as few middlemen as possible. Micro-patronage.

Plus, given the way music is currently marketed, for those in the genre gaps, directly connecting with core fans is the only way to make a living anyway. Thanks for the blog.

Posted by Zoe Keating on March 24, 2008 at 11:33 PM

This is a fascinating combination of post and comments. I am a visual artist-craftsman working is a very old-fashioned and specialised field. I live by commissions. I have always thought that I can sustain myself as an artist if just 100 people worldwide occasionally commissioned a bookplate (ex libris)from me. Time will tell.

Posted by Andy English on March 25, 2008 at 4:03 AM

Annie Hardy of Giant Drag is doing something quite similar to Jill Sobule right now. She’s soliciting her True Fans to help finance her album seeing as how she owes her old record label $70,000. I think it’s a great idea!

Posted by Audrey on March 26, 2008 at 2:06 PM

I started to play music in 1969. In those days you could only enter a recording studio when you had a contract. And those were almost impossible to get, especially in Germany, where I live. The music I play ( instrumental guitar with feel, melody and vocal like expression ) was never something for the companies. They wanted the hits. With the upcoming of home recording, for the first time I was able to make the music audible that I was carrying inside. My first self produced debut Western Skies was released 1989. Of course we had no chance to get a wider audience, although there was some airplay and brilliant reviews in the magazines. Since then we have released 10 albums, and it is only now that we get fans all over the world, from asia to scandinavia. It’s still not the big figures, and we do some studio work and also have produced 700+ tracks of library music to make a living. But today I know it is possible to get in contact with our future fans, and they can be much more than 1000, as instrumental music is beyond anylanguage. I’m very thankful for articles like this, as they encourage me to go on. Even if at times, the next step is not clear or there is a block somewhere.

Peter Blue Blue Star

Posted by Peter Blue on March 27, 2008 at 1:50 PM

I view with wonder both the adulation and controversy created by your article. Its title, 1000 True Fans, is only a metaphorical benchmark, yet it is precisely because it is a powerful and easy to grasp symbol that most of those giving the article either a �thumbs up� or �thumb down� fail to get the basic premise, which is reflected in your simple and true statement: �Direct fans are best.� The key word to tag here is, direct.

Those taking the “contra-Kelly” position are quick to point out that $100,000 per year would be a dream come true for most struggling artists with day-jobs who are on the verge of giving up their dreams of making any money at all. However, most critics overlook the important point that you use the �formalized� term, 1000 True Fans, to represent a process or �path� rather than a specific result.

Even within the long tail environment fostered by new technologies, there are practical opportunities for artists to make a living by focusing on �the heads within the tails� rather than the stardom of the �heads within the heads.� As you note, this is accomplished by using the power of �the very technology that creates the long tail� to establish direct rather then indirect connections.

For those interested, we elaborate on these points at the Nightschool For Entrepreneurs column at The Fix at Fuzz: http://www.fuzz.com/articles/article/Nightschool-49

Posted by thecapitalclinic on March 28, 2008 at 4:16 AM

Ever since I read this post, and even made my first comment, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This is a fantastic idea, but it occurs to me that this idea has particular challenges when it comes to musicians. Primarily among them, to make enough product to sell every year. But also that most musicians are in bands, rather than singular, which makes the numbers difficult to reach.

But there’s still another issue: Most pro musicians have a significant income from music licensing and similar money sources. So, my question is: do you focus on getting your fans to buy more, or do you focus on getting more fans? The latter makes it more likely to follow in Jonathan Coulton’s footsteps, who managed to license a song to G4 for their show “Code Monkeys.”

There’s more in a blog entry here:

http://blog.indiebandsurvivalguide.com/?p=10

Posted by Randy Chertkow on March 29, 2008 at 1:27 PM

I suppose it’s every artist’s dream to find those sponsors. Mine too of course. I am just starting out; it’s a hobby for me. I’ll let you know how i get on.

Posted by Lesley on March 31, 2008 at 5:35 AM

Kevin. You put a lot of thought into this. Thanks for the clarity. This makes being a creator in the digital age a possibility, rather than a problem. I can proceed with confidence, without feeling “overwhelmed.” Thank you.

Posted by Nathanael Matthias Weiss on April 4, 2008 at 3:08 PM

Very insightful article. I am an indie artist and have notched up some 45k in plays on Myspace, some good reviews, and still have not raised enough cash to release something I’d be happy with. I realized that the myspace page was serving as a platform for filtering ‘real’ fans after I noted the main site had 7k in visitors from some 20k visitors to myspace - so, there are some real fans there amongst the mud. I have sold 180 hand made eps, and my main site has 420 subscribers and I receive regular letters. Although I don’t feel comfortable with a ‘finan

Posted by Lindsay on April 5, 2008 at 2:29 PM

The superficial purpose of compensating artists is so that they can make a living creating the art that is enjoyed by others. A more profound purpose is to encourage the continued production of valued art for the benefit of society as a whole.

A problem with the patronage model is that support of a patron turns the artist into the servant of the patron. The creativity of patron supported artists has traditionally been manipulated and directed by the whims of their patrons. Look at the centuries of religious art produced while the church was the primary patron of artists.

In an ideal world, the free market rewards creators to the extent they produce art that is valued by art consumers. An artist has the freedom to create whatever art they please, while consumers are only obliged to pay fair market value for the art they “consume”.

The current dominance of the major record labels is a legacy of the limitations of the old brick and mortar technology. It took time for physical media to be manufactured, shipped, stocked, and purchased. The original justification for copyright monopolies was to provide time for creative works to reach consumers through the relatively slow production and distribution channels.

The legacy record labels make a lot of noise about digital distribution depriving artists of fair compensation. The problem with this claim is that the legacy recording labels have exploited their control over the traditional brick and mortar distribution of physical media to largely eliminate the compensation of creators for their recordings. Only a tiny percentage of artists benefit financially from recordings of their performances. Most artists are obliged to sign over all rights to their recorded performances to the record label. The primary benefit for most creators of having a recording in retail store is the promotional value for selling tickets to live performances.

One of the primary functions of free markets is to create alternatives to inefficient industries. The inherent costs and constraints of the traditional recording industry have created strong incentives for the market to find better alternatives. The legacy recording industry is attempting to frustrate the natural functions of a free market in order to preserve its ability to abuse that market.

One of the problems that the Internet is quite capable of solving is the compensation of creators. A modified dutch auction provides both a way for “1000 fans” to support their favored artists, and a free market means of setting fair market values on creative works.

In essence, a creator offers (some) rights to a recording for auction, setting a minimum yield/total earnings that he will accept. Consumers bid what they would be willing to pay for an advance limited edition enhanced value copy of the work. A yield calculation determines the price point that will return the best total yield to the creator (gross revenue vs number of copies). A successful auction in effect collectively purchases limited rights to copy and distribute the recording, for the public domain.

Each successful bidder receives an enhanced value copy at the price point before the recording becomes available to anyone else - they have a short period of time to recover their bid investment by reselling copies of their copy. The creator gets compensated up-front, their some rights to their recording become public domain, and those who facilitated the transfer are able to recover their costs from secondary consumers. Since rights to copy and distribute the recording have been transferred to the public domain by the auction, music piracy is transformed into a highly effective distribution and publicity system.

The current system provides little more than publicity for the vast majority of creators. A rights auction provides creators with greater direct earnings from their recordings, allows them to retain greater persistent rights to their work, and enables a far more effective means of publicity, than the legacy record labels.

