1,000 True Fans
The long tail is famously good news for two classes of people; a few lucky aggregators, such as Amazon and Netflix, and 6 billion consumers. Of those two, I think consumers earn the greater reward from the wealth hidden in infinite niches.
But the long tail is a decidedly mixed blessing for creators. Individual artists, producers, inventors and makers are overlooked in the equation. The long tail does not raise the sales of creators much, but it does add massive competition and endless downward pressure on prices. Unless artists become a large aggregator of other artist’s works, the long tail offers no path out of the quiet doldrums of minuscule sales.
Other than aim for a blockbuster hit, what can an artist do to escape the long tail?
One solution is to find 1,000 True Fans. While some artists have discovered this path without calling it that, I think it is worth trying to formalize. The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply:
A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
I would amend that to True Fans who can afford to give.
To raise your sales out of the flatline of the long tail you need to connect with your True Fans directly. Another way to state this is, you need to convert a thousand Lesser Fans into a thousand True Fans.
Assume conservatively that your True Fans will each spend one day’s wages per year in support of what you do. That “one-day-wage” is an average, because of course your truest fans will spend a lot more than that. Let’s peg that per diem each True Fan spends at $100 per year. If you have 1,000 fans that sums up to $100,000 per year, which minus some modest expenses, is a living for most folks.
One thousand is a feasible number. You could count to 1,000. If you added one fan a day, it would take only three years. True Fanship is doable. Pleasing a True Fan is pleasurable, and invigorating. It rewards the artist to remain true, to focus on the unique aspects of their work, the qualities that True Fans appreciate.
This sounds like it comes right out of the Robert Schuller school of financing, for his Crystal Cathedral:
According to a History Channel program about the Crystal Cathedral, construction began in 1977 and ended in 1980. The initial estimated cost of the church was $7 million, but the final cost was over $17 million (about $55 million in 2007 dollars). Also according to the History Channel TV show, one way Dr. Schuller found to help finance the construction of the Crystal Cathedral was to sell each one of the 10,000 rectangular panes of glass for US$500 each, when the sale of the panes of glass was completed Dr. Schuller had raised over US$5 million.
But it glosses over the response rate I mentioned earlier.
Basically, with a good two per cent response rate, to get those one thousand True Fans, a person would have to be exposed to fifty thousand people. In fact, it will be a multiple of that because you want True Fans who can afford to give.
There’s a lot of noise to cut through. Let me use MySpace as an example. When you Add someone as a Friend, it allows that person to send Bulletins to you (and vice versa). Very few of these Bulletins fall into other than two categories:
1) We want your money (from those who have something to sell)
2) I’m bored (from those who don’t have anything to sell)
If you have, say, three hundred Friends, that means a potential of receiving three hundred Bulletins each day. Now imagine a MySpace member with thousands and thousands of Friends. Do you think one of your Bulletins would ever get read by that member?
I have over three hundred MySpace Friends. I’ve grown weary of MySpace because most of the Bulletins fall into those two categories I’ve cited. I’ve had to delete Friends who sent more than one Bulletin a day. It just got to be too much to deal with. I intend to continue trimming Friends. And I’ve stopped accepting Friend requests too.
So even when you have the ability to easily spread your word, that ease is mitigated — if not entirely thwarted — due to others also having the same ability.
I’ve sent few Bulletins on MySpace. The times I’ve done so and linked to this blog, the response was even less than the two per cent I’ve mentioned. This tells me most Bulletins aren’t even being read because, really, even the most swamped person has time do to one frikkin click just out of curiosity.
So all of you writers who someday hope to bypass the print publishing dinosaurs, be prepared for a long, hard slog. Don’t expect overnight success. But don’t give up, either.
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