Revisiting The 1000 True Fan Myth

I think that it is time to comment and revise this original article— my comments are marked below by >>>>

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 art — needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

>>>>This might have seemed like a high number when the article was published but now I think it is not so much the average person now has 300 friends on Facebook right now — which if true means you can reach 300 friends x 300 friends of friends which is a staggering 90,000 people.

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 and shows. 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.

To raise your sales out of the flat line 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.

>>>>So lets assume that through your 300 friends and the friends of friends you can reach 2.5% of the 90,000 = 2,250 are you starting to get it now!

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 and have each True Fan spend $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.

>>>>Let’s adjust that one day wage number to be more current and use the current minimum wage in Arizona the State in which I live, so that the one day wage number is $8.05 x 8 hours = $64.40 per day

One thousand is a feasible number. You can 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.

>>>>So with 1,000 true fans you would generate 1,000 x $64.40 = $64,400 not bad but not a $100,000 a year as suggested in the original article but I am sure we can reach this goal, read on…

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. As much as possible you retain the full amount of their support. You also benefit from the direct feedback and love.

>>>>Lets suppose for a minute that instead of using one day wage, we suggest that your 1,000 fans contribute 1 hour’s wage a month 1,000 x $8.05 x 12 = $96,600 per year this could be done with some kind of subscription or recurring program now we are closer to the $100,000 number…

The technologies of connection and small-time manufacturing make this 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 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 die hard 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.

>>>>So lets suppose that for every 1 of the 1,000 True Fans you also developed 2 Lesser Fans and due to the nature of being lesser fans they only contribute 50% of what a True Fan does =1,000 x 2 x $4.025 x 12 which creates another $96,500 for a total of $193,200 per year now we’re talking…

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 createf 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.

But an important 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 just want to paint, and they temperamentally don’t want to deal with fans, especially True Fans.

For these creatives, they need someone to manage their fans. Nonetheless, they can still aim for the same destination of 1,000 True Fans. They are just working in a duet.

>>>>Lastly, the actual number may vary. Maybe for your having 500 True Fans for is enough to quit the day job or maybe you seek to develop 5,000 True Fans and live the life you have dreamed of.

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.

>>>>In 1999 there was some promotion of was called the Street Performer Protocol and I wanted to paraphrase that piece here:-

Using the logic of a street performer, the artist goes directly to the fans before the record is recorded; perhaps even before all the songs are written. In doing so the artist bypasses all the in between and makes a public statement on the order of: “When I get $100,000 in donations, I will release the next album.”
Fans can go to the artist’s Web site, see how much money has already been donated, and donate money to the cause of getting his album out. Note that the artist doesn’t care who pays to get the next album out; nor does he care how many people listen that didn’t pay for it. He just cares that his $100,000 pot gets filled. When it does, he releases the next album. In this case “publish” simply means “make available,” not “produce, package and distribute through a record label.” The album is made available, free of charge, to everyone: those who paid for it and those who did not.

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 fan support to take many shapes.

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 or perhaps as many as 5,000 True Fans and by their direct support using technology, make an honest living.

>>>>I’d love to hear from anyone who might have settled on such a path and look for my next piece that looks at the concept of recurring funding and true development of a community

The world is changing fast…