1000 True Fans

March 5th, 2008

From Kevin Kelly’s blog The Technium via Waxy.org (and Mike who emailed me a link), a nice crystallization for me of how the long tail can work for creators. Most of the time long tail discussions are about how Amazon makes a billion dollars selling one copy per month of a million different indie CDs. But creative people can grab a chunk somewhere in the middle of their long tail graph of fans and make a living – just get 1,000 True Fans and they’ll support you.

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.

Amen.

Kevin’s apparently what they call a “smart person” – I didn’t link to it because I was too slow, but a couple of posts ago was this excellent piece on what you can still sell when everything is free.

32 Responses to “1000 True Fans”

  1. Amanda says:

    First comment!!

    I liked that piece a lot, but did you see the bit about how you can make $100,000 with 1,000 fans because they’ll each spend $100 apiece? Oh, and there might be some “minor overhead costs.” I didn’t buy that.

    It’s very timely, because just last night I started a mini-wiki at Wikia scratchlabs that’s meant to be a collection of internet resources for independent musicians: it’s called Let the Internet be Your Record Label.

    I’m linking to everything I can find that JoCo uses, and there’s also a “Learn More” section for articles exactly like this.

    I just started it last night, so it’s pre-alpha, people, but please help me build it!!

  2. Kevin Fox says:

    I think the challenge you have at 1000 True Fans is giving them enough monetization opportunities to enable them to spend their $100 per year. 1000 fans online are almost certainly too geographically dispersed to effectively tour, and unless you’re really good at building your brand and offering swag you probably won’t make $100/year on album sales alone. In Kelly’s example, $100 also presumably includes the gas for that 200-mile concert trek, and the money spent on tickets and memorabilia gets divided by so many people responsible for the venue, manufacturing, even shipping (you know, the kind of costs responsible for Amazon’s $1 billion long-tail revenue), that I wouldn’t be surprised if the net of a $100/year ‘benjamin fan’ is closer to $20-30 unless most of the spend is on internet downloads, in which case you’d have to be as prolific as, say, Jonathan Coulton, to generate enough content to justify the cost.

    I love the idea and I agree with the sentiment of the article, but I can’t help but think the math is a bit too back-of-the-envelope. I’d love to see more the subject.

  3. eliannrad says:

    When I have money (when I am old enough to get a job), I will spend more than 100 bucks a year on JoCo related stuff. :D I will probably buy a lot of stuff from CafePress…

  4. [...] “..a nice crystallization for [Jonathan Coulton] of how the long tail can work for creators.&#… Posted on March 5th, 2008 [...]

  5. Well Jonathan, this is for the Americanos I guess.

    I live in Holland. The Netherlands. Nederland. So I guess I am very lucky. Holland is not a super size country. So I guess, all I need is just 20 friends.

  6. 1000 fans x $100 does seem a little unrealistic. I’d expect you’d be more likely to see 4,000 fans with a per-fan net profit of $25, or 2,000 x $50.

    And that’s assuming that you have to get to $100,000. Settle for, say, $75,000, and those 2,000 fans only need to pull around $37, and the 4,000 about $20.

  7. JC says:

    Maybe I picked the wrong quote – the number 1000 is more of a concept, it changes depending on your situation. The point is that a small number of superfans can fund a creative enterprise pretty well. Trent Reznor just sold 2500 $300 superfan packages of his new record making him $750,000 in just a couple of days. Granted, he’s already famous. But you can see how selling just a couple hundred of such a thing might be able to say, finance the recording of an album, a la Jill Sobule (http://www.jillsnextrecord.com/). And of course, all the non superfans who buy your stuff also contribute to the bottom line.

  8. TimF says:

    I think there is also a social factor. People like to be a part of something and on the internet, the more people involved in the venture, the more activity. I think if you don’t have enough people buzzing about, people will lose interest. Not necessarily because your product stinks, but because there isn’t enough of a community to maintain the True Fans. However, providing regular quality content could be enough to counteract the social lag.

    I suspect that the number of people in a fan base could be analagous to the mass of an object in an inertia physics equation. Small mass and you slow down faster, unless you put in enough energy to keep the ball rolling. A large mass can still stop, but it takes longer and will maintain velocity better during energy lapses.