Posted by Kort on April 13, 2008 at 12:59 AM

Am I the only one who finds fault in this plan based on the expectation that the artist live AND fund their own work on that annual income? Factor in taxes, insurance, and all the other costs which come with running a startup company, and you’re left with a pep talk that’s short on economic sense.

Does the author know anything about the overhead it can take to produce $100 worth of consumer products? It means multiple releases per year, at the very least. Sorry to be a downer, but this is not realistic.

Posted by words on April 15, 2008 at 9:24 PM

The 1000 fans is presented more as the minimum threshold of viability. More would obviously better, but the point was that it’s possible to survive if you can reach 1000 supportive fans. The Internet expands the effective marketplace for any performer far beyond his local area. A performer who can’t find enough local interest might well find enough fans spread around the world to support his work.

As for cost overheads - how much does it cost to manufacture and distribute digital copies of a recorded performance?

Posted by Kort on April 18, 2008 at 12:37 AM

Good post! Reminds me why people working in niche marketing get so excited about web2.0.

You figure there are about 1,000 people out there interested in your product, which is enough.

In the past, it would have been impossible to reach them without a massive advertising spend on billboards and newspapers - and most of that effort would be spent on brand impressions for people who don’t give a toot about your widget and never will.

Without that budget, you could only reach people locally, with bill posting and ads in the local rag - and locally, there just aren’t people interested in your widget.

So if you got lucky once a year there would be a widget convention to go to, where you can expand your contacts base.

But with social media, websites, blogs etc. it’s suddenly very easy to create content which appeals to your target audience and kind of sniff them out.

You can be in contact with them all the time. With their blogs you can find out what they like, and hit the people who need to know about your widget with targeted marketing material (e.g. RSS feeds from your blog).

It’s like being at a trade show all the time. 1,000 fans is suddenly possible.

Except for me, because my widgets suck. That’s why I concentrate on getting other people some fans.

Posted by Paul on April 18, 2008 at 7:43 AM

Wow! this particular blog is so popular! It shows how many artists already use the internet. I put a link to this on my blog. I downloaded the book http://www.davidparrish.com/dp/uploads/TShirtsAndSuits.AGuideToTheBusinessOfCreativity and I will watch the 800cds thing if I can find it.

People go on holiday to places where there is art, like London or Venice, to look at art, and hotel prices food travel etc make it an expensive holiday. So virtual art galleries like mine are nice because they save folks money. You only need to use a computer to see my work. Also the carbon footprint for looking at my work must be smaller than visiting a city far away. So how the xxxx do I get people to offer to buy it? All the above contributers avoid that vital question.

Posted by Lesley on April 19, 2008 at 8:00 AM

Kevin,

Thanks for a great article with lot of food for thought.

I began as a wannabe visual artist several decades back and (in order to make a living) went into the soul-sucking world of commercial art and design as a career when family obligations demanded that I set my sights higher (or lower) than being a starving artistic idealist. The repercussions of that choice spelled death for that part of my life that was involved in visual art. And there was no internet or anything back then to allow it to exist as a sideline enterprise.

Fortunately, I was and am also a musician. The soul-sucking day-to-day grind of my “day job” did not nearly have the impact on that area of life as it did on my visual art. In fact, it has sort of been its salvation of sorts. I feel “cleansed” when I make music. And, as a result I am rather reluctant to even attempt to merge my music making with a commercial world - beyond just the bare minimum of attempts to keep it going and obtain a few opportunities to perform.

I am extremely cautious that it NOT become a “job” in any way. I want to keep it “pure” and only to create what I want to create - without the external considerations of monetary reward. I do create and sell product, I do do some amount of marketing. But, I am really mostly happy that I am not depending on this one last “gift” (my second chance at a creative life) as a means to make a living.

Even so, I can see many useful things in this article that will help me do just that. I don’t even need 1000 True Fans. I am already making a living by other means. I just do want to continue to create and perform the stuff that interests me for as long as possible, and share it with as many people as will listen.

Thank you for writing such a wonderful and useful article. Perhaps some of the concepts in it will help me keep it going for another decade or two.

Best regards,

Ted Killian

Posted by Ted Killian on April 23, 2008 at 1:19 PM

Avante-garde guitarist Buckethead has these ideals down to a science.His fan base mostly hangs out at 3 web forums,and pretty much all he has to do is get the word out on a new album on one of those and he can count on selling at least a few hundred copies within a few days.Last summer he released a 13 disc set of new material called “INSEARCHOFTHE”;each disc was hand-drawn/numbered and he sold many hundreds of sets:to me THAT is the kind of fan dedication that a major label cannot facilitate.Buckethead mainly works out of a small studio owned and run by Travis Dickerson called Travis Dickerson Recording Studio,or TDRS.He has also recorded all of Viggo Mortensen’s albums there.The artists on his site can sell quality cd’s,and they usually arrive within a few days of the posted starting shipping date.When artists like Buckethead make these concrete and GENUINE connections to fans and people who help them get their music out there a higher level of artistic integrity can be achieved as well as a more intimate connection to the fans.What other Guns n’ Roses member(new or old)can you think of who would go so far as to produce hand-made box sets, or release 20+ albums of QUALITY material in a single year?!

Posted by dollar?! on April 24, 2008 at 6:10 AM

Please cast my vote for “economics don’t add up”. I was following you fine until I got to “$100 profit from each fan”. Even if you have an impressive 50% profit margin on the “items” you sell, be they digital music tracks, t-shirts or mouse pads, that still means you have to come up with at least $200 of new product to sell to these poor 1000 people, every year.

$200 in product?! What will this be?

Suppose I release four CDs a year; that’s a stretch and that’s still only $60-80 a year. Can I tour and catch these 1000 people? Unlikely that I can charge more than $20 so that’s only $20K admissions (and more merch of course) to get me to travel the entire world; more likely I’d play a few large cities and perhaps 400 of my fans would come; that’s still averaging perhaps $10 per true fan.

I’m a huge fan of some bands, I buy everything they come up with, I can confidently say I’ve never spent $200 on any artist in any year.

Even if you could do that, running such a business on $100K seems impossible. Unless you’re some superhuman being, producing a dozen pieces of new product a year while touring requires at least one full-time person helping and a pretty serious outlay for gear.

And you don’t get to take a break here. Your continued existence depends on keeping that pipeline full to those quickly-tiring 1000 fans. Losing one fan is losing a lot of money for you.

Your numbers are wrong. You need 10,000 true fans. At that point the economics are reasonable: you make about $20 profit off each one and it supports three people and some gear purchases.

Posted by Tom Swirly on April 26, 2008 at 9:25 AM

Hey! Great post! I included it in a comment I made on CommunitySpark - I hope you don’t mind.

Posted by Eric Martindale on April 29, 2008 at 9:47 AM

Great article, Kevin. So good, I took the liberty to translate it to Spanish and post it on my website. You can check it out here:

http://revista69.com/1000-fans-verdaderos/

If you want me to delete it, just send me an e-mail and I will do it right away.

Posted by Revista 69 on April 29, 2008 at 4:26 PM

Thanks Kevin. I have published an article in my blog today. Good Work.

Posted by Fabio - Italy on May 28, 2008 at 3:07 AM

as much as i like this article (probably the most realistic i’ve read so far and i’ve read a lot), i have to say it’s not THAT easy. two things were overlooked and they’re even basic economics:

  1. in order for hardcore fans to spend $100 per year on you, you have to be able to offer (new) things worth $100 per year. what would that be? five cd releases per year? merchandise? concerts? especially an author would have a really hard time as writing books take time.

