The Problem With 1,000 True Fans

Former Wired Editor and current Web thinker Kevin Kelly recently caused the creative sectors of the Web to spazz out a bit with his article “1,000 True Fans,” in which he posits that what a creative person needs to do in order to have a fiscally comfortable life is not try for millions of fans but rather cultivate a thousand or so “true fans” — people who will spend about a day’s worth of income ($100 is the example sum Kelly gives) a year to obtain your stuff. One thousand people spending $100 equals $100,000 for the artist, Kelly suggests, which is a tidy sum for an artistic type, many of whom spend years as ramen connoisseurs as they pursue their craft.

The reason the “1,000 True Fan” formulation sets folks on fire is pretty obvious: It seems like it’s a reasonably realistic goal. All but the most deluded of artistic types realize that massive, earth-shaking fame (and the riches that come with it) is extraordinarily rare to achieve, and that along with talent one needs a heaping helping of luck to get there. But 1,000 people — well, that seems doable on work alone. Plus now creative folks have lower cost and opportunity barriers for production and distribution, the Internet makes it easy to reach infinitely more folks, and so on and so forth. 1,000 people is a high school worth of people. It seems reasonable that you could be famous to a high school’s worth of people, especially when those thousand people are spread out among the 300 million people in the US/1 billion people in the world who have Internet access.

Speaking as someone who is arguably at a 1KTF level of notoriety, I certainly think it’s possible to gather a cabal of personal fandom to you and then ride them to a comfortably middle-class living. That said, it’s not what I do, and I don’t think it’s as easy a task as some folks seem to be hoping it will be, either in the acquisition of or the maintenance of that trusty band of true believers. Nor do I think the reward will be what one expects.

Why not? Well, I’m glad you asked.

1. Gathering a thousand true fans is harder than it looks. Let’s say for the sake of argument that I am indeed at the 1KTF level of fame, where I could get a thousand people to shell out $100 each, once a year. How did I reach this level?

* I built a daily audience of 30k -40k on this site — an audience that accreted here over the course of a decade (i.e., not quickly);

* I became a strong-selling author (“Strong selling” = six figure total units sold in 2007) in a literary genre well-known for its fandom.

Which is to say that before I could lay an arguable claim to having 1,000 “true fans,” I needed to create an overall audience of at least tens of thousands of readers/fans. The conversion rate of reader/casual fan for me would seem to be in the single digit percentages at best. While other fandom-accruing artists may be more efficient in their conversion rate than I am, at the end of the day I think you need to have already generated a large audience in order to sift out the true fans therein. In other words: You already need to be at least a little bit famous.

And of course, there’s the rub, since becoming even just a little bit famous takes some doing — in my case, my own meager ration of fame took ten years of blathering here and then another few years concurrently selling novels. Now, perhaps it’s possible to do it another way — to sort of handcraft a “true fan” audience without first engaging a larger, less-committed audience — but off the top of my head I can’t think of an artist who’s really done it that way. Kevin Kelly sort of suggests it’s not that hard: why, all you have to do is add just one fan a day! But it’s not adding a fan, it’s adding someone every day who is willing to give you $100. Which is a different thing altogether. Look: I’m not adding that sort of fan every day, and I’ve got a ten-year head start on you.

2. The available universe of “true fans” is not the entire US (or the entire Internet), but the subset of those who are willing/able to spend a significant sum of money on a single creative person. Ask yourself: Who among all the artists you enjoy/admire have you spent more than $100 on in the last year? I have a lot of people whose work I admire, and that I will happily buy. But in the last several years, the only time I’ve shelled out more than $100 for someone’s creative output in a single year was when I drove a couple hundred miles and spotted a friend a ticket to come see the Crowded House show with me. Because it was their first time touring in a dozen years. I’m not spending $100 on Crowded House again any time soon. I also spent $100 on a Bob Eggleton sketch a little more than a year ago, but that was because the sketch was based on my wife, not because I’m a Bob Eggleton superfan (although, to be clear, I think he’s great). And really, that’s it — and in both cases there were unusual circumstances.

(Oh, wait. I did spend a metric shitload of money on a Donato Giancola original painting about three years ago — but that was because it was the cover artwork for my very first published novel. Again, extraordinary circumstances.)

There are people who will pay $100 or more for stuff — I know because people have bought lettered editions of books of mine that go for $250. I thank them from the bottom of my heart and hope they live long and fruitful lives. Bless them all their days. But it’s not for nothing that really expensive lettered editions of my books come in very small quantities. That’s because the universe of people willing to shell out that sum for my work is genuinely constrained.

Lots and lots of people will spend $20 a year to be someone’s fan. A much smaller number will spend $100. An interesting question is whether there are enough of those people to go around. Which brings up another point:

3. Artists are likely competing for “true fans”. Let’s posit that someone is willing to spend $100 a year on their favorite artist. How many of them are going to be willing to spend that sum on two different artists? On three? The further out you go on that, the smaller the numbers are likely to get.

And what this means is that artists will likely compete for these “true fans.” As a science fiction writer, I share the same pool of “true fans” as, oh, let’s say, Charles Stross and Neal Stephenson. Is someone going to be enough of a “true fan” to give us each $100 a year? Knowing the general financial disposition of SF fandom, I sort of doubt it. If any of us gets $100, it’ll likely be one of us, and those others will be lucky to get a common book sale. Personally, I’d prefer we each get a book sale and then the fan has $40 left over for two more hardcovers from other writers, but then, I’m not particularly mercenary (and I’m a fan of both Charlie and Stephenson).

Additional point to make here: Charlie and Neal Stephenson and I are all much more likely to be choices for a “true fan” commitment than someone just starting out, because we all have track records that indicate some notable level of success: Award nominations, sales, etc. Once the “true fans” run the gauntlet of the artists they already know they like, there are likely substantially fewer to spread their largess amongst the previously untried.

4 . “True Fans” may not stay true fans. Just because you’ve managed to convince someone to shell out $100 to you in one year, doesn’t mean they’ll do it again next year. Your output might slip and they could decide to put their money somewhere else. Something you create might not appeal to them, and they choose not to renew their “true fandom.” Their incomes might drop. Maybe they have kids. Maybe they start playing more XBox. Who knows. The point is, if you consider “True Fans” in a business sense, you’ll have to expect a substantial amount of drop-off from year to year, and you’ll have acquire more “true fans” to make up for those you lost. You have fun with that.

Finally, a financial note:

5. Just because a “true fan” spends $100 on you doesn’t mean you get $100. Remember those really excellent folks who spent $250 to buy a lettered limited edition of one of my books? Well, most of that money goes somewhere else other than my pocket — mostly to the publisher, who, to be fair, did have to pay to produce the book (I’m okay with this, incidentally). The kid who spends $100 on a concert and a t-shirt is giving most of her money to people other than the band she came to see, even when the band gets a cut of t-shirt sales. And so on. Short of 1,000 fans actually sending the artist $100 free and clear (and over and above whatever output of the artist they may purchase), the chances of an artist grossing $100,000 off of 1000 fans is pretty slim.

Now, having said that, there are lots of examples of artists saying to fans “help fund my next project,” and then having fans pitch in a certain amount — basically, acting as commissioning agents for a work. I could see 1,000 fans pitching in $100 for something like that and then the artist using that money to create the work (provided, per point one, you have a large enough audience that you can sift through them to get these folks). But this isn’t what Kevin Kelly’s talking about when he’s talking about that $100,000; he’s clearly at least initially talking about that hundred grand as income: “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,” says the article.

But this formulation doesn’t square. Even if an artist cuts out the middleman and sells everything direct, there’s still going to be a huge difference between net and gross. Let’s say that I write a book and publish it through Lulu charges a certain amount for each book printed (the Zoe’s Tale copies I made for myself there were $16 or so) and then charges for handling fulfillment (i.e., shipping and handling). Let’s say I sell each copy for $20, minus postal charges. I’ll only get $4 of the $20 the fan has paid for the work. I could possibly print them cheaper by not doing a publish on demand option, but I’d still have to pay a printer, pay for shipping materials, and (if I don’t have a lot of space in the basement for dozens of cartons of books) pay for storage.

I’m using books as examples, but this problem crops up however an artist provides tangible goods or when there is some sort of production and/or distribution cost. No matter how you slice it, you’re not getting $100,000 from your “true fans” unless they’re giving you money with no expectation of recompense — which is not a great way to guarantee continued support.

Again: it’s not impossible to get 1,000 “true fans.” It can be done. The problem is that Kevin Kelly, in his enthusiasm, wants to make it seem that getting 1,000 people to give you $100 is no great trick. What I am telling you is that it actually is — it’s a pretty damn neat trick, in point of fact. Even if you manage it, the financial reward is not likely to be anything close to what you had hoped for, nor will it likely be as permanent as Kelly seems to imply.

In other words: “1,000 true fans” is no real short cut to making a living off of your creative work. If you think it is, you’re likely to be disappointed. And well short of 1,000 true fans.

108 Comments on “The Problem With 1,000 True Fans”

  1. I’ve seen you reference the slow accretion of fans a couple times recently, but I don’t think (pardon me if I missed it) that you went into a lot of detail about how you did it.

    I’m pretty sure I came over here from a Penny Arcade link (either Mike K. doing your cover art, or you advertising a book – the two may have been linked). Have you done other advertising/promotional things like that as well?

  2. When I first came across the story number five immediately popped into my head. Those are some expensive books or music or whatever. Even assuming low overhead a person would have to turn out quite a bit of material every year to keep feeding the machine.

  3. Thanks for saying this, John. You are always most well-spoken.

    PeterP, 10 years is just a long time. From my general observations of various folks, they get there by a) being smart, b) having original things to say that people find useful, c) and saying them well, d) accruing an archive of original things said and said well, e) having great charisma, f) being visible and active in the areas where you’ve got experience and can contribute to the conversation, g) a lot of time spent maintaining presence and the blogging and being up to date with affairs in the area of your experience, h) being human, i) being known in a number of areas, j) cat blogging.

