When Seth Godin calls something the “best riff of the year,” people notice. And lots have.
I’m talking about Kevin Kelly’s blog post titled “1,000 True Fans,” which has struck a powerful nerve online. He puts his own spin on what I and many others have been saying for years about succeeding in the arts in this modern era.
This concept of attracting what Kelly calls True Fans (a diehard subset of a larger group of Lesser Fans) is very intriguing and deserves some serious consideration. Here’s an excerpt:
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.
Again, this all dovetails with the indie message I’ve been hammering home for years. You don’t have to be a household name to be successful. Thousands of musicians, authors, artists, photographers, filmmakers, bloggers and more make a nice living serving their unique slice of the population. I proudly count myself among their ranks.
These self-empowered creatives work outside the traditional structure and usually make smart use of the Internet to bypass middleman roadblocks and take their craft directly to the end user: the fan. Reach enough fans in this manner and serve them well … and you will eventually have a solid list of True Fans — people who will reward you often with their time, attention and money.
Read Kelly’s entire blog post and the reaction to it around the Net. Then get busy building your fan base … and serving them well!
I have to say, I'm a little skeptical of the thousand true fans solution. There's a great post enumerating the problems with that idea and they're all quite convincing arguments.
But here's the thing: It's not important whether Kevin Kelly is right about this - or whether you can pick holes in the proposition. The important measure of the idea is how useful it is.
I don't for a second believe that the idea works in practice in more than the most unusual of circumstances, and I would lay money that the Thousand Fans Proposition is not true in your individual case.
But if you act as if it's true - you will get far more satisfying results than if you act as if it isn't.
I encourage people not to get distracted by the numbers: 1,000 fans times $100 per year is not the heart of this topic, in my mind. 500 fans x $200 a year, 2,000 fans x $50, 5,000 fans x $20 ... it doesn't matter. It's hard to categorize fans anyway. Some will only support your free offerings while others will spend thousands to hire you for a live show -- support is all over the map.
The main point for me is that this is an era when artists need to reconsider their definitions of success. Widespread notoriety is only one model -- and it's a model of the past. Artists cling to it because it's what we've known for decades. There's nothing wrong with thinking big and having grand goals. But you can also make a living catering to a small sliver of the overall population and serving your most supportive fans well.