  2. you’re neglecting the costs. margins are low, especially for concerts. cd production and merchandise cost money as well. if i can raise $10,000, most of it is going into the production. especially since my hardcore fans expect quality.

sure, you could make $100,000 per year if you worked your butt off. but after all expenses, i doubt there’d be enough left to make a living.

Posted by Oliver on June 9, 2008 at 11:03 PM

I have been working in a creative field for over ten years, and have had around ten thousand customers. about half of those are fans. about half of THOSE are true fans.

I am poor but I get by, and my art is my only work.

I take a month off every year to recuperate.

I work four or five days a week. This is down from five or six up until about two years ago.

It’s hard and I wish I had a manager to handle it for me, but managers for visual artists are very hard to find.

I think the majority of working professional artists have always gotten by in this manner.

Posted by anji on July 7, 2008 at 5:26 PM

Thank you for sharing your information on the music industry.

Posted by JaWar on July 12, 2008 at 2:38 PM

great post. nit picking, but you will need more fans than that assuming that 100% of the $100 gets carved up between distributors, etc. Granted the middleman fees are under pressure.

Posted by ventureblogalist on July 21, 2008 at 2:04 PM

The cool thing is that it applies to a lot of solo software artists too. One or few thousand True Fans as customers is a dream come true. Some of them may pay a lot more.

I think 43Signals model is somewhat along similar lines. Few customers paying about $30-$50 a month.

Dorai

Posted by Dorai Thodla on July 22, 2008 at 10:00 AM

I, too, share this article often.

I shared this article with a friend, who then proceeded to pre-finance his next album with the Fundable approach.

So it works. For music, at least. I’m still trying to figure out how to make it practical for myself as a comic book writer. Comics have quite a low per-unit cost.

Posted by Caleb Monroe on August 12, 2008 at 4:39 PM

It was great reading the article and comments. I thought I’d add that “1,000 True Fans” seems to me to be a new twist on Eric von Hipple’s premise about LEAD USERS from his 1988 book “Sources of Innovation” (you can download the pdf here http://web.mit.edu/evhippel/www/sources.htm).

Posted by darrylxxx on August 18, 2008 at 6:07 AM

@Darryl. Yes von Hipple’s notions of user-generated innovation do have some bearing. You can use your True Fans not only for support but for new innovations.

Posted by Kevin Kelly on August 19, 2008 at 3:47 PM

Thanks for a great article!

Posted by Gipp on September 15, 2008 at 4:50 AM

This is dumb. If they are True Fans (TM), only one is enough to do the job. Just leech it (install in his/her flat, ask him/her to do the shopping, wash clothes, etc.) until exhaustion, then pick up another one.

Posted by Bob on September 24, 2008 at 10:38 AM

tao lin sold shares in his second novel and made $12,000

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2008/aug/06/takingstockoftaolin

Posted by k on October 15, 2008 at 10:42 PM

Kevin,

I think there’s a lot to be said for the 1,000 true fans model.

Here’s why I think we don’t have many artists succeeding that way right now:

Until that essential fan base is established, most artists have to maintain other jobs. Working 8-10 hours a day, it’s simply impossible to give fans the attention and personal experience required in this model.

All the poor artists out there trying to go it alone, it’s just too much. If they become too focused on fan-building, there’s no time to create.

What’s really needed—and somebody could make a killing doing it—is a suite of affordable services to facilitate that process.

Another issue for book authors is that there is nothing like CDBaby for ebooks. Instead, various authors’ works are scattered among innumerable tiny outlets, making it really hard for authors to connect with their potential readers.

There’s a definite need for an aggregator there (along the lines of TV Guide, which you referenced in a different post).

I think ultimately for book authors it’s going to have to be a much higher number of fans than 1,000, maybe around 5,000, simply because of the public concept of the worth of a book/e-book and also the difficulty in identifying book-oriented merchandise that people actually want to own and/or book-oriented events that they’re willing to pay to attend.

I think your concepts are sound. It’s just going to take some time for us all to work out the kinks.

Posted by Dora McAlpin on October 21, 2008 at 6:07 AM

Wonderful post, I don’t have 1,000 True Fans yet, but now that I have read this, I want 1,000 True Fans. This clearly makes sense to the creator/artist, but I am more curious how well this parlays into the niche service industry.

==================================== James Link Building

Posted by James on October 29, 2008 at 12:32 AM

Wonderful post, I don’t have 1,000 True Fans yet, but now that I have read this, I want 1,000 True Fans. This clearly makes sense to the creator/artist, but I am more curious how well this parlays into the niche service industry.

==================================================== james Link Building

Posted by James on October 29, 2008 at 12:37 AM

I think in other areas of creative content, the 1,000 may be less necessary.

However, contrarily, if you’re in the software area, Marc Andresen says scale is your friend:

http://www.longtail.com/thelongtail/2008/11/the-miraculous.html

Posted by Nathan Ketsdever on November 18, 2008 at 8:55 PM

I fear that this whole deal is for egotistical folks who think they have lot of talent, should be artists, and making money from it. I have things to attend to today, and when my computer is back to snuff (next week), I’ll read this all more carefully. And this stupid Captcha thing is too hard to match.

Posted by Robert Evans on January 7, 2009 at 9:48 AM

Even though I’ve been told I should write a book some day (and if I hadn’t become a teacher in 1968, to avoid being drafted, I might have gone on to English grad school), I always felt one needs to have something to say. I love music, but I’m not a musician making a CD. People read less these days than they used to, and the average American doesn’t ever read one book per year. I don’t see how one could ever gather 1,000 true fans, unless he or she had something very compelling to say, but I’d be glad to think of the book I’ve always wanted to write and take it from there.

Posted by Robert Evans on January 8, 2009 at 12:45 PM

How many artists could make a living under this model before it reaches over saturation? Would each true fan have to be a fan exclusively of one artist? Could that fan be an artist with their own core of 1k fans?

Posted by Awed Job on January 8, 2009 at 1:58 PM

This is a lot of information to digest and I’m not certain I agree with everything I have read. However, I will go over it again later this weekend. You have many comments - both good and not so good.
If nothing else, your approach to the marketing of this is quite unique and has generated a great deal of interest and traffic.
Good for you!

Posted by Duchess O'Blunt on January 9, 2009 at 7:08 AM

This is very enlightening Kevin - “Thank you”. It can be difficult to find the balance between being an artist and funding the lifestyle you need to “keep being an artist” and following your passion. Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate it. Smiles to you, Yvonne

Posted by Yvonne Rice on January 10, 2009 at 4:21 AM

Kevin, This is a fantastic article, and you hit on something i’ve been saying for a long time. I survive in this business by this concept. My “fans” are my friends, and come to my shows, buy the cds, and occasional t-shirts, and generally support me. I’ve been touring independently for 9 years now…..doing 200 shows a year…..just completed a 50 States in 50 Days tour, and could not survive without the help of my friends. Thanks for the article. I’ve linked to it on my website. Sincerely, Kevin Montgomery http://www.kevinmontgomery.com

Posted by Kevin Montgomery on January 20, 2009 at 2:08 PM

Kevin: My brother sent me this post and I loved it. We’re in the process of trying this model with our upcoming record. We’ve built a new site and created a film describing the project. If it works out for us we’re planning on writing a piece documented the process and hopefully giving pointers to other artists and bands who want to try it. Our site’s at www.comandantezero.com. I’ll definitely point to this post in our blog.

Thanks,

Dan

Posted by Dan Freeman on January 22, 2009 at 11:30 AM

Excellent article and blog!! Indeed i will be spending much time here, and I just tweeted it!!

Thank you.

Posted by Ahad Bokhari on March 3, 2009 at 8:09 AM

Fabulous post. I just finished reading Tribes by Seth Godin and this post rings very true to me based on what I’ve just finished reading.

Posted by Ian on March 4, 2009 at 4:41 AM

An amazing resource. I came across this article through IndieGoGo . I will apply the 1,000 true fans on my independent film “The Myth of Man”. This will incorporate my DVD, Poster, Stills, Screenplay etc. Thank you, Kevin.

http://www.indiegogo.com/themythofman

Posted by Mr. Sifuentes on March 5, 2009 at 8:25 PM

Hi Kevin,

A friend of mine shared this post, and I am absolutely encouraged by the ideas presented. It never crossed my mind that my coaching clients can be “True Fans”.

I can’t wait to apply these principles to my astrology-based executive/career/life coaching business.

More power to you, Kevin!

Noel www.coachnoel.com

Posted by Noel Albano on March 22, 2009 at 9:06 PM

I think your principles sound good on paper, but the economics in your first example are off. It is VERY hard for a musician to get even his truest fans to spend a hundred dollars a year.

More like twenty or thirty, really, which is the price of a couple of cd’s or dvd’s. Maybe they’ll come to a show if you can afford to get to where they are. Those ARE true fans. Casual fans buy one of your cd’s and that’s it - for their entire life. Obsessed fans may spend a hundred on merchandise a year, but even the most established indie bands with twenty or forty year careers have a limited number of those.

So there are certainly some good ideas here, it’s something that a lot of musicians that want to remain independent think about (myself, I tend to think more along the lines of ‘five good fans in every big city’) it’s just a little optimistic in terms of the number of fans you need. I should point out that getting three or five thousand good fans is extremely difficult without financial backing (loans) from somewhere - like a bank or a record company.

Another example, about Lawrence Watt Evans, he has been a working writer for something like thirty years, and has had all that time to build a good following of ‘true fans’. In the meantime he had contracts and promotion from great, big, eveil and greedy companies. Now, I don’t know his finances and I don’t want to presume, but after thirty years in the business, just the advance he makes from a book that shows up in a store like B&N or Amazon ought to far outstrip what he made selling each chapter for a hundred bucks. It does sound like a good way to publish stuff your publishers don’t want, though. Publishing is still one of the areas in art where the contracts are actually OK. I couldn’t see a writer at this point wanting that to be his writing income unless he has a nice side job.

Posted by Jason on March 25, 2009 at 8:39 AM

Great article thanks. And I’ve always put ‘making a living’ over ‘worldwide fame’ in my musical pursuits. I do it because I love it, but I’d like to be able to AFFORD to do it more often than I can at the moment.

My only worry is getting 1000 true fans, which takes a hell of a long time when you are also spending every free hour on recording the music itself. I have some very loyal ‘fans’ at the moment but not large numbers. I know that 1000x that would be more than enough for me.

Posted by SpacehotelMusic.com on March 27, 2009 at 11:28 AM

kevin, this is a wonderful insight that i myself came to in a manner of speaking over twenty years ago. i have recorded 24 albums in that time and have toured and composed and recorded and had a wonderful and comfortable life doing just as you suggest. last year i created a blog to help all us artist types realize what it is we can do to be true to ourselves and our gifts. so far we’ve had 525,000 hits, not robot hits, but actual hits. just helping people. check it out if you like: www.datamusicata.com and thanks for the article, as a matter of fact, i’d love to reprint it in datamusicata (with all the appropriate credit and url’s, etc if you would give me permission.) in any event, thanks again, james lee stanley james@jamesleestanley.com

Posted by james lee stanley, datamusicata on April 11, 2009 at 4:36 PM

you have put numbers and research to the plan i’ve been working on since 2004. great stuff. welcome to my bookmarks!

Posted by samax on April 14, 2009 at 8:21 AM

Great stuff. However, I guess it also depends on the assumption that a true fan would spend $100 per year on you, which would then depend on how much your stuff costs. If you were a musician, whose product sells for under $25 per year, you would probably have to come up with many more products to sell in that year than a sculptor, who might be able to sell their one piece for several hundred to several thousands of dollars per year. If you were a painter and could sell your paintings for $500 ea, and your true fans were ones who bought anything and everything you produced, then you would only need 200 true fans to make $100k. 1,000 seems like a small number until you add the stipulation that they are willing to buy anything and everything…then it seems large. :)

Posted by Melissa on April 21, 2009 at 9:04 AM

I have now read pretty much every comment made on this post and boy it took me some time!

For many years I have been struggling to come to a concrete goal regarding my rock band DonkeyBox. This article helps focus things a bit better for a band. Infact I would say the best thing is to small chunk the target. For me that would be:

  1. 25 true fans by 3 months
  2. 100 true fans by a year
  3. 1000 true fans by two years

This seems like a very real target to achieve and in the process I will find out realistically how my targeting is after 3 months.

I can then keep tweaking my marketing etc., until I am back in track for my exponential growth between Year 1 and 2. I’ll let you know how I get along with this!

http://www.donkeybox.co.uk DonkeyBox (Greenday and Metallica doing the funky chicken dance together)

Posted by Atul from DonkeyBox on May 6, 2009 at 2:35 PM

Talk to webcartoonist Randal Milholland of SomethingPositive.Net about this. I’m not sure if he’s still doing it this way, but a few years ago he challenged his readers that if they’d donate enough money to equal his salary, he’d quit his job and work on the comic full time.

Not sure if that’s how he still makes his money, but I know the comic still gets updated more or less daily.

Posted by Lincoln Crisler on May 7, 2009 at 8:10 AM

thanks for articulating this idea - I’ve put it to good use for the michaelgemina.com - Michael is a 20 year old Filipino drummer who needs 500,000 pesos (roughly 17K USD) to get to a 5-week programme in Berklee School of Music (and hopefully audition for the full programme). Using your 1,000 True Fans concept we tried to get 1,000 true fans to donate 10 USD towards his cause. We’re now almost at 1,700 fans and if we reach 2,000 true fans, he will need only about 5 USD each to reach his dream! Thanks again for your post!

Posted by Paul "The Pageman" Pajo on May 13, 2009 at 3:30 AM

What a world. I’ve been reading and writing about the subjects of micropayments, sponsorships, patronage and the like since sometime around the demise of MP3.com. I’ve been operating my recording studio, Steam Powered, on the principle of listener sponsorships since 2002, and have been working on building my sponsor base (my magic number is 3,000) ever since. And despite the parallel of interests and ideas, I just found this post!

Goes to show how hard it is to connect with people. That’s one of the reasons that the 1,000 True Fan idea has been so seldom achieved, I think.

Anyway, hello! I haven’t read every post here yet, but will certainly learn a lot from them. Let me add a link to my most recent idea, an application to help true fans track their sponsorships.

http://www.somewhereoutwest.com/sponster_demo.html

Just a series of graphics indicating what might occur in the ap, plus some explanation about it.

Leave comments- then visit

http://www.somewhereoutwest.com

the worlds first (and only) listener sponsored recording studio!

(in the interest of full disclosure, I’m up to about 20 sponsors now, at $20 a year, for all the music I record here)

Posted by Jeff Coleman on June 1, 2009 at 9:18 AM

Ive yet to get the true fan numbers up… I have one fan in USA who will buy my stuff, and 250 odd lesser fans via facebook, and another 20 or so via other writing websites…

Anyone wishing to check out my work can see http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=736687279&ref=name for my Facebook page or http://www.writingsinrhyme.com for my website…

Go on… be a true fan!!!

Posted by Tomás Ó Cárthaigh on June 11, 2009 at 9:29 AM

Someone should create a widget that lets the writer/musician/artist enter the gross proceeds for what they create and spits out a variety of equations for how many true fans they would need to make it work. I’m a novelist with a mainstream publisher. I can only write one book a year, but I have four in print. I only make 15% per book. So how many people do I need to buy how many books to make a living? It would be an invaluable service. Thank you for the illuminating post.

Posted by Jennie Nash on June 11, 2009 at 11:13 AM

this is exactlty how radiohead became the most respected band in the world.

1 000 true fans is enough to make a living and still make music without comprimission (as opposed to Britney Spears’ for example). that’s one of the reasons why the internet is such a good thing: by allowing niches to get visibility all around the world at low cost, it’s helping us move out of the claws of the mainstream.

Posted by incolas on June 20, 2009 at 1:00 PM

I disagree that 1,000 true fans are enough to support you as an artist. 1,000 real fans are certainly better than any number less than 1K.

If you have a band, it won’t come close to supporting everyone. If you want to tour, other than a couple hours from your home base, it mostly likely will not be enough either.

I would like to see this laid out as most companies do in their annual financial state. Show everyone what the bottom line profits will be after expenses & after taxes, etc. One person might be OK, but, a 4 or 5 piece band, no way.

We have coined real fans into TRUE BLUE FANS (TBF), firmly believe the number of TBF NEEDED to support a tour are more like 10K which equals one million in gross sales annually.

Get to 10K fans, should not be that difficult, provided each TBF will recruit 5 additional TBF per year.

We call this the Power of 5.

From our point of view, if you care to learn more about what we feel is today’s bottom line, you are welcome to read our blog on artist development at:

http://kleerstreementertainment.blogspot.com.

With today’s technology evolving so quickly, especially in the music world, the chances of a indie artist becoming successful, is, becoming reality.

Our latest blog goes into a lot of random detail about Music World 1.0 & Music World 2.0; free music; free sharing; and a suggestion way to license everyone, globally, for a nominal fee of $1 / week, as advocated by Gerg Leonhard. Music Wolrd 2.0 will turn the music business upside down in a fashion that anyone in the music business, will realize more income for their endeavors.

—-end

Posted by kleerstreem on June 22, 2009 at 10:23 PM

Yes, yes quite.

All you need is mindless followers to consume everything you churn out.

Quite.

Posted by A on June 23, 2009 at 10:38 AM

This is exactly what Joss Whedon does. He most definitely has TRUE FANS, and a lot more than a thousand. They are the people that buy all the DVDs, and then buy the Blu-Rays, they go to conventions, they watch his shows when they air, or on Hulu, or both, they buy off iTunes, etc. etc. etc. He raised a ton of money for charity by auctioning a dinner with him — people paid something like $10,000 for a seat at dinner. However, you take 10 people randomly off the street and ask them if they know who Joss Whedon is, most likely all of them will answer “no.”

Anyway, very interesting article.

Posted by Johanna on June 23, 2009 at 1:03 PM

Your post points to an path for creatives to build a larger base of fans: offering help in building language skills (via Skype, etc) and/or other skills useful to talent in emerging economies.

Assisting as a “remote faculty” member with entrepreneurial schools in poor regions could be one way of reaching large numbers of prospective fans.

The terms of compensation — in lieu of near-term cash payment — could commit successful students who record digitally milestones of progress in the chosen skills to becoming “true fans” in the ways that KK describes.

Their ability to earn a living (and pay back the faculty member for his/her help) can be realized by putting their skills to use in fast-growing global telework markets, such those featured in www.freelanceq.com. Alternatively, the jobseekers might engage in work-study or virtual internships for agreed periods, helping the faculty member find, develop, and support other true fans.

Best,

Mark Frazier Openworld, Inc. www.entrepreneurialschools.com

Posted by Openworld on June 23, 2009 at 5:57 PM

Awesome post!

I think another thing to remember is your 1,000 true fans are going to help grow your casual fans. I write, so, if I have 1,000 true fans who love my novels with unceasing fervor, they will tell every single person they know who reads to check out my books. And while not all of those people will buy, some will. And while not all those who buy will become true fans, some will, and some who aren’t true fans may still mention my book to others.

But most definitely the idea of cultivating a core group of fans for one’s work is very smart.

Posted by Zoe Winters on June 24, 2009 at 2:53 AM

So, uh, how many of you out there spend $100 on any one thing a year?

Posted by Huth on July 1, 2009 at 2:53 PM

Thanks Kevin for this. I am a great believer in the ‘home’ somewhere for creatives between stardom & poverty especially in what I like to call the ‘Next Generation Music Business’ Having spent most of my life associated with the ‘old’ stardom approach of the record business which really serves a select minority - not the artist! - I spend most of my time now making people aware of what I think is a better way - This is a great starting point - Thanks again

Posted by kevin j ryan on July 27, 2009 at 1:35 AM

311 fits this description best. pushing 60k+ units first week sales on a 7th album is impressive in this day and age.

Posted by josh on July 28, 2009 at 9:24 PM

http://bustedkeys.com

TRUE FANS? ‘When you have corporations involved in taking the majority of the revenue for your work, then it takes many times more True Fans to support you.’

does this equate to ‘selling out’ and that these multinational ‘corporate artists’ don’t have any true fans? not necessarily, but in this scenario i do think then it’s majority lip service when artists thank you, express how special you are, or say they love you because the built-in reach per these massive deals outpaces the artist’s ability to make authentic connections with their fans.

it doesn’t mean one can’t still appreciate the music but the relationship is at best compartmentalized. in any true relationship, if we are to buy into the idea that you are more than just your music then, the product/service that ties the connection between producer and consumer or, in this case, artist and fan would be blurred.

TRUE COMPENSATION still this article is more of a breakdown of ‘making it’ in fiscal terms. and there are many links therein that i need to need to explore.

i am an artist and, if anything, i’d like to do BOTH—make true fans that help me build an earnest return which also helps me to ‘make it’ financially.

Posted by Busted Keys on July 30, 2009 at 5:15 PM

Well, I’m not sure quite how I got here… just sort of surfed my way from seeing where my site was on the Google listing. But, yeah, you’re right… you need just a little bit more.

Other people have commented that most artists tend to not be great at marketing, others note that the existing websites are difficult to use. They just need a little bit more.

The artists need a simple website where the “fans” are actively engaged in marketing for the artist (this is not a stretch when you consider who fans are). You need a site that removes all the hassles in site management and fund-raising.

ALL creators of digital content, not just traditional artists, need pretty much the same thing, a way to earn a living. Journalists, bloggers, and programmers are on the same long-tail that musicians and authors are on. Really, if you create content that can be digitises, then your work can be freely copied and you’re trying to figure out a new way to earn a living.

I have a way, I call it Keliso, but I don’t have the resources to build it. Its design answers all the problems that people have been commenting on. It allows people to earn a living with the “1000 fan” concept, even without being in an niche with “fans.” You just need people that care.

If you can answer the question “why do people become fans?” then you’ll be well on your way to understanding how Keliso works. Once Keliso or something like it is up and running, artists will thrive in the 1000-fan zone. It might even be a new Renaissance.

David…

** shameless plug to bump my Google listing: http://keliso.blogspot.com

Posted by David on August 17, 2009 at 5:22 PM

Hmm 1000 fans. That’s a nice dream. Maybe one day…

nice post. i enjoyed it

thanks,

Derek

Posted by Link Building on September 1, 2009 at 7:22 AM

thats a brilliant concept. being unique in some way has to be a major factor.

that post was really good read and i’ll think about it a lot

Thanks Sam x

Posted by Sam on September 1, 2009 at 7:25 AM

Great concept.. although 1000 is a really big ask.

Are you ok for me to link to this on my blogs?

Posted by Frank Polenose on September 1, 2009 at 7:31 AM

I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thought of this. Personally I was thinking that I’d need about 4000 regular readers in order to make a living, but I didn’t think about the “True Fan” model either.

Your article makes me think that I might actually need more than 4000 readers in total, but that if I groom them properly I can convert some of them into fanatics who will actually, you know, digitally flip me a dollar coin on occasion.

If 1000 people each gave me 2 dollars a month I’d be satisfied. That’s only one 24 dollar donation per yeah per person, and I could live on that.

Posted by gopher65 on September 30, 2009 at 6:24 AM

Thank you KK, your article was detailed and well thought out. I especially appreciated the links, as they took me on another reading journey. Again, thank you!

Jamie Wilmott Vancouver, Canada btw, where’s the “help finance KK’s next project button?” :-)

Posted by Jamie Wilmott on October 31, 2009 at 7:20 PM

Great article KK that brought into sharp focus some of the random musings I’ve been having.

I’m going to give it a bash. Meantime you can have a look at some of my books here -

http://www.buzzbooks-online.com

But for 1KTF I’m also going to show my neglected illustration and fiction work as that’s where I think there’s an additonal creator-fan nexus to be made, and fun to be had.

Posted by David Jefferis on November 23, 2009 at 3:40 AM

Fascinating article

Posted by John on November 29, 2009 at 7:09 PM

A thousand is a lot to shoot for. Right now I would be happy with just 100. I can see how a thousand true fans would be the perfect number, but how to get that good? http://hydrocodoneaddictionhelp.com

Posted by Gordon Thomas on December 6, 2009 at 1:24 PM

I can see clearly now as a independent artist, very well explained.

Posted by Eric IQ on December 10, 2009 at 11:55 AM

Take heart fellow artists and see the proof of 1000 true fans in action at your local coffee shop, pizza parlor or post office.

Posted by Melle johnson on December 15, 2009 at 2:53 PM

Hello Kevin,

these guys seem to have implemented a business model starting from your idea of True Fans. They created http://www.buskerlabel.com to allow artists to find their True Fans and fund their unreleased albums.

From ideas to real world.

Fred

Posted by Federico on December 16, 2009 at 11:26 AM

Excellent work Kevin. I’ve bookmarked this page and will be sharing with friends :)

Posted by Curtis on December 18, 2009 at 12:15 PM

As a serial “1,000 fans” member, an investor in micro-patronage projects, and an occasional creator, I’d like to sound a note of caution. It is rare for the individual creator/artist/auteur to possess all of the skills required to produce, redraft, polish and market a piece successfully. The A&Rs, the sub-editors, the PRs and the gurus who are derided as value-destroying links in an obsolete chain can have a crucial role to play in helping the auteur realise his/her vision and get it out there. Yes, the organisations that these people inhabit can be bloated and inefficient, but that doesn’t mean that direct is always best.

Posted by Graham Hodge on December 23, 2009 at 4:26 AM

Great post Kevin. BTW, I came to your post through Seth Godin’s post. You made a very interesting point. My question is how easy is to fin those 1000 people that will be waiting to buy your next thing, spend a wage per year on you, etc. The theory makes sense but don’t you need to aim higher to end up with those quality 1000 fans?

Posted by Fred on December 23, 2009 at 4:35 AM

Like Fred, I got to this through Seth’s post and I’m honestly blown away by your insight.

Thank you Kevin

Posted by Paul on December 23, 2009 at 4:47 AM

I am a small business owner. We do marketing for a niche industry. Typically I would print and mail 10,000 catalogs in a year. I would travel and do five trade shows across the country. I have always worked on the 80/20 principle, but this year I decided to concentrate on our top 500 customers. While we could expand to 1000 I wanted to communicate how important our most active 500 customers were. I communicated this in a letter sent with the catalog. I included a special incentive offer to them. I promised more benefits such as e-mails - information based, not just sales notices -. I created events in their markets for free seminars. I find the key is to give more than you get. In essence I will share information on how they can be more successful whether they work with our company or not, even to the extent of teaching them how to do things they typically pay us to do. For the most part they still decide to have us do the heavy lifting, but I feel it is a stronger relationship. My goal is to focus our efforts on increasing our average dollar per account. I have long advised our clients to do the same thing. We call it ‘core customers’ and the impact of concentrating on something as simple as one more store visit and an increase of just five dollars per visit can increase the value of that customer by over 30%. I still don’t know if our clients truly understand this well enough to commit completely to the concept as it is hard to break old habits. I don’t usually comment but I found this article helpful, and encouraging. I do think it has practical applications no matter how big or small the company.

Posted by Kurt on December 23, 2009 at 6:19 AM

This is awesome. I also got to this via Godin.

Posted by Jim Harshaw on December 23, 2009 at 6:26 AM

WOW! This is a fantastic perspective.

As both an independant luthier (guitar builder) and a long time digital marketer I find this post to be an outstanding perspective with far reaching implications.

You have definitely won another loyal fan.

Brock.

Posted by Brock Poling on December 23, 2009 at 7:02 AM

Great quality over for me everytime, the high yield hi ya type of client. Seth Godins calls it the tribe, think the long tail is something everyone should have.

DaraBell

Posted by DaraBell on December 23, 2009 at 11:56 AM

This is a great reminder that it is possible to change behavior with the right type of promotion

Robert

Posted by Robert Zuniga on December 23, 2009 at 1:12 PM

Really great read Kevin and conceptually it sounds cool. I’d suggest however that when the theory is reversed, and looked at from a customers perspective, the network of decisions that require processing make this difficult to realise. G. Steve Jordan above cites Daniel Ariely and contrary to GSJ’s view, I’d suggest Ariely and his appreciation of behavioral economics would determine that the ‘predictably irrational’ element is the lack of true individuality in all of us. ‘Rationally’ getting 1000 true fans sounds great and a lot easier than acquiring 10k, 20k or 1m. However, consider a group of 1000 appropriate customers who each have an annual budget of $250 to spend on musicians or groups of their choice (focusing only on ‘music’ to form this argument). Note that the budget is fictional only for the purposes of the argument, and in reality, no budget is set by the 1000 customers and instead they purchase primarily on impulse. I would guesstimate the participants buy based on where the greatest return comes from. The greatest return socially and the one that helps solidify their position in a group and that may help attract a potential partner. Whether we like it or not, our decisions are driven by more crude mechanisms than often recognised and the opportunity to identify with a group or fit within a certain convention play their part. Hence I can’t see the 1000 true fans theory holding true over a growing number of observations. Customers would buy based on music they want to identify with, that maximizes their social potential within a group - conversations about the latest album, or opportunities to see the act live and opportunities to interact with others who share similar tastes. The power of popularity through MTV, Youtube and promotion online is also obviously huge. The energy required to discover Jay Z’s new video and who through supporting one can gain a large ‘social return’ is far more profitable than that of a lesser known artist who needs uncovering by spending time and energy and who’s ‘social return’ will be far less. For these reasons I reckon those that achieve 1000 true fans probably go on to acquire 10k, 20k, 100k plus true fans who spend a good amount of their fictional budget aligning with artists or groups. Those that don’t probably languish in relative obscurity, making money but perhaps not enough to really establish a living from.

Posted by Peter Holsgrove on December 27, 2009 at 2:47 AM

I got to you through Seth, too. Can’t stop thinking about this approach. I’m going to test drive the formula I’m coming working on with a few fans soon. Thank you.

Posted by Alyn on December 28, 2009 at 3:57 PM

Well, I sure wish I had read this post in its entirety soon. I would definitely have included mention of it in my last book. I have been working as an independent teacher using this 1,000 true fans method for years. In earnest, since 2004, when I stopped teaching for others and became independent. Today, I’m the author of two books, which has helped my visibility considerably. I wonder if/when I hit 1,000 true fans. I’m going to do some more research and get back to you.

Posted by Christina Katz on December 29, 2009 at 2:41 AM

Great blog post - and great comments from other readers as well…. which brings me to my point.

The value of 1,000 individual fans is — in my estimation — dwarfed by a community of 1,000 fans. Online networks, in addition to allowing the ‘5000’ customers to find and engage with the artist, is that the customers can also find and engage each other about their passion for the artist.

Not only is the profile of the artist elevated with a community of fans (think Grateful Dead or Bruce Springsteen), but the ability to that group to keep each other engaged and to give the artists work another layer of meaning and context is also exciting. For me, as a video game marketer, games like Halo — where the community keeps dragging you back in — brings a game / IP to life in a way that 1,000 disconnected fans simply cannot match.

Posted by James Martin on January 1, 2010 at 1:26 AM

Awesome article — glad I found it; very inspiring. As much as “making a living” off your craft sounds awesome, we all must remember why we do what we do in the first place. I’m just getting into writing and performing, and I have a day job (at least, for now). I realize that my music is going to be very very odd to some people, but right now I’m just trying little by little. If I can get 5 people to come up to me after a gig and say (with absolute sincerity), “That was really awesome,” (or some other such compliment) I can feel good about myself. I don’t even care at this point if they don’t buy anything from me. I just want to hear that people like what I do. But perhaps one day, after connecting with each person and building relationships with fans, maybe I too can have 1KTF.

Posted by Chris on January 2, 2010 at 1:39 PM

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Posted by ridwanzero on January 6, 2010 at 3:45 AM

Wow! What a great article! I crowd-funded my debut album online and released it after over 2000 people in 25 countries bought it and 10.6% of the money went to women empowerment and artist upliftment in South Africa. I am now getting ready to record my next album and with my 2000 Future Owners and thousands more followers on Facebook etc I look forward to seeing if the process is a lot faster than last time (took 3 years from start to finish).

If other artists out there want to learn about how I did it and try it for themselves please visit my site (www.iamverity.com) or visit my youtube channel to watch some of the tv documentaries that have been made about the project (www.youtube.com/iamverity)

I am so glad to see that this is a viable way forward for small businesses to grow and succeed without having to spend millions on marketting but rather just invest time in building relationships with the people who matter - our fans!!!

Posted by Verity on January 7, 2010 at 12:26 AM

One of the few How-To articles I’ve bookmarked in a long time. I sometimes worry about quantity and forget that 100 loyal > 1000 simply breathing.

Posted by Leah Wescott on January 29, 2010 at 8:38 PM

It seems like an escape velocity. It takes a great deal of investment before you can cultivate these fans (or develop skills) so much to attract them. This means that you have to first build a financial buffer or work alongside building this reputation. Once you’ve reached a number of fans to make this way of living sustainable, it becomes easier to do what your passion is. If you focus on your passion you will easily do A LOT and your fans will increase much more easily.

Obviously, not all fans are created equal: I think your fan base also could be graphed as a power law distribution with ‘involvement/dedication’ as the Y-axis scale.

Posted by Erik de Bruijn on February 2, 2010 at 12:27 AM

Kevin, I was referred to your article by Tim Ferriss from his video blog, who made it clear this was all I needed to read. I am very glad I did, and will enjoy creating 1000 True Fans.

Posted by Ray Ross on February 5, 2010 at 9:27 PM

Thanks for a great post!

I am a member of a Swedish church choir. We have always been well supported by the church economically, but that support is not something we can count on forever, since the church is constantly losing members. That in turn means less money to spend on related activities, such as choirs.

A solution that I see for this problem is to create a possibility for our fans to become true supporters, meaning that they kind of subscribe to us. Such a subscription could give true fans benefits like free entrance to all concerts, reserved seats in the front of the church, access to a members area on the web site with audio and video clips, and special prices on booking the choir for parties, baptisms, weddings etc.

The subscription model is as I see it taking your 1000 fans model another step.

Any reflections?

Posted by Joel Falck on February 12, 2010 at 1:47 AM

Kevin…once again a great concept, not the first time you made my syndicated column. This time built on the concept for organization’s in a piece titled, 1,000 Loyal Customers. http://bit.ly/9NrJrg

Thanks.

Posted by Dave Kaufman - Techlife on February 22, 2010 at 7:17 PM

I love this concept. I work in NYC in alternative medicine. I am building my clinic on this concept. While many of my colleagues are struggling to stay afloat, and just see as many patients as possible, I am aiming for 250 “true fans.” I think, just as you mentioned, that this will allow me to give them much more, and really enjoy my work, while ensuring that I can focus on my true fans and not focus on survival. Great article Kevin, thanks!

Posted by Rick on February 27, 2010 at 2:04 PM

As a commercial photographer specializing in food I am luckier that a lot of artists. There is a serious demand for my niche. I have been questioning lately whether I want to keep running on the same treadmill or use my photography for good.

I really want to move into a direction where I control the content instead of working for a clients vision.

It’s nice to see there are alternatives.

Posted by Bill Brady on March 12, 2010 at 9:34 AM

Well, you’ve just explained my life as a creative artist. I added doing the folk art paintings(several were for sale at Yard Dog at SXSW)and different ways to do merch, plus the short stories. Along with the music, I have the cottage industry that my label told me I should start as they let me go. Thanks for more insights, because I’m not about to get a job job. Mostly because nobody in their right mind would hire me, and secondly because I was born to do this. Tim

Posted by Tim Easton on March 24, 2010 at 5:08 PM

I like this model in thinking about creating business. As a consultant, the smaller bite-sized products are often easier for a prospective client to consider than the year -long transformation package. New to Facebook and loving the idea of “fans”—makes me look at how creative I can be in finding 1000 direct fans with a CD product,workbook or other offerings at $100 or less OR the $1000 program that easily is valuable to 100 customers. Thanks.

Posted by Gloria Willis on April 12, 2010 at 3:25 PM

Like the idea of 1000 fans…thanks.

However, looking up fundable.com shows they have permanently shut down.

Posted by Susan on April 13, 2010 at 8:02 AM

For me 1,000 true fans theory is best understood as: building your tribe.

Here is a nice interview w/ Ellis Paul who claims to have 2500 true fans, and grosses approx $270k a year.

http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/in-defense-of-1000-true-fans-part-vii-ellis-paul-300-fans-10.html

Posted by Chris Castiglione on April 13, 2010 at 9:54 PM

This is such a powerful article. This should be required reading for every small business owner that is trying to make their way in this big, nasty world of commerce.

It’s all about adding one person at a time to the conversation and then eventually you build your brand. There is no instant magic success. You have to build your small community BEFORE you can try and conquer a larger one.

-Joshua Black The Underdog Millionaire

Posted by Joshua Black | The Underdog Millionaire on April 15, 2010 at 7:50 AM

Great article, but how to achieve these 1000 fans? Where to get them? What and where to start with?