    It all kind of snowballs after a while.

    But it takes a while and it has always, where I’ve seen it happen, taken a lot of work.

  4. Being a wannabee myself I’ve read a lot of different pro’s talking about what it takes to make it.

    Excluding things like luck (which is out of your control) and talent (which is an eye of the beholder kinda thing, there’s writers I like that other people suck, and vice a versa, but both types have succeeded), what it seems to come down to is persistence. If you’re not willing to put in a lot of time and effort before you see anything back, the odds are against you.

    I’ve only recently gotten to the point where people I’ve never met like what I’ve written well enough to ask for more (but so far they’ve gotten it for free, how they would feel if they need to pay is something else altogether). And it’s really cool to have people liking what I write. But it hasn’t put any money in my pocket. And I’m not holdin’ my breath until it does. I just keep working at it trying to improve, and going from there.

    My personal dream is to one day make enough to live off of what I write. And I’m working toward that. But I’ve decided whether or not I’m making money, I’m going to keep doing it. I’m just happier that way.

    Sorry for the long rant. I now return you to you’re regularly scheduled blogging.

  5. I read that article too (linked from MakingLight), and your #2 and #5 just seemed forehead-slappingly obvious.

    Maybe if you cranked out four hardbacks each year, every year, and I-the-rabid-Scalzi fan just had to have them all. Whoops, there’s still factor #5. Okay, well maybe I would buy four hardbacks for me *and* a bunch more for my friends and neighbors.

    Four books a year isn’t so bad, really. If Lionel Fanthorpe could do it…

  6. He stands at window, gazing out over his future kingdom, and waves a clawed hand, hissing “fly my true fans, fly!”

  7. I’m a comics fan, and I would spend over $60 per title per year, which adds up to about $180 for particular authors, every year. That’s without the alternate covers/hardbacks/figurines/t-shirts/original art, which I don’t collect. Of course, I doubt the authors/artists see much of that!

  8. A well-known comic book artist some years ago referred to his “faithful fifty” – approximately 50 thousand (!) fans who would follow him from one comic book to another as he moved around. Unfortunately the comic industry collapse of the mid-90s seemed to expose this as something of an illusion. (The comics industry of the mid-90s was a lot like the dot-com bubble of the late 90s: irrational exuberance in shiny-but-flimsy product masking a basic rot in the industry.)


    When it comes to my favorite creators, I’m about as faithful as they come. Hell, I often keep buying stuff by my former favorites for several years after they ceased being among my favorites (did I mention I’m a little obsessive-compulsive, too?). And as a collector I always look for the best, nicest packages I can find when it comes to my favorites (I own all of Alastair Reynolds’ novels in the British hardcover editions, for example). And I can’t think of a single writer, artist or musician whom I spend anywhere close to $100 per year on over an extended period of time.

    I guess the closest I’ve come is ponying up for the full set of Babylon 5 script volumes over the last few years. But that trick is about to come to an end, since it’s a 15-volume series which ends this year.

  9. My immediate thought on this has, I see, already been noted by previous commenters, but I want to note it anyway, with a little more rambling.

    I’m thinking that this model might approach making practical sense for reasonably prolific artists, especially those who sell both prints and originals. Someone like, say, Ursula Vernon, who appears (from my reading her blog) to turn out call it a piece a week on average, has a backlog of available prints, and occasionally does physical-media (as opposed to electronic) work that can sell for a large lump of cash? Sure, I can squint and see it as something that isn’t outside the scope of the possible.

    (Though an artist will have materials costs for those physical-media pieces, and can only sell ’em once. But if there are prints out there for $20, and a good back-catalogue, five a year just might happen; it’s only a tenth of the output of posited new material, and a whole back-catalogue to supplement from.)

    That being said, my household owns a grand total of three of her prints, one of which probably qualifies as $100, as it was a commission. And at some point I’ll get around to buying collected volumes of her webcomic. I got a print of hers for my fiance for his birthday last year. Which is a big Your Point #2 agreement. And even someone who’s buying five prints a year on this model will probably run out of walls eventually.

    But I turn from that thought, where there’s a stretch to potential plausibility, to writing work, and just boggle. I mean, setting aside the “We don’t all have the writing speed of Charlie Stross” factor, it’s my understanding that many publishers are reluctant to put out more than one or maybe two books by the same author in a year.

    So even if I have ten publishable books sitting in my desk drawer, they’re gonna come out one at a time. And someone who spends $20 on that book the first year won’t be spending $40 the next year when there’s twice as much merchandise available to buy — they may spend another $20. A new person may spend $40 (unless the first thing is out in paperback). Year three, that loyal fan who’s been there from the beginning still only has $20 worth of stuff to buy, maybe more if they get a copy for Auncle Pat or Cousin Chris.

    Speeding up publication in a hypothetical alternate universe doesn’t fix this, and I write at a highly finite speed anyway. And my work in other fields has some potential for crossover fans who want to read the nonfiction too, but the same rate-of-fire problem holds there, too. In twenty years, if I get a stack of publication credits to my name (rather than a few scattered anthology contributions and working-as-an-editor-on-commission, which is where I am now), I could hit that $100 investment from someone hitting my cross-genre backlist, but that’s still not sustainable. Someone [pause to skim the article] who’s ‘buying everything I produce and can’t wait for more’ isn’t likely to ever have the opportunity to get $100 of new stuff in a year.

    I’m just not that fast a writer; publishing isn’t that fast a process. I can see, knowing the limits of my energies and capabilities and being a bit optimistic, maybe stretching to two books in a year (one fiction, one non) and a volume of webcomic which would have to be split with the artist … which, in the magic world where all that money goes to me and everything costs $20, gets me … $50. From the true fans who want everything they can get.

  10. Correction: to my comment 2. That should be “article” instead of “story”. I thought I caught it in preview but apparently not.

  11. As someone who read the Kevin Kelly article and thought, “Hey, that’s a number I can aim for,” I never assumed that once I had my official kiloTrue I could sit on my laurels.

    It’s like everything else freelancers do — you have to run hard simply to reach your goal, even before you have the luxury of working to stay in the same place. Of course there’s turnover, certainly you have to keep cranking out good product. And frankly, while I’d be thrilled if 1000 people spent $100 a year on my work, I’d count it as a win if that many spent even between $30 and $50 a year.

    I’m working mostly with art and physical objects, which makes a difference, as K. Nicoll #10 pointed out. Maybe a partial solution is for writers and artists to team up and create their own merchandising, potentially boosting income for both.

  12. I can think of only one artist/artisan who achieved anything near to this status. That would be Moonwalker Boots, a maker of amazing western boots at ~$500 a pop.

  13. Well.. I certainly spend more than $100 each per year on the output of several different creators, in music, books, and movies; but I expect that their actual percentage of return from my expenditures is quite low.

    From what I understand about the industries in question, I would guess each individual creator gets far less than 20% of the gross in fact; and perhaps as little as 5% (depending on the particular medium).

    Of course, I’m also an “unusual” indvidual, in the sense that I earn in the top 5% of income in the us (not bad for a free lunch kid eh?) ; and that I am a much more avid consumer of creative output than most.

    As to fan conversion rates, both Jerry Pournelle and Leo LaPorte (two people whose output couldn’t be more different, and still relate to a similar “geek” audience) estimate 2-4% of their regular fan base, contribute $2-$4 a month. That’s a pretty broad range of fame, and a pretty broad range of fan base; yet they both see approximately the same conversion percentage (though of course Pournelles absolute numbers are higher).

    In this case, I don’t think it would just be the “truefan”, who donates that $2 – $4 a month (that in fact the truefans are a much smaller subset of those who donate); though, I would expect that any truefan who was capable of spending $100 per annum on a creators output would certainly be among the subscribers. It’s just a wild guess, but I would guess that somewhere between 1/2 and 1/4 of the subscriber base would be the truefans described above.

    Of course, the $4 subscriber model may be more viable than the 1000 at $100 model. No, it’s not $100 from each fan; but because it’s a direct revenue stream, the creator probably sese more out of it ($25-$50 a year) than they would if those same fans were purchasing $100 of their output through normal retail distribution channels.

    Not only that, but by making it a very small recurring cost, it both lowers the barrier for fans who wish to contribute (thus expanding the potential paying fanbase), and provides relatively predictable revenue.

    So don’t give me 1000 truefans who buy everything I put into a store to the tune of $100 a year. Give me 1000 fans who will subscribe to my website, and my podcast, for $4 a month; and I bet I get more out of it.

  14. Now, having said that, there are lots of examples of artists saying to fans “help fund my next project,” and then having fans pitch in a certain amount — basically, acting as commissioning agents for a work.

    Most recent and publicized example of which I’m aware: Jill Sobule, of mid-90s “I Kissed a Girl” fame, launched a site to help fund the making of her next record. I first read about this on last week.

    That right there is cool – but, again, without her middling fame from an unexpected pop hit over a decade ago, does she even have the fan base to contemplate this model?

    Smells like the whole “chicken or the egg” thing to me.

  15. Let’s re-balance the equation slightly and ask:

    How hard would it be to find 10,000 people to give you $10 a year? I suspect that’s a hell of a lot easier than finding 1000 people to give you $100. I’ve seen the shelves in the SF/Fantasy ghetto at B&N and Borders, and I can’t believe some of the shit that gets published. And bought. Over and over again.

    The first person to tell me I don’t get to judge unless I can write a better book gets to be my example of what happens I hit someone in the head with a bat. Repeatedly.

  16. I think that most authors would be happy if – instead of 1,000 folks who will spend $100 per year – they found 10,000 folks who would spend $10 per year. This still means that the author (or artist) has to put out something that’s worth a new $10 every year.

    For instance, you could convince every person who reads this blog to go buy your next book in hardcover. They’d spending something between $20 and $30 for that hardcover, far less than $100. I don’t know what your cut is per HC ($5?), but the 30,000 sales figures would make your publisher happy. Even if we all waited for the paperback, it’s not a bad living.

    I think that the core point is valid: You don’t need to sell a million copies to be solvent. Creating a supportive fan base of a few thousand is sufficient. Heck, even Ferrari operates on this model.

  17. Gathering fans is more expensive than keeping the old ones. Businesses know a loyal customer, no matter what they spend on the brand per year, is worth way more than the person they have to spend money recruiting. For writers, it’s the same way. Going to conferences and book signings, handing out promotional items, buying advertisements on websites and magazines, etc. If you are lucky enough to have a fan base, treat them extremely well.

  18. Kelly does acknowledge that True Fans require more work from the artist than regular fans do, but I don’t think his model takes into account just how much more work.

    Remember last year’s NY Times piece on Jonathan Coulton? Especially this part:

    Along the way, he discovered a fact that many small-scale recording artists are coming to terms with these days: his fans do not want merely to buy his music. They want to be his friend. And that means they want to interact with him all day long online.

    It seems to me that part of what’s enabled True Fandom in the past is that the artist can do their part – write and record a song, write and submit a story – and then go on to do other creative work while specialists take care of publishing, pressing CDs, marketing, et cetera, in return for their own cuts.

  19. I have to object against #5. One of the pillars under the referred article, is that the internet takes away the middle man. The idea is that you can ship musical stories entirely in digital form.
    For music this is getting more and more common: I know lots of people who purchase all of their music from iTunes and the like, and are happy to not own a garage full of ugly breakable plastic CD cases.

    Of course, this argument immediately bites itself in the tail. In real-world Dutch money, $100 will buy you 2 (two!) CDs. (Yes, in the Netherlands these things are quite a lot more expensive than in the US)
    On the internet you can purchase about 4 to 6 albums for that money, but the online content business is only starting and when people come to realize that producing a digital song is very cheap, prices will drop further.

    Because of that, for an artistic creator it will be very difficult to produce $100 worth of content every year, as already producing 4 albums a year is neigh impossible, and it would leave no time for performing.

  20. Kevin’s argument hinges on the idea that you can deliver a digital product at near zero cost and still extract the $100 a year from the true believers. This is the core of another essay on his site, as well as the topic of a new book by Chris Anderson. The math works if you can find 1,000 people to give you money on a regular basis for products you do not need to pay to distribute (or invest in any physical media).

    Frankly, I think Chris Anderson does a much better job explaining the whole free thing. In a nutshell, technology can make distribution of a product essentially free. When you get close to free, you should give away the product and sell something else.

    That said, it seems to me that Kevin and Chris’ argument leaves out one very important factor: the consumption method of the media.

    Music and Film do not require distribution because the consumption of that media has moved into the virtual realm (more so with music, but movies are changing rapidly).

    The problem is books are still not quite there, at least today. There are certainly people who will read an entire book on-screen (lappie, ipod, etc). But are there really 1,000 people out there – per author – who would do this and pay for the privilege?

    Not me, and I practically live online. I also spend well over $1,000 on books per year.

    At the moment it seems like digital books are more of a marketing opportunity than a direct source of revenue. For example, I got the Tor download for Old Man’s War and went out and picked up The Android’s Dream almost immediately after reading a few pages of the OMW PDF. I knew it was the sort of thing I liked to read and I might very well pick up another $100 worth of the paper sort.

  21. I found the “true fan” label in the original article a little distasteful. You can’t judge someone’s level of appreciation of an artist by how much they spend.

    I’ve seen bands selling ‘premium tickets’ to concerts, where you might get better seats, a meet and greet session with the band or whatever. That’s fine if you’ve got the means to pay extra, but it doesn’t mean that you enjoy the music any more than I do in the regular seats half way back in the auditorium.

  22. Hmm… politicians are going in the exact opposite direction for their fundraising tactics — seeking to raise small donations from lots of people, rather than huge donations from a few. (Though this is largely a Democrat party phenomenon at the moment, it was pioneered by Richard Viguerie in the Republican party in the 80s through direct mail — Howard Dean didn’t invent it. ;)) This has been working mindbogglingly well for Obama, in particular, this cycle — I think he raised, what, $55 million last month, almost entirely in small donations?

    Anyway. This just by way of agreeing with some of the folks above that a tiered model seems to make more sense. Most people can’t buy into campaigns at the Texas Ranger level; most people can’t buy their way into True Fandom at $100 a year. (Those who can seem to be parents of Hannah Montana fans.) Cultivating the next tier down — folks who, like me, might spend $100 a year on ALL their fandom activities, spread out over 8-10 artists — seems to make more sense from a business perspective. (So saith the Ph.D. student in humanities… sigh.)

  23. I just want to comment on the idea that artists compete for truefans. I don’t know how well this relates to the concept of Truefans(tm), but just yesterday one of my students was showing me research that indicates that a consumer who purchases an artistic product (a concert ticket or a CD, say) is more likely to make future purchases of artistic products, regardless of the author. Thus music ensembles that work together to build audiences aren’t competing for those audiences, they are encouraging spending behavior that will benefit the individual ensembles even if indirectly.

    So perhaps a Truefan(tm) can be true to more than one artist. $100 a year isn’t much for an art junky.

  24. My favourite example of artists who pursue this kind of business model is british band Marillion ( who have a very dedicated core fanbase and a 20+ year history.

    I easily spend $100 (£50 UK) on Tshirts, CDs, DVDs, and concert tickets in most years – 90% of it from the band’s own website, with no middle man involved. I wouldn’t even class myself as being amongst the most fanatical of their followers – although I would say I was a ‘true’ fan.

    I find it hard to imagine me spending this much on any author though. (Sorry John – but you’d need to be releasing about 10 new paperbacks each year!) But then again, they have to split the money 5 ways, so maybe it’s not so very different after all.

  25. It’s interesting that we don’t really have patronege of certain types of art, such as music and writing, but that it is OK for others, such as painting and plays. Really, all you need is someone with the means to pay you a $50,000 per year salary, and you could make up the rest much easier. Heck, many people in this country, say 50 or so, made $50,000 in the time it took me to type this post. Some of them are probably supporting some other form of art (financing movies, a pet charity, a painter, whatever) or at least supporting a cadre of hangers on. I’m surprised none of them are comissioning books or songs from thier favorite artists. I’ve ofen joked if I was mega-wealthy, I’d have Billy Joel come and play at my birthday party so i could hear him do the songs I like, rather than the ones he always plays in concert.

  26. There you go again using ‘bad words’ John. Everyone knows ‘hard’ & ‘work’ are four letter words, and we’re not supposed to use four letter words in polite society. In large part Mr. Kelly’s article seems to be a reflection of the times in which we live. Got a headache – use our product and it’ll be gone in 30 seconds. (Why wait and see if your body deals with it naturally?) A life time of hard work is for suckers – play the lottery for a buck and become instantly wealthy (or not). Look at how many times a day media bombards us with the concept that “instant gratification isn’t just ‘everything’ – it’s the ONLY thing.” I can’t speak for other societies and cultures, but it seems to me a large segment of America has developed social sciophrenia – the notion that it’s more important to pretend that things *should be* the way we want them to be, rather than dealing with them as they are. Doing this allows us to rationalize a boat load of otherwise unreasonable attitudes and behaviors.

    @Roxanne – Please note: Ferrari does NOT opperate on the model Mr. Kelly suggests. Ferrari produces a very limited amount (intentionally) of a luxury good aimed at a very very wealthy (and very very small) segment of society. Ferrari typically has a waiting list of customers for certain high end models of their products. The model Mr. Kelly suggests does not opperate on exclusivity, in fact just the opposite.

  27. I figure I’ve spent about about 250 dollars being Scalzi’s “true fan” over about, um, four years? (Maybe five. I remember I was on the Whatever before OMW showed up because I took a picture of it on the shelf at the Barnes and Noble because John requested shots of it out in the wild.) That averages to 50 bucks a year, which, as John noted, he gets to share with publishers and other folk.

    Also my boyfriend and I share our truefandom together. So we only bought one copy of, say, The Ghost Brigades, and one copy of Sagan’s Diary, and one copy of Agent to the Stars. I have bought about three copies of OMW, two to pass to other people.

    One thing I spend a lot on Scalzi that I don’t on other creators (with the possible exception of Tamora Pierce) is time. Scalzi’s site and forums get a lot of time from me. (Although a little less lately, as I’m still recovering from the holidays.) While Scalzi can’t really put my time in the bank or cash it in, that investment in time does mean I’m more likely to read his next book. In the last few years, time has become more important to me than money, so this is no small feat.

  28. Can I mention something else that the “each artist needs a thousand fans” meme neglects, this month before most of the populace panics about it?


    Bluntly, the tax code is set up in a way that the individual artist — even if he/she incorporates and takes advantage of every legitimate corporate deduction in the tax code, and retains the maximum proportion of earnings, and uses successor corporations to leverage that… you get the picture — is going to pay about 2.7 times the federal taxes, and an even higher multiple of state taxes, on earnings of $100,000 a year for four-five-six years in a row than will a conglomerate making exactly the same off his/her efforts, but spreading it across thirty or more artists. And that sentence is far, far less convoluted than the tax provisions the artist will need to negotiate, which the conglomerate can do in its sleep. Here are just a few examples:

    * Self-employment tax bites the individual and small corporation in a different way than it does a conglomerate, if only because the conglomerate gets to (in effect) pro-rate the “employer’s share” across so many more projects and people. And pay them less to start with.