    I don’t have experience in this sort of thing, but my intuition tells me that 1000 True Fans isn’t enough unless it’s constantly growing.

    Thanks for the great music. I’ve been a lurker for a long time.

  9. Amanda says:

    “The point is that a small number of superfans can fund a creative enterprise pretty well.”

    True dat.

    That is indeed the main point of the article, and it’s an excellent one, which is exactly why it’s a shame that he’s muddying the freshly-mopped floor of lucidity with funky numbers. Some numbers I did like, though, were the ones he gave when pointing out that more people in the enterprise mean that you need a proportionally higher number of fans to support it.

  10. JY says:

    Good point about the social aspect. I’m sure most unsigned artists are struggling if the goal is to make a living. Even if the music itself is very good, I suspect that most unsigned artist can’t get enough attention to make a decent living. There needs to be some sort of gimmick or novelty-factor associated with the artist. There is only room for a small handful of internet rockstars in the world.

    I know of one artist in the UK called Comeg who recorded 6 great albums and gives them away for free on the internet. His music is top notch, and he’s very prolific as a songwriter, but apparently he doesn’t have a gimmick or novelty factor to get slashdotted or Digged into internet stardom. Great songs alone don’t seem to be enough.

  11. Marcy says:

    This is a theory, not a way of life, so it’s helpful for goal-setting. You can’t know how much a fan is going to spend—I’m a fan of lots of people but I don’t spend $100 on each of them. I’d be broke if I did! I think consistency is important–if you have that fan base and you keep them happy by bringing out new music or merch or whatever, they will remain loyal and spend their money as they can. The trick is to get new fans while you keep the old ones.

  12. Andrew says:

    I think what’s getting lost in the weeds of this discussion is the definition of a “true fan”. Perhaps a better definition is a SuperFan. A “True Fan”/Superfan is someone who buys *every* product put out by an artist, goes to every show, ckicks the advetising links, etc. Superfans also act as an advertising agency, plugging the artist in other venues (and gets their artist into Digg, Fark, Slashdot, etc). Superfans will bring in fans, and other folks who will in turn spend their money. That’s where the $100 comes from. It may be that an artist will put out one $15 CD, a $20 T-shirt, and tour with a $25 show. The Superfan buys all that (at $60), plus brings 2 people to the show (+$50, either directly from the Superfan, or from the 2 people) where one of those two people also buys a CD ($15). That’s $125 from your Superfan, plus potentially two other fans who may buy future, current, and back-catalog items (+$$), and possibly become Superfans in their own right (+$$$).

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that the $100 per fan number isn’t necessarily pulled directly from that fan (although, given enough purchasing opportunities, you *will* get that from a Superfan), but more through the social networking and advertising opportunities those folks bring you. The trick isn’t to get new fans while you keep the old ones, the trick is to keep the old fans, and treat new fans like old fans. Your old fans will do the work of bringing in the new fans for you.

  13. [...] originally picked up Kelly’s post from Jonathan Coulton’s blog (who makes his living following this [...]

  14. Jack F says:

    I’m the biggest cheapskate around, and yet I just spent $105 on JoCoShow tickets – and this will be the third show I’ve brought new people to in the past 6 months. If your business model is able to get that much money out of me, not to mention my friends that have become new fans, you must be doing something right.

  15. mai-ling says:

    interesting take on the business of music.

  16. M_pony says:

    I like the bit in the article that says ‘a true fan will drive 250 miles to see one of your concerts’. I immediately thought “gee, yeah I did that”.

  17. manstraw says:

    I recommend some people not get hung up on the hard numbers. This is about a concept that JoCo happened to already be living, that just got put into new words. The goal need not be starmaking, which primarily serves an industry, and not an artist. By removing the layers of people between artist and audience, the size of the audience can be much smaller. 1,000 true fans is ultimately a number chosen for it’s delicious roundness and easy to comprehendness, but is not unrealistic. A given artist’s mileage may vary, but the overall concept is sound and remains. You don’t *need* that many uberfans. The music industry *needs* them. