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1,000 True Fans to Make a Living

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!


Reader Comments (10)

Except this is nothing new. Brian Austin Whitney, via Scott Andrew's blog, presented his own "5000 Fans Theory" quite some time ago:

It's almost word-for-word what Kevin Kelly is saying now, with slightly different numbers.

March 19 | Unregistered CommenterDarren Landrum

Only a few of the artists I've produced over the past few years have fully embraced this concept... and the results are there. Those that work at it, build their base, fully commit... they reap the benefits.

"You don't have to be a household name to be successful." So true, and for musicians who have writing and performing driving their very existence, success is defined in terms that don't include "fame" and "fortune." It's those artists with whom I love to create.

March 19 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Holter

While I'm usually skeptical towards so-called "alternative models", because they most often don't work, nor can be expected to, this is a theory that really makes good sense. Plus, the Internet has suddenly made it feasible.

Love it! It's the path to freedom... whatever number you're using. I look forward to getting there myself.

March 19 | Unregistered CommenterDarren Nelsen

This idea has huge resonance with me because on one hand I make music and on the other I have been a true fan of several artists. As an obsessed fan in the 80's I joined several fan clubs, paid my small life time subscription and got my t-shirt, newsletter, badges, access to new vinyl before anybody else and had what I felt was a much closer connection to these artists. Making this connection with true fans through the internet is much easier now and is going to be a key focus for artists to survive. Now if I can only figure out out to get them to pay that life time subscription fee!!

March 20 | Unregistered CommenterJ Bluevibe

I myself have mulled over this concept at length since its recent blogospheric appearance, and marvelled at the enormous number of pixels devoted to it )surely only just short of Radiohead's sham giveaway debate).

I also read John Scalzi's considerations with interest. My unfortunately ever-increasing commercial exposure leads me to acknowledge that there are always two sides to every story. Between the Scalzi-Kelly poles you'll find a whole host of acceptable positions, enough to fill a thesis. And therein lies this idea's usefulness. There's a whole spectrum of applications for this thinking. You can select the elements most relevant to you, then mix and match to find a viable 'musical middle class' type solution.

Traction grows because it feels achievable. It's also a classic micoreconomic debate to have with yourself as to how you'll cement the few quid you want to earn from what products at which price points. "1kTF" isn't a finite mantra in much the same way as a 'standard response rate to a direct marketing campaign is 1½%' - its value rises from where following the path and constantly re-calibrating direction along the way can lead.

I agree with the point that it's not important whether an "ideal" coalition is 1,000 fans or 5,000 half-enthusiastic fans or, as is probably the case, an assortment of different people of different levels of enthusiasm pursuing one's music in different ways with different levels of commitment for different reasons.

The important thing, it seems to me, is that one can, in niche marketing, realize that for a low overhead operation one can reach a target audience far smaller than that required by a large overhead operation,and still earn a living. Whether one visualizes this in terms of a hypothetical number of fans or in some other, more kaleidoscopic way, seems to me less important than
to identify potential revenue sources, and to recognize that they are no different than any small business.

I am a partner in a small law firm. Its business dynamics are completely different than when I was a partner in a larger firm. One would never think of a small firm as being successful only if it generated the gross revenue of a "major". In some ways, one could visualize our firm as successful is we only had x clients. But it would be limiting indeed to bind ourselves down to a vision in which only x clients of a given level of financial support would be the "right" revenue model. The market instead may dictate y or z clients, or differing clients with varying support levels.

March 26 | Unregistered Commentergurdonark

After reading the 1000 True Fans idea, I just couldn't get it out of my head. It was compelling, but there were problems with it that I just couldn't articulate, but the comments on various boards, and some other thoughts finally make it clear: First of all, it's really difficult for a musician to make $100 of stuff for people to even buy. Second, most music groups are bands, rather than single people. You'd need to multiply these numbers by the amount of musicians in your group. And finally, fans aren't necessarily the best--and certainly aren't the only--source of income for musicians.

I had other thoughts, but don't want to flood the comments board, so I wrote a blog entry that explores this more fully here.

This has been a fascinating discussion.

March 29 | Unregistered CommenterRandy Chertkow

To me it doesn't matter if I need 1000 or 3000 fans. Both numbers are still imaginable. The point for me is, that I play a very unique, spezialized music, that was never ment for the masses, but for those who have a similar way of feeling and living. And my music is without words, so I'm not limited to certain countries.
The only task is to make contact with all those people all over the world that would be happy to hear / buy my music

That's what's happening with me if I come across an artist that triggers something in me - it makes me happy. Or content. Or quiet. Joyful.

So the point is not to sell downloads, but to make contact with all those who would love to buy my downloads once they get to know me (us, Blue Star )

April 1 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Blue now we have established that you need fans.
Now pack your bags...tour and sell as much of your stuff as you can.

I would be very surprised if many artists (if any) are sitting behind their computers selling $100.00 worth of stuff to 1,000 fans consistently.

Kepp in mind not all of your true fans are going to consistantly purchase product from you therefore you always have to be finding new "true fans"...

Continue to make music, learn and get better at it each time. Get out there and play it, sell it, whatever you have to do to get your name and music around.

As I posted elsewehere here you will never "click" yourself into a music career... at some point you have to go out into the world and touch your "true fans"!

April 1 | Unregistered CommenterChip Gall

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