    * A media conglomerate gets to deduct its entire cost of having a place to do business. Once one unwinds the rules, even the most-generous home-office tax deduction is works out to less than 70% of the same deduction for an identical space. This is not all that helpful to the individual artist who incorporates, because his/her workspace deduction is a major audit flag.

    * Media conglomerates get to deduct not just health insurance premiums, but virtually every other health-related benefit provided to employees, as part of “employee compensation paid.” Not so for the individual artist, even when he/she is incorporated (although, again, that’s better than a Schedule C sole proprietorship).

    * Pro rata costs of tax compliance. It only takes about twice as much time to monitor ten to twelve artists for compliance (and prepare their respective returns) as it does for a single artist. And artists can’t band together for this — part of that compliance cost is merely being familiar with the underlying activities of each one, which in essence means that the artists who banded together need to become their own conglomerate in order to take advantage of this.

    This meme essentially falls into the same trap as virtually every other meme about the New Intarthingy Age coming out of that particular publication: It only works once everyone has already adopted the model and somehow survived the transition to the new model. Our Gracious Host’s comments on what it takes to build that faithful fanbase present only the most obvious of those transitional problems!

    And now, off to concern myself with Mr Wilson and Mr Heath. Five percent does, in fact, seem too small…

  29. Taxes is the wrong concept. Of course, 10 artists making $10K each pay less taxes than one making $100K. So what? The question is how one can make $100K.

    I agree with others that finding people who’d pay $100/yr each, for something that costs nothing to provide, is the wrong model. Somewhere around $20-30/yr/person is a lot more reasonable; I suspect most artists could get 5 times as many people in that range as in the $100 range. (Note that I’m not saying it will suffice; that may be 15 people instead of 3.)

    If you’re selling stuff people want, that’s fine (but few are worth $100/year to me). But if you’re asking for contributions, many people are unlikely to contribute to someone who makes more than they do. So there’s a practical limit at that level.

  30. I think writing is the wrong medium for this approach.

    I’ve probably bought five copies of my favorite music over the years as the format has changed and improved, but a hardcover book remains readable with no re-purchase.

    I’d like it if John came out with five high-quality new books a year, and I’d pay the $100/year for them, but I don’t know any creative person who can sustain that pace for long before drying up.

    Steve Martin had a standup bit where he’d speculate about how if everyone coming to his show would pay a hundred grand a ticket he’d be set for life.

  31. Personally I like the idea, but, doesn’t this strike anyone a bit like the Internet Boom? Many companies had their business plan built on the concept such as this:

    The Market for X is $3,000,000,000. If we only capture 1% of that market then we’ll be making $30,000,000 – which is more than enough to fund our company. It can’t lose!

  32. The question that comes to my mind is more like this. I might be a “true fan” of some artist in that I’m going to buy whatever they produce. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to buy a signed first edition of everything.

    Do you even (the general you, not specifically you, Scalzi) produce $100 of retail merchandise every year? Even at hardcover prices that’d be four or five entire novels, which seems like a lot.

    My favorite bands seem to come out with a CD every other year or so. Short of just buying a bunch of band merchandise or sending them a check, I can’t actually spend $100/year on them.

  33. I’m going to second Colin F @22. I actually found it offensive that Kevin Kelley defined Truefans by spending limit. I don’t think there’s anyone I’ve ever spent $100/year on, so that means I’m not good enough to qualify?

    Last year I drove 120 miles each way for the OMW reading at the UW bookstore. But I only bought a paperback copy of The Ghost Brigades ($8). Sorry to say, this doesn’t qualify me for Kelly’s definition of Truefandom.

    I think Kelly’s argument would have made more sense – both rational and emotional – if he’d used the term “Patron” instead. I think of a Truefan as being one who is engaged in advocacy – passing along books, promoting on their blog, talking up their favorites to anyone who’ll listen.

    It’s harder to put a price tag on advocacy, but I think in the long term it’s a lot more valuable to the artist.

  34. I agree that the “10,000 Moderately Enthused Fans” model probably works better than the “1,000 True Fans”. On the one hand, you have to find that many more people who like your work; on the other hand, there’s probably more people who’ll spend $10 on you than will spend $100 on you.

    Looking at my own spending:

    The author that I’m the most rabid fan of, I spend approximately $17/year on (whatever new book is coming out this year, preordered in hardcover from Amazon), of which she probably sees $3-4. (She got far more of my money the one time I was at a conference in her town and took her out to dinner.)

    The local band that I greatly enjoy *might* get $100/year from my husband and me, if we went to see them every other week, but that’s $100/year max from *two* fans — and in reality, we see them more like every other month. (Plus, they have to split their take among eight people. A thousand true fans of the band means that each member has $12,500 before taxes, not exactly a middle-class income.)

    The indie yarn dyers whose work I admire? I might spend $25 for a hank of their nifty sock yarn, but I’m probably not going to buy four hanks from the same dyer in one year — there’s too many other yarns I want to try. (In this case, by the $100/year standard, the entity I’m the true fan of is the online yarn shop I love — and really, the true fans need to be more numerous and/or spend far more for the store to be viable.)

  35. Erika:

    Well, if it means anything, I think wasting an entire tank of gas to come up and see me read qualifies you as a true fan. Just, you know. Don’t lurk in the bushes in front of my house or anything. Because that’s not true fannishness, that’s creepy.

    (Not suggesting you would, mind you. Just saying.)

  36. As a number of people have pointed out, there are important factors that influence this 1KFan equation.

    The main ones, to my mind, are:
    The fans in question need to have the income to support the habit, the artist in question needs to have the output to feed the habit, and the proportion of the money flow that goes to the artist has to be relatively high.

    As to the first, well-off fans that are willing to spend that level of money are a minor subset of the total base. In fact, I’d bet that a more appropriate term would be ‘collector’ rather than ‘fan’. The collector most likely was initially a fan, but the repeated act of purchasing either lots of product or high-value limited versions are more the hallmark of a collector than a fan. As to the second, the artist needs to produce items that have an intrinsic, or at least perceived, value that is relatively high compared to the average for that product, in order to reach the $100/year mark. Finally, “Free” production/distribution via the Internet can help with the proportion of the money that goes to the artist, thus lessening the elevated prices that the second point seems to require.

    One writer who comes to mind that has been moderately successful at this type of eliminate-the-middleman, fan-funded work is Caitlin Kiernan. She produces Sirenia, which is a monthly PDF of new short stories or vignettes that she offers on her website for a subscription fee of $10/month. Single issues or back issues are also available for those that want to just try it out. Each issue ranges from 20 to 70 pages, including some discussion of the background to the stories and original artwork by Vince Locke. Subterranean Press has published the best of these monthly stories in two volumes, “Frog Toes and Tentacles” and “Tales from the Woeful Platypus”.

    Kiernan’s experiment seems to fit well with the 1KFan idea. Last I heard, she had a subscriber base of a couple of hundred fans, each paying $10/month for the PDF through Paypal. Her fans get a monthly dose of new material, she gets paid for her work on a consistent basis, she can use the best of them for subsequent full-market releases, and the costs of production and distribution are relatively minimal compared to traditional publishing methods. It serves as a supplement to her novel-writing income, and it is a model that I suspect will become more widespread as time goes on. However, to be successful at it, an artist will need to be able to consistently produce material of high quality, on time, and that meets the fans’ (or collectors’) expectations. Kiernan does well with short stories – someone who doesn’t do short stories might have a more difficult time with the monthly production model, for example.

    Caitlin R. Kiernan’s blog:

  37. In addition to Scalzi’s points, there are quite a few creative people who don’t complete a work every year. For every John Scalzi or Eric Flint who release 2 or more books each year, you have a Guy Kay or George R.R. Martin, who might take 3 or 4 years between books.

  38. Writing may not be the best medium or product for this approach. However…

    Webcomics is exactly where this seems to be functioning quite well (and is likely one milieu that Mr. Kelly looked at in writing his article).

    I’m a member of a webcomic discussion group and there’s been some fairly lively talk about this meme there. Many of the artists are pretty much doing exactly this process – and the points you make, John, are spot on. It does indeed take quite a while to get those 1000 fans that buy everything you make; only a few of the very top webcomics have really achieved that, even with many thousands, hundreds of thousands of readers, even.

    The cool thing about doing a webcomic and selling your own stuff is that, unlike the print comics biz as mentioned above, you get to keep all the money. Of course, this means you have to be entrepreneurial about it, and spend a bunch of time and hard work on operating a sharp business, but… you get to keep all the money.

    Most of the webcomics people I know who are making their living at it are selling 3 key items: T-shirts, print book collections of their comic (for which they handle all the production and distribution themselves, usually pooling their efforts), and original art. The first two have a $15-$20 price point, while the latter can range from $10 sketches to $100+ for the original pages of their comic (assuming they draw it on paper).

    You can see that at that price, maybe 1000 True Fans aren’t exactly the target; maybe it’s more like a variable group of about 3,000 to 5,000 people who’ll spend $20 a year on you, with a “True Fan” group of maybe 100 people who’ll buy everything you make.

    I have a readership of about 5,000, near as I can tell. It’s building up slowly but surely this year, which is nice. But at this point, I have a grand total of TWO “True Fans,” who do in fact buy more than $100 worth of stuff from me each year, mostly in the form of commissioned caricatures – and they’re not online fans, they’re people I know IRL.

    My total income from face-to-face and Internet sales for 2007 was only about $2000. Hey, not bad, considering I’m doing this very much on the side and I have a day job that pays pretty well – I’ve made a small profit out of that. But still, it’s a far cry from replacing my salary (and I do adhere to the Scalzi Rule of “make as much at your side job as you do at your day job before you go solo,” so I’ve got a ways to go, heh).

    It’s gonna take a lot more time and effort for me to just get a few people to think about buying my original pages. But, if I can get 500 people ordering 1 $20 caricature from me every year, that would go a very, very long way toward making it possible for me to shift my living over toward doing my own art, instead of having a day job (concept designer, it’s not bad) and doing my own stuff on the side. Add another random 500 people per year dropping $20 on a tshirt or sketchbooks or something, and I could build up an excellent war chest pretty quickly, as well as come up with new and cooler things to offer.

    I do think that WHAT you’re offering your audience makes a huge difference. Written fiction might not be the optimal product for it, UNLESS you have the wherewithal to cover your own print production, distribution and storage costs.

    And you still gotta pull in an audience of something like 20,000!

  39. I have about 40,000 readers, and when I sell product I see the same 200-300 names over and over. Those are just the ones I recognize, though, as I usually sell between 1000 and 2000 units during a book pre-order.

    Upshot? I’m pretty sure I’m making a living because of the 1000 True Fans who are spending money on my stuff.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, John. I’m just saying that the 1000 True Fans model is worth considering for some folks, because it does work… in some cases. The concerns you’ve raised are valid, but they’re not showstoppers.

  40. Oh, and “What Jeff Said.” I’m a webcartoonist, and I’m part of the hidden, super-secret cabal discussion group he alluded to. LOTS of us in there are seeing this work, and are making a living off of it.

  41. Another thing that’s important to remember is that those hypothesized “true fans” aren’t spending their yearly $100 only in order to Experience Your Art. They’re also spending that yearly $100 in order to make a statement to the other 100,000 not-quite-as-passionate fans of your work. If the other 100,000 people (or whatever $BIGNUM you want to postulate) don’t exist, the calculus of motivation is different and the True Fans are less likely to spend that $100.

    People are social. Even hermits. What we do and think is always connected to what other people do and think–and, even more importantly, to what we expect and imagine that other people do and think. Economic models in which everything is a series of Leibnizian billiard-balls never get this right.

  42. Howard Tayler:

    It doesn’t sound like you’re saying anything different than what I am saying, actually — if you’ve got 40k readers and 1k of them are “true fan” level, you’ve had to generate a much larger audience to get to those “true fans.” (your conversion rate in this case would be about 2.5%). As I say, it’s possible, but it’s not as easy as it’s suggested it might be.

  43. Scalzi what do you think of the model of having aproximatly 5,000 fans spending 15 per year? I’ve seen this happen with several niche- online shows/cartoons like homestarrunner and pure pwnage. In both cases and in plenty others these folks can actually live off t-shirt sales and other merch and there are probably more people willing to shell out 15 or so plus shipping for a funny hat or t-shirt than 100 dollars.

  44. Let’s see, my chronology…was introduced to Scalzi by step-mother who handed me OMW. Found Whatever site shortly after finishing. Benn visiting Whatever (almost) daily for 2 years. Read Agent on-line. Bought GB, TAD, Sagan’s Diary, and Universe. Agent and Zoe’s Tale on order with Amazon. Purchased several OMW copies for friends on Amazon (used, srry).

    Even with Scalzi mania I doubt I’m at the $100/yr ‘true fan’ mark. But I will say that Whatever has introduced me to many other authors, Stross, Morgan, other Hugo and Nebula winners and nominees, etc. And I’ve put another $200 a year into Sci-Fi that I never spent before reading OMW. My appetite is growing, so we’ll call this the OMW trickle-down effect.

  45. Jess:

    I don’t know. For my own part I don’t particularly worry about what I can get out of the audience — my primary writing income is from the publishers, who pay me with an advance. From there getting money from the readers is their problem (and fortunately has not been much of a problem to date, knock on wood).

    Generally speaking when I’ve done direct appeals to readers, it’s been for charity events, which skews the income (and in any event the money then doesn’t come to me directly).

    In a larger sense I think saying “I need to make $100,000” is a fairly lofty goal for a creative person; if a creative person can make $50k a year doing his or her creative thing they’d still be solidly middle class. Or, if they have another job of some sort, even making less than that would still be perfectly fine.

    Kevin Kelly’s basic idea that you don’t need a huge audience is not one I have a problem with, but I think the mechanics behind his 1KTF concept are a little shaky.

  46. That’s kind of typical of Wired stuff, I think. Cool “up front” ideas, not so much “execution” thinking.

    But I would offer people like Howard Tayler and several other webcomics creators as examples of people that are actually executing the mechanics of this idea with success.

    I’m a pretty solid fan of Goats; I’ve bought at least two tshirts from them every year since 2000, as well as assorted books and gewgaws, probably averaging $50 a year. The same with DieselSweeties.

    Enough people like me, and they make a good living, which they in fact do.

  47. And, you can’t underestimate the power of the subset of Truefans who are Zealots — the ones who not only buy a copy of all of your books, but also tell absolutely everyone they know that they should be reading your work. Zealots are less about sales, more about marketing.

  48. I agree, John. I think you’re right on the mark. And I think this is especially true for writers, whose products don’t have the benefit of quite as much immediate appeal as creators in other mediums. You can listen to a song sometimes and know if you love it or not in the first ten seconds, but with a book, sometimes you have to dig really deep to find out if it’s a pass or a fail. Or at least I do.

  49. JLR – It isn’t like Scalzi is a merchandising machine. He doesn’t have links all over here selling Bacon Cat shirts, Brain Pal hats or anything else. Could he? Probably. But it’s not what he does. That could even turn off some of his fans.

    I think that is what I had a problem with in the KK article, where he said that an artist should focus on those 1KTF. I think the creative person should create what they want and by catering to the 1KTF they may infact be maximizing their short term potential but minimizing their long term potential.

    He did sort of get away from the numbers at the end of the article stating that

    “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. “

    So 1KTF sure sounds better that UNOTFFLTAM – Undetermined Number Of True Fans Far Less Than A Million.

    And sure, adding 1 fan per day may be difficult, but it’s an average. Who knows how many you get when you tape bacon to your cat?

  50. This has been a really good thread to see, lots of good thoughts and inputs.

    Jeff M’s comment about Zealots being more about marketing than sales seems particularly astute. The core fans are enthusiastic enough to tell their friends and so forth – In some cases, a few key people would do more for your bottom line if you just gave away stuff to them than charging them, though in most cases they’ll buy it anyways. One friend of mine who is a low-sales SFWA member and spends a lot of time online following new authors and so forth has turned me on to (over the last 15 or so years) Ian M. Banks, Charlie Stross, and John Scalzi here, among others. He’s loaned me books, in nearly all cases books I then buy, and in a few cases books I then bought multiple copies of as presents or to loan out myself (I’ve accounted for about 8 copies of Flint’s first novel “Mother of Demons” that way, which may actually be statistically significant…).

    He’s one of those thousand guys, for a bunch of authors, and I am close – I’ll buy a number of authors hardbacks on sight, but most of you don’t write four or five of them a year.

  51. While I agree with much of what has been said above concerning an artists overhead expenses and the inability to produce a volume of work that is required for a fan to spend $100 there are artists that have become famous and successful following this truefan model. The first that comes to mind is Ani DiFranco.

    She overcame the problem of overhead by being her own (excuse the term) middle-man. And she overcame the problem of artistic volume by touring constantly and putting out album after album.

    As has been said though, this is the exception to the rule that John so eloquently placed in the real world in the original post. Not that the real world will stop millions of people from diving in to search for their own superfans.

  52. Scalzi @ 52 – in your post you linked you said

    “Most of these readers will be one-time readers — they click through to the link, see it, and click out, never to return — but some small proportion will root around, enjoy what they see (due to you working on the factors you can control), and put you on their daily reading list. Bang, you’ve got new readers. ”

    That’s about what I meant, too. I’m not advocating trying to go for the big post. I’m saying doing your thing could lead to unexpected notoriety. You could get no new 1KTF for months then get a whopping chunk.

    My comment was more about an event could suddenly trigger many new 1KTF. That event could(should) be something related to what you do – such as a new book available. I chose bacon cat as an example anyway.

  53. jmnlmanon: When I first came across the story number five immediately popped into my head. Those are some expensive books or music or whatever. Even assuming low overhead a person would have to turn out quite a bit of material every year to keep feeding the machine.

    Me too, except that I expect the real number is something very much lower than 1000.

    If you have 100 fans that will pre-order just about anything that you produce, you’ve probably got a curve that will allow you to live comfortably off of the people that will only buy your work once in a while.

    For example, I’m not one of Scalzi’s “True Fans” but I do like his books, and I’m much more likely to spend money on him than an unknown author. In fact, I’ll purposedly search his stuff out sometimes when I’m in the mood for it.

    I am, however, a true fan of Michelle West and Steven Brust. I buy anything and everything that they produce, and I’ve easily spent $100 on Michelle West stuff in the last 18 months.

  54. Yeah, I don’t think creative types should see this as a “wow! Just add water!” approach to trying to make a living with their work. It’s a really nice goal to keep in mind somewhere as you go along and work really hard at putting out something that’s hopefully going to end up being AWESOME enough to at least a 1000 people level where you’re making that income. The hard truth is– not everybody is cut out for this. I do kinda sense that the original article might make some poor cartoonist or garage band think…. WOW! WE CAN DO THIS, GUYS!!! Maybe the only good that comes from that, is it gets them actually thinking about the business side of things, which most creative people suck at.

    I know over in webcomics proper, many of us, some who have posted here, do the work and have figured out models out of sheer necessity, drive and dumbfounded obsession with the fact that we HAVE to make comics or we don’t feel like we’re alive. That kind of passion injected into your work, can really begin to do magical things to your audience. No doubt about it though, it’s HARD work, all of it.

    So that article IS backward, it’s not a business model persay– I guess it could be a state of mind, something to keep in the tip of your brain as you progress, but it’s not a shortcut. It is a fact that it’s working for a lot of folks in webcomics though. We’re pretty fortunate to be in that niche where there are more than enough readers and their money to go around if you’re “AWESOME” enough.

