Kevin Kelly is a great thinker, and his latest piece about surviving as a creative person is no exception. He says that every artist needs to find and foster 1000 True Fans:
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…
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.
This is a great, evolved perspective on the Long Tail. It offers a tactile plan that any artist ought to be able to get their head around. The post also reminded me of two terrific articles by John Perry Barlow, published in Wired while Kelly was editor (I think): The Economy of Ideas and the Next Economy of Ideas.
I also like one of Kelly’s caveats:
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.
That’s easier said than done, as there are far more artists than there are willing agents and mediators. I’ve seen many an artistic endeavour fail because the creative folks weren’t willing or didn’t know how to promote their project. The most successful artists I know are not necessarily the most talented, but they’re definitely smart, dogged marketers of their own work.
Reading the article, I wondered if I was a True Fan of anybody. I think I’ve read all of Nicholson Baker’s books. I’ve bought all of the Cowboy Junkies’ albums, and seen them four or five times. I can’t think of anybody else. One good indicator of whether you’re a true fan of an artist is if you have them on your Wikipedia watch list.
Who are you a True Fan of?