Posted by Julia on April 19, 2010 at 6:34 AM

This article put the strategy I’m pursuing for my writing and comic book business at www.Raythe Reign.com. Basically, I decided to put up a site for my writing and hire the artists for the comic books, book covers and illustrations myself. For about $10 a month (less if you sign up for more months in advance) the readers get updates of 6 novels (and counting), 4 comic books, and various short stories, etc. It’s like an old time serial where you get the next chapter the next week. I’ve completely avoided the sending your work into a billion publishers and being rejected and went right to the readers. It allows me to write and put out there exactly what I want to and the readers get to be the judges of whether or not the stuff is any good rather than some publisher in New York.

We’ve just been open a few months, but I can say that reaching 1000 true fans seems actually doable sooner rather than later. And when we do reach that level, I’m quitting my day job!

Posted by Raythe Reign on April 19, 2010 at 9:58 AM

Very interesting article. Here’s a dose of realism/pessimism from a small independent board game publisher:

Jackson Pope, founder/owner of Reiver Games has recently called it quits.

On his blog he cites this article when talking about one of his True Fans.

In the next paragraph he says “With 3,000 true fans I’d have sold out of all my games. But that’s one in every 2,200,000 people in the world population. Considering most of the world population will never hear of me or my company, and of the proportion that might have a slight chance of stumbling across me most have no interest in board games it’s a pretty tall order.”

Something to think about…

Posted by burzen on May 6, 2010 at 2:50 PM

We may be overestimating how many people we are in touch with on a daily basis in terms of channels of information, entertainment and news. It’s been stated that there is a maximum number of tv shows /channels that a person can keep up with even with TiVo.

I live in NYC and even as a media sales person and commuting everyday, I perhaps can be in touch with close to 1,000 but these are forced business contacts e.g. media companies, ad agencies - not part of my personal tibe.

I think the largest gathering most people muster in the course of their life is their wedding and possibly at their passing. I also think that we are allowing ourselves to become more visible publically and as we aspire to achieve ‘social media’ status e.g. FB friends, Twitter, etc. but the authenticity of this can be argued due to the nature of the medium eliciting the relationships.

This is an achievable number but I’ve found that one has to be mindful of giving or doing service for others rather than marketing.

Thanks for letting me share.

Posted by Matt Maginley on May 10, 2010 at 8:56 AM

Kevin-

You would no doubt love the TED presentation by Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity and genius found here: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/elizabethgilberton_genius.html

Thank you for posting your insight and sharing your knowledge. Have a great day!

-Shaun

Posted by Shaun Kjar on May 11, 2010 at 9:06 AM

@Shaun: Yep I had the pleasure of seeing her give the talk live and meeting her afterwards.

Posted by Kevin Kelly on May 13, 2010 at 11:04 AM

So interesting! My first exposure to your writing…I’ll be back for more.

Btw - I came across this via Twitter post (sirmitchell). I realize it’s not a news article, but I’ve posted on Digg. Because I dig it.

Posted by Amanda Rose on June 3, 2010 at 9:51 AM

Kevin,

Thank you for your thoughts about 1000 fans. Great article! Those of us who understand the marketing concept have been saying it all the time.

What you need is a list of people who respond to you and spend money. First time reading your stuff, you can be sure that I will return.

Posted by James Clark on June 9, 2010 at 6:55 AM

I think “meh” is a good summary of my opinion of this.

A few comments: - A worthwhile example (better than Jill Sobule, in my opinion) for a fan supported musician would have been Kristin Hersh and the CASH Music folks, who came up with the idea of fans “supporting the artist’s life”, but everybody having access to the music: her music is available for free download — under a CC license — as mp3, ogg and flac, plus they make available the ProTools “source” of the music, so fans can remix it (i.e. an equivalent of Free Software).

  • I guess your idea of living off the $100 a year of true fans is why today’s “indie” (sic) label vinyl is so ridiculously expensive: vinyl is expensive to manufacture and they press small amounts and expect to get a very big profit on each record (Lungfish LPs sell less than a thousand copies, yet Dischord doesn’t charge preposterous amounts for them…).

  • I actually think this mentality is why music is so crap these days. I see this in two ways: I) People want to be “artistes” and spend their time lousing around rather than doing something with their lives. Look at people like Ian MacKaye and Steve Albini — they have day jobs and work hard to earn a living, making music for fun. That makes their music more interesting, since they have life experiences which go beyond “being an artiste” and since they’re having fun making music. II) Do you know how Frank Zappa’s records started sounding like shite around the late 70s? You know what happened to cause that? He built himself a home studio! If you need to go and record in a “proper” studio, you will make sure you’re prepared for it (and not just futz around all day) and the time limit (plus getting out of your house and seeing other people, hearing their opinions etc.) will help you figure out what you’re trying to do and cut the crap. When you sit around a home studio all day (as Zappa did), you just end up saying “let’s re-record that piece, it didn’t come out perfect”, “let’s add some effects here” etc. etc. and end up with something multi-layered, polished and generally beaten to death.

Posted by Dougal on June 9, 2010 at 9:27 AM

One thing you didn’t mention in this post is that marketing still has a role. This comment also applies to the other post you linked about Robert Rich. Marketing is still important in this. You want to get into a “niche” that’s large enough to support you, and you want to get the word out to the right people. The internet makes it easier for people to self-identify as part of your target audience for being a true fan. Getting in touch with the 1 in 2,000,000 who’s your true fan is easier than before, but by no means easy.

So, simply put, figure out what makes your true fans, true fans and try to pick out commonalities in them and try to market/promote yourself to others with those common features. Reminds me of a story I read in one of the Dan Kennedy’s books (great marketer, recommend his books to learn more) that a dating service owner/manager noticed that a disproportionate number of his customers were ex-army truck drivers, so he started advertising in trucker magazines and at trucker pit stops. Another story: a business owner noticed most of his owners had a crew cut and were generally conservative, so he went around to the barbers and bought names and addresses of people who get crew cuts and advertised to them successfully.

Very interesting post. I was thinking about how to get out of the trap of having to hit it big and this is a pretty good answer.

Posted by RT Wolf on August 18, 2010 at 10:30 AM

I suspect the 1,000 true fans don’t buy the items you put out for sale for the sake of those items (or to collect them all, though some do), they buy something else, usually being a part of something, or identifying with something. The buzzwords in marketing these days of selling a story or experience is overhyped, but applies here for the 1,000 True Fans. The 1,000 True Fans are more likely to be interested in a story that’s inspirational and relates to their values. Part of reason I bought an Android phone over an iPhone is that I love its values and its story. It’s open source, it’s got a bunch of hackers and tinkerers like me and it’s Google!

The related post on/by Robert Rich brings this up. In telling his story there’s a number of things I identified with that caused me to go search out his music, and would help turn me into a True Fan: his authenticity about wanting to produce the best expression of himself he could, the underdog story (we all love a good underdog story), him sharing his struggles and vulnerability and him referencing something about evolution as a model for something else. These things are not to be found on his website, though. In fact his website seems like it’s been written by someone who does marketing for a living.

Posted by RT Wolf on August 21, 2010 at 9:28 AM

Great Article, I’m familiar with the 10.000 hours theory and it seems to me that if we build our fan base at the same time as our 10,000 hours, we could arrive at a comfortable living. I have to give credit to Joanna Penn of www.thecreativepenn.com for putting this article in front of me. As entrepreneurs we are exhibiting Self-Leadership and the goal of 1000 true fans is believable and an important step in our development and evolution. Thanks so much for sharing! Debra Jarvis :-)

Posted by Debra jarvis on August 30, 2010 at 11:18 PM

Great post! I have thought about this concept before, but didn’t have a name for it. Not only do I now have a name, I also have a target… 1,000.

Thanks Kevin.

Best, Matt

Posted by The Do Over Guy on September 6, 2010 at 1:39 PM


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