  55. Shouldn’t Kelly have actually written that what you have to do is get bought by Conde Nast?

  56. Spherical Time:

    Michelle Sagara and Michelle West are the same person (she writes under more than one name, if I recall correctly).

  57. Scalzi:

    Yeah, and under “Michelle Sagara West” sometimes as well.

    Up until about a week ago, her Wikipedia page incorrectly listed “Michelle West” as her married name, and that’s the name that I’m used to thinking of her as. Unfortunately, she corrected that. Her current legal name is Michelle Sagara, and both of the other versions are just pen names.

    So, I shouldn’t call her Michelle West, cause that isn’t really her name, but I’m not used to just calling her Michelle Sagara yet.

  58. That should be:

    “Unfortunately, that was incorrect, and she wrote a post about it on her livejournal in which she corrects the record.”

    I can’t seem to make sense today.

  59. Despite not being much connected with “official” SF fandom, I think I probably qualify as a solid fan from an author’s perspective, since I’m fortunate, these past few years, to be able to buy in hardcover the entire output of authors on my short (about 10 authors) “buy it when you see it” list. I’d easily spend $100 on books by John Scalzi, if John Scalzi could and would put four books of his usual quality on the shelves every year. And that number would scale upward faster than the product will ever actually appear.

    I think I actually did spend close to a hundred bucks last year on Charlie Stross, because he had more than a hundred bucks worth of books in print when I discovered him, courtesy of Boing Boing. But that’s not going to happen again.

    As many people have observed, the “thousand fans” number needs to scale depending on the nature of the art. But judging by my (recent, and I cheerfully admit the last few years have been fairly fat by the standards I’m used to) buying patterns, the fundamental logic of the 1KTF thing isn’t crazy broken.

  60. 63: “the fundamental logic of the 1KTF thing isn’t crazy broken.”

    I think it is crazy broken, because it has no utility. It’s descriptive of a common situation mid-career, but it’s not news you can use.

    In a nutshell, if you can set out to get 1KTF, and precisely target them, and you get 1KTF without distilling them out of a much larger casual fanbase, then you’re in the wrong career and should be contracting yourself out as a marketing genius.

    The *best* that can be said about this 1KTF theory is that it’s just the 80-20 rule sprinkled with Interweb magic pony dust.

  61. Kelly’s article is not a how-to manual, it’s a pep talk.

    I don’t believe he was trying to make it sound like his formula would lead to instant-success without any work. Instead, he was pointing out that most people’s concept of what “success” is is skewed. Our society leads us to believe that for an artist to be a success, they have to have a gold record, or be on the best seller list, or have their art in a Chelsea gallery. But this form of success is rare, at best. Kelly is suggesting that it is now possible to achieve a realistic level of “micro-fame” that can actually allow you make a realistic living.

    So fine, his numbers ain’t perfect. Who cares? He said so much himself. And different markets will have different formulas for success (a writer who gets $5-10 profit on a book will need more fans than an artist who gets $1000 per painting). But the point is that the numbers are realistic and achievable. Yes through lots of hard work. But it is possible.

  62. Jon Hendry wrote:

    The *best* that can be said about this 1KTF theory is that it’s just the 80-20 rule sprinkled with Interweb magic pony dust.

    I think you meant Web 2.0 magic long-tail pixie-dust coated unicorns.

    The pony dust is so Web 1.0, and their profitless business plans worked so well that we’re just giving everything away in Web 2.0.

  63. I agree that the “10,000 Moderately Enthused Fans” model probably works better than the “1,000 True Fans”.

    Or, yanno, A Million Punters, at a buck a chuck. (Which, for my math, works out even better. The interweebs are an infinite teat, aren’t they?)


    Set up kooky, creative Web 2.0 website. With lots and lots of Flash.

  64. Daniel Sroka:

    “But the point is that the numbers are realistic and achievable. Yes through lots of hard work. But it is possible.”

    Well, as I’ve said, I don’t have an argument with the idea it is possible. My problem with Kelly’s set up is that it seems to miss the point that to achieve 1KTF-level mini-fame it’s almost a requirement to have achieved some level of wider fame first. This isn’t a minor flaw in his argument; it’s a pretty big one, in fact. Likewise his card-palming implication that adding “just” one true fan a day is somehow an easy thing to do.

    Basically, if this is a pep talk, a lot of people buying it are going to get quickly de-pepped when they hit the real world.

  65. Oh Noes! John, you’re such a downer on things like this.(I’m sure you’re just being a realist in your mind)

    Sure it’s hard. No one is doubting it. Ok, some are doubting it. It is hard. Getting 1 TF is hard. First you have to be talented at something. Second, you have to be lucky – as Justine Larbalestier recently said. Yeah, luck plays into it.

    I see the article as advocating pandering to the TF. In the case of a writer, sure you only put out 1-3 books a year(hopefully). It’s hard for a TF to spend more money on you than that, but a TF would. So, to me, the article is advocating that you could do things such as make T-Shirts or other things -membership for special short stories- that these rabid fans would pay for. So, even if you aren’t getting ‘Very Nice’ and above advances, there’s a way you can supplement your writing income from the same core group of people – the TF.

    See, this first thing in this is difficult. First, you have to have a book. Second, you have to sell a book. Third, it has to be good enough that someone becomes truly fanatical about it. None of these are ‘easy’, but still somewhat realistic.

    It’s a pep talk in the sense that one doesn’t have to necessarily become a bestseller – or that one hit wonders now have a means to continue doing their thing. Sure, it’s hard, since becoming a one hit wonder is, indeed, hard.

    I see the article as saying – you don’t have to shoot for the moon – you can shoot for a low flying aircraft built from a lawnmower engine.

  66. Looking at this from the view of someone who makes one of a kind knitted felt hats and multi-media organic and recycled material tote bags as a semi-business, and has a bunch of friends who do thinks like pottery and glass-bead work this 1000 fan guy is insane. Maybe in literature or music his numbers add up but not in any art where you need raw materials to make your product.

    There is a limit to what people will pay for hand-made art. Sure you may sell the occasional big ticket item but unless you really have a following or do something way out of the oridinary your bread and butter items are going to be under $75.00 and in reality most people aren’t going to spend more than $50.00 per item, so you are going to need them to buy two or three pieces from you year after year to get the the $100. It does happen, but not that often. There is a limit to the number of bowls, stained glass windows, earings, necklaces or hats people need.

    If you are selling your work in a craft gallery the gallery is going to set the sale price for your work most of the time. You are going to get 1/2 that. So even if you sell 1000, $100 items you are only going to take home $50,000. Figure four hours to make each of your 1000 pieces that’s an income of $12.50 per hour before you take into account materials cost or taxes.

  67. Tripp:

    In fact, this year I have four coming out, plus two novellas, which is the equivalent of five books, really.

  68. Hi John and everyone,

    I’ve been watching the discussions over the 1000 True Fans with interest. I appreciate your alternate view – you brought up good points about how much of the money actually goes towards the creator, and how much energy can be spent. Perhaps we shouldn’t really think of it as a numbers game, but rather more like the 80/20 rule – 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers, so pay attention to them.

    I’m taking an Entrepreneurship course in university right now, and the main project is to come up with a business idea and plan. I got inspired by the 1000 True Fans idea and developed an idea for an artist management and development business that will help you reach those true fans and manage all the side tasks of your business, so that you can spend more time creating.

    I would like to invite everyone to take my survey:

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

    Thanks! :)

  69. I must be a true fan then, If I count up what I have spent on books written by you, and the amount of time I waste and enjoy wasting on your web site, I easily fall into the “true fan” category.

    Dang, never thought fandom would be so hard, I’d try to cut back, but it could be an addiction at this point, LOL! :-).


  70. I was thinking about this discussion last night when I should have been falling asleep. I think the real “take-away point” for artists should be: first, make it POSSIBLE for people to spend $100/year on your stuff.

    Webcomics artists have the right idea with this one. Any given webcomic offers t-shirts, stickers, bumper stickers, original art, prints – a metric ton of extras, both related and not. (Achewood sells a self-published cookbook and let me assure you, it is AWESOME.) Webcomic artists set up booths at conventions, offer custom work, respond to emails, post to their comment threads, run charity drives, and a million other activities. (See also: the success of musician Jonathan Coulton.)

    There seems to be an unspoken rule that authors should only sell their writing, and in a traditional format. Personally, I’d totally buy t-shirts, doodles, and stickers from my favorite authors. But maybe others would find it tacky if authors started selling merchandise. Tacky all the way to the bank. Well hey, authors can always offer poems and super-short stories for sale on their websites for a dollar a pop. (I’d buy ’em!)

    Regardless of whether or not the math of 1KTF works out, I think the underlying logic is sound. Artists, just plug the numbers of your choice into the 1KTF equation, then go out there and WORK IT, BABY!

  71. “But maybe others would find it tacky if authors started selling merchandise. Tacky all the way to the bank.”

    Maybe. I don’t think Margaret Atwood would have done herself any favors if she started selling Handmaid’s Tale Authentic Replica Chastity Belts or something.

    Comics and Jonathan Coulton are good for this because they play in the humor space. Elie Wiesel, not so much.

    To get an idea of the extremes merchandising can reach, just check out one of Mike Sterling’s “End Of Civilization” posts from his blog, where he goes over the worst of the media tie-in merchandise from the latest comic store “Previews” catalog.

    For example, he once highlighted a ridiculously priced authentic replica Buffy the Vampire Slayer wooden stake. That’s right, a $99 chunk of wood.

    There comes a point where the merchandise isn’t just tacky, but actually demonstrates contempt for the fanbase.

  72. My old boss Andy is an incredbile sci-fi movie fan. He has a Terminator skull, a Terminator arm, and a full sized Han Solo frozen in carbonite. (Of course now he keeps the skull hidden as it frightens his daughter.) These are all replicas, but even so, I imagine these are well into or over the $1000 range.

    When his parents came to visit from the UK and saw Han frozen in carbonite, his father said, “You can forget your inheritence, now I know we should spend it all before we die.”

    Why bother with 1000 TF’s spending $100?
    Take a tip from James Cameron or George Lucus…
    If you get TF’s that spend $10,000 a year you only need 10 of them! How hard could that be?

  73. Sex, and lots of it. “Truth! stark, naked truth, is the word; and I will not so much as take the pains to bestow the strip of a gauze wrapper on it, but paint situations such as they actually rose to me in nature, careless of violating those laws of decency that were never made for such unreserved intimacies as ours…” [from Letter the First, John Cleland, “Fanny Hill”]. Now that I have your attention, webizens of the blogosphere…

    #30 C.E. Petit, #43 Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and #67 Soni all make good points related to John Scalzi and Kevin Kelly’s analytic revenue models.

    Please allow me to make what I hope are considered a few friendly amendments.

    (1) I do not know, but want to know, the shape of the curve. 1 patron at $100,000 per year is not exactly the same as 10 patrons at $10,000 per year; nor 100 extreme fans at $1,000 per year; nor 1,000 true fans at $100 per year; nor 10,000 fans at $10 per year; nor 100,000 decifans at $1 per year; nor 1,000,000 centifans at a dime per year; nor 1,000,000 millifans at a penny per year. The reasons including what John Porter, Harvard Business School, defines as the 5 types of competition.

    (2) The Royal or Aristocratic patron model belongs, in my opinion, to an earlier era. Movable type printing changed the shape of the curve, as did subsequent advances in print technology, the media of film and television, and, of course, the internet. Once micropayments are part of the Web infrastructure, as Ted nelson advised since the 1960s, 1,000,000 millifans at a penny per year is plausible; but not yet.

    (3) I do not begrudge John Cleland the modest (using the word ironically) income that he received from the non-pirated editions of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, also known as Fanny Hill. It was allegedly the first widely-read English novel in the genre now known as “Erotica.” He severely needed the money, as he wrote the novel in 1748 while in a London debtor’s prison. He paid an intangible price in stress, as both Cleland and his publisher (First edition printed for G. Fenton, in the Strand, London, 1747) were arrested for “corrupting the King’s subjects.” In court, the author renounced the novel and it was officially withdrawn. But its is hard to un-ring a bell. Others have written in the author’s universe since then, sure signs of fandom. John Cleland’s Fanny Hill has spawned in recent years some explicit editions and derivatives, including The Daughter of Fanny Hill [North Hollywood: Brandon House, 1967], and Fanny By Erica Jong (“Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones” with imaginary date of composition circa 1750; sired by Fielding’s “Tom Jones” out of Cleland’s “Fanny Hill” (with the blessings of Moll Hackabout in Hogarth’s engravings of “The Harlot’s Progress”). For a review of Cleland’s work’s complex legal history see Charles Rembar’s The End of Obscenity: the Trials of Lady Chatterley, Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill. London: Harper & Row. 1968.

    (4) An author might, hypothetically, optimize her or his (or their collective co-authorial) productivity if the shape of the curve were known. But, of course, it changes with time. How many hours per year should we spend rewriting our Business Plan, and how much writing the words that directly pay? How many hours per year should we spend on optimizing our tax strategy and tactics, for that matter? I estimate roughly that I spend 100 hour per year on the various Schedule C forms for the writing/publishing/lecturing business of my wife and myself, and for the research/consulting business. I believe that this nets my household roughly $10,000 per year of our own money staying in our hands, rather than those of the government, and at $100/hour that is close to what we charge directly as consultants. But my tax returns have few fans, unless I someday run for higher office than the Town Councilman positions I’ve held in two different states.

    (5) When I wave my arms vaguely at my ignorance of the shape of the curve, and that it changes over time, I might as well ask this. What is the real COST of acquiring a new patron or 100 extreme fan or true fan or millifan? What is the expected LIFETIME of the author/fan relationship, or, equivalently, what is the “churn” or turnover? One rule of thumb is that a client or fan or customer is worth, over the lifetime, 10 times as much as the original purchase.

    (6) Final point: there’s little reason to merely work HARD as a writer. The world is filled with people who work harder than I, and have far less to show for it. I believe that one must work SMART. Kevin Kelly, John Scalzi, C.E. Petit, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden are very smart people indeed. Even when (once in a long while) they are wrong, their words should be carefully weighed. And, of course, anyone who is a fan of KK, JS, CEP, PNH, or JVP is not only smart but demonstrably of very good taste. Wherever we go, there will always be someone ahead of us on line who is smarter, stronger, prettier, richer, more talented, or better connected. What matters is, how can we make the best of what we have?

  74. I agree with the 1000 True Fans idea.

    A drug dealer I know says the same thing, although with a smaller number. Once you go big time, the risks elevate. You could get robbed or busted, simply by drawing attention to your own prowess.

    He lives instead by profiting off a small number of hard-core fans. Most of them come to him, and he can sort of predict how his normal business day will unfold. There’s comfort in that, even to a big brother who walks around with a .9 mm all day.

    In theory, he could make moremoney by increasing the Freaks he deals with, but- in the long run- the risks outweigh the benefits. Smaller is better.

    It becomes a quality of life issue for both the dealer and the author, I suppose. Books go for $30 or so. John has a stated $100K figure he’s shooting at. The goal is $100 a year from 1000 true fans.

    Therefore, John has to crank out 3 books a year. To fit in (or compete) with the other authors, he has to run a website. There are book tours, sci-fi conventions, etc… pretty soon he’s busier than a one-legged man in a Wish I Had A Second Leg contest that is won by being Busy.

    The logical solution is to write one book a year that draws in 3000 true fans, but something tells me (I’m not a real author, so I’m guessing) that doing so changes the nature of John’s work in a way that would make him uncomfortable. Instead, he works himself bald.

    Maybe I’m wrong…maybe this is just the mid-morning ramblings of a stoned housewife who misses her daily By The Way fix. That’s my take on the matter, though.

  75. I’ll start by granting John’s point the Kevin might be glossing a bit on how easy it is to drum up 1KTF. But there are a couple of things that are worth noting.

    1. Everyone seems to be assuming that the product is the books, or the music or what have you. I think the point Kevin is trying to make is make is that you should looking for other means to find profit. John indicates his model is to get paid up front by publishers & let them worry about distribution. But there might be another approach where he gained access to readers online, & found 1KTF who were so enamored with his style & elegant prose that they’re willing to pay $50 or $100 to sit with 15 other people in a writing seminar at the feet of the master. (would certainly pay that much to spend a Sat. talking with John about writing) It wouldn’t be easy, but it could be done. I’ll admit it would be a lot easier (especially in publishing) if you’ve got a hugo & a nebula & 250K readers. But that isn’t the only path these days.

    2. Kevin’s approach at least provides a direction for some artists who have no option under current models. I’m a poet/spoken word guy & I have absolutely no interest trying to make my living doing it, but there are people who do. The “find a publisher & make a living on royalties” model is dead on arrival. No fracking chance. I could spend all of my time and effort sending manuscripts to publishers & running up against a wall. Even if I did get published, it’s unlikely that I would make enough to even pretend I was making a living. Kevin would tell me to stop trying to go big & focus on the relatively small number of people who are into live spoken word. A pretty small pond. I’d set up a web site, keep a good mailing list to let folks know when I’d be a featured poet at a slam. Maybe make a bit selling CDs & chapbooks at a slam, or when I was having a show, & make my real money teaching a seminar on writing or performance, or even just passing the hat around at the show (“patron light” might be better than TrueFan…because they’re not just buying the CD. They’re coming up with some cash to support art & the artist). This is plausible. Not easy, but at least a way to try & make a living. I know people who do it. I don’t think any of them make 100K a year. But some of them manage to squeeze out enough that they can commit themselves full time to writing & performing.

    3. This explicitly isn’t about craft that requires materials. The distribution cost of sharing my poetry (assuming I wanted to) after it’s been scribbled into a 99 cent notebook at the cafe is effectively zero. If I make custom pottery, or handcrafted wooden boxes, distibution would be a lot more. But I do think the web (the long tail) make it easier to reach out to customers I would never meet at the local craft fair.


  76. You are right the 1000 True Fan Idea needs to be refactored. The points you said were well thought off.
    What you have said should have been obvious, but sometimes great sounding ideas have a way of make us want to believe in them.

  77. Speaking as someone who is arguably at a 1KTF level of notoriety…

    FYI, “notoriety” means “famous or well known, typically for some bad quality or deed.” You probably didnt mean to inject that negative connotation into your statement, so it would’ve been more appropriate to use the word “renown,” or “fame,” or perhaps a phrase like “name recognition.”

  78. lizzie:

    You can assume, as a professional writer of 17 years standing, that I generally use the word I want to use in a particular situation; furthermore, that I will occasionally use a word with ironic intent.

  79. John, your first sentence above says that because I am a professional writer of 17 years standing, I can assume…etc. That’s called a dangling modifier, and it’s ubiquitous in amateur writers’ prose (poetry too, no doubt…heh!). Be careful with that construction. Also, nix the misplaced semicolon before a dependent clause.

    Go for clarity and conviction: “I’m a professional writer of 17 years’ standing. Therefore, you can assume I generally use the word I want to use, and that occasionally I use a word ironically.” BAM! The End.

    Listen. Language is a system for encoding and conveying meaning. Neither our employment history nor our inclusion of words that we “want to use” has any correlation to our rate of success as communicators.

    I’m not trying to annoy you, and I certainly wouldn’t waste time posting comments if you weren’t a public writer. You generated and broadcast a signal. I received it and sent feedback: NOACK [noise]. Process that as you will.

  80. OK enough of the semantics, anyway

    Great article and refreshing to read some truth for a change

    I jumped on the 1000 Fans Bandwagon when the original article came out. I think one of the reasons for it’s popularity amongst other things is that it actually set a goal for people to aim for.

    The internet is so vast that it’s easy to be aimless and wonder what you should be doing, and very hard to set targets for. What this article offerered was a cosy bubble you could sit in amongst the sprawl.

    Kevin Kelly’s article was good, and so is this blog post.

  81. I view with wonder both the adulation and controversy created by Kelly’s 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 Kelly’s 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 Kelly uses 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 Kelly notes, 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:

  82. I’m also a touch sceptical to be honest -as more usually with music but also with other arts, many ‘creative’ projects are collaberative. My drummer would kill me if he thought I was pocketing $100,000 per year and expecting him to survive off tins of beans.

  83. I also could stop thinking about this concept, and your issues mentioned here are really on target. I have yet more issues, at least, from the point of view of a musician, which is what I am. 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:

  84. One minor correction is that Kelly doesn’t think 1000 TFs give you $100,000. If you have 1000 TFs, he thinks you’ll GET $100,000, because for each TF you have ten casual fans who buy a book or something a year, and perhaps more fans who buy every third book. TFs are the foundation — the bedrock that you can count on. But surrounding them are a cloud of people who aren’t as reliable but are still present.

    I’ve got less than 1000 TFs, I reckon, and I make less than $100,000 a year. But I’m making far, far more than I made working for traditional publishers. Then again, hobby games are a strange economic beast, adapted for an odd little niche. Nevertheless, I think the core points ideas of (1) cultivating fans and (2) letting the audience find you, rather than vice versa are both very useful insights.


  85. Greg Stolze:

    “One minor correction is that Kelly doesn’t think 1000 TFs give you $100,000. If you have 1000 TFs, he thinks you’ll GET $100,000, because for each TF you have ten casual fans who buy a book or something a year, and perhaps more fans who buy every third book.”

    That’s not what he wrote:

    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.

  86. Despite what you say here, I’m sorry – it is still the right way to go. 1,000 true fans isn’t just saying that you hit 1,000 and that’s good – the point of it is to make a goal and reach it – after you do that, you see it climb from there.

    I realize that you want to pick it apart and point out all the ways it can’t work, would be too hard, etc. – but I have to say that that does nothing but set you back. Put aside your issues with the idea and just go forward.

  87. Artists have to keep touring to keep obtaining new $100 fans as they lose others.

  88. Great emphasis on getting 1,000 fans is hard and takes a lot of effort. Effort expended on social media/self-promition comes at the expense of producing enough content for your fans. I’m thinking some coopetition must come into play to make the business model scale.

  89. A good read. I came here as a champion of the 1,000 true fan concept and you raised some very worthwhile points to consider. I agree that Kelly does make it sound as easy as adding one true fan each day – which could happen if you already have access to tens or hundreds of thousands of people daily – but otherwise will require years of consistent effort to attain.

    However, I still think this formula is the best thing going and is a much better alternative than hoping and wishing to be in the right place at the right time with the right look and the right song to win the “rock star lottery”. If the concept empowers artists to endeavour to be self sufficient on their own terms then it’s worth it. Will it be easy to do? Heck no. As someone else already suggested WORK is involved while building up a relationship with the fans.

    As for putting out enough content to garner $100/year – therein lies the true opportunity. Think beyond the song or the book and wrap your head around some basic internet marketing staples like email marketing and up selling and I think there’s plenty of opportunity for the soul that is brave enough to attempt it.

    1,000 true fans may be a moving target – but I still think it’s one worth aiming for.

  90. OK, since there are “lots” of people who spend $20 on their favorites, let’s just go with that. That’s only one book, really. Maybe a mug and a T-shirt.

    So that’s $20,000 a year. Tax free if you’re smart and/or devious. Is that so bad?
    That’s like $1600 a month. Minimum wage, but I’ve lived on less. Enough to keep you around until you can get a thousand more fans, and make 40K.

    The idea here isn’t the math, it’s the approach. The idea that rather than becoming a global superstar, you just start with yourself and gradually build out until you have a fanbase that can support you. (Or, I might add, leverage better deals). For the growing population of self-publishing, indie authors (and musicians and painter and crafters and what-not) this is kind of the only route available and it’s helpful to see it as something incremental, rather than just floundering around wishing somebody would sign you up and give you a limo.

  91. Linton Robinson:

    You seem to be making the same error that Mr. Kelley did in the original article, which is not to make any distinction between gross and net. Grossing $20k on a book (or a mug or t-shirt or whatever) is not nearly the same thing as netting $20k.

    I don’t have any problem with the philosophy of 1,000 true fans, as I’ve noted a number of times in this comment thread. Economically, it’s tougher than Mr. Kelley lets on.

  92. I find the author of this article to be very defeatist and full of limiting beliefs. His argument seems to be “Its hard, I can’t find fans like that, I can’t compete, my art isn’t compelling enough to keep them wanting more, and it costs money to make money.” It seems to have more to do with his beliefs than the feasibility of 1KTF.

    From the article:
    1. Gathering a thousand true fans is harder than it looks.
    Do you think its harder to get 1KTF or hit the NYT Bestseller List? Does this means its impossible? Are you not willing to do hard things to achieve your goal?

    2. There aren’t many people willing/able to spend a significant sum of money on a single creative person.
    4 times a month, Madison Square Garden finds 20,000 people to spend well over $100 on a single artist. I consider that a lot of people.

    3. You have to compete for true fans.
    Does that mean you can’t win the competition? Do you not have to compete for normal fans?

    4. “True Fans” may not stay true fans.
    The idea isn’t to collect 1,000 points and then retire in Bermuda for the rest of your life. You have to keep making art and keep trying to get fans. 1KTF doesn’t say anything about never having to work again for the rest of your life.

    5. Just because a “true fan” spends $100 on you doesn’t mean you get $100.
    If you’re selling digital products it most certainly does.

    But this is splitting hairs. He doesn’t literally mean $100, 1000 fans, or $100k salary. Of course, he means making an average profit of $100 and reality dictates raising your price if there are costs involved. Does this really negate the concept for you?

  93. Linton Robinson:

    You seem to be making the same error that Mr. Kelley did in the original article, which is not to make any distinction between gross and net. Grossing $20k on a book (or a mug or t-shirt or whatever) is not nearly the same thing as netting $20k.

    I don’t have any problem with the philosophy of 1,000 true fans, as I’ve noted a number of times in this comment thread. Economically, it’s tougher than Mr. Kelley lets on.

  94. A good read. I came here as a champion of the 1,000 true fan concept and you raised some very worthwhile points to consider. I agree that Kelly does make it sound as easy as adding one true fan each day – which could happen if you already have access to tens or hundreds of thousands of people daily – but otherwise will require years of consistent effort to attain.

    However, I still think this formula is the best thing going and is a much better alternative than hoping and wishing to be in the right place at the right time with the right look and the right song to win the “rock star lottery”. If the concept empowers artists to endeavour to be self sufficient on their own terms then it’s worth it. Will it be easy to do? Heck no. As someone else already suggested WORK is involved while building up a relationship with the fans.

    As for putting out enough content to garner $100/year – therein lies the true opportunity. Think beyond the song or the book and wrap your head around some basic internet marketing staples like email marketing and up selling and I think there’s plenty of opportunity for the soul that is brave enough to attempt it.

    1,000 true fans may be a moving target – but I still think it’s one worth aiming for.

  95. One should go for just one or two UBER-ULTRA-MEGA fans, each willing to invest $50,000 or $100,000. Ask one’s self how to offer that valuable of a service to someone wealthy.

  96. As usual, I’m way late to these kinds of conversations, but being a true fan of Tim Ferriss in whose newest book I only recently learned of Kelly’s article, I Googled it and found your site as well. For what it’s worth, I’m someone who has exceeded his own success expectations in a very odd niche (writing and consulting for charter schools), and I think you’re spot on. Building a base is a lot harder than Kelly’s proposition makes it sound (though I appreciated his idea as a concept and I interpreted that you saw some merit in it as well. I did not understand the perspective of some of the respondents that questioned your willingness to work or compete for your success.)

    Here’s how I think about the overall 1KTF proposition:

    1. The long tail (which I first read about in Chris Anderson’s book a few years ago) also offers creatives the possibility of producing lots of small works over time (for me that includes booklets, podcasts, videos, etc.), none of which individually is likely to be a blockbuster (save an occurrence of Taleb’s black swan), but can cumulatively produce one’s desired income goals, especially if the information is evergreen or the audience is. That has been my strategy thus far.
    2. You are exactly right about the work required to FIRST build a larger, not-so-committed fan base over time in order to accumulate true fans. In this respect, I think it’s generally better for creatives to apply Pareto’s law to one’s business model rather than a variation of Moore’s technology adoption lifecycle (i.e., selling first to innovators and early adopters).
    3. I’m not one who has historically been a true fan of any writer, but in the past few years, using Kelly’s definition, I have become a true fan of Tim Ferriss, i.e., I read every blogpost he writes and if he’s selling something, I’m buying it. I even buy other products he mentions in passing because of the value his ideas have created in my life (e.g., I just bought a Nike Fuel Band because he mentioned it in a You Tube interview). That said, I own all of his books, have purchased them as gifts for friends, would travel a reasonable distance to shake his hand, etc., but I doubt that all that adds up to $100 a year over the five years I’ve followed him. And while I’m guessing that he must have several thousand more “true fans” like me, I think his work still succeeds along a Pareto distribution rather than a long tail. (For example, the way he pre-sells blocks of his books using enticing offers, co-branding, etc., looks like a Pareto strategy to me.)

    In the end, I encourage fellow creatives to focus their attention on cultivating whatever daily inputs they have determined are force multipliers for them. That’s where the real magic occurs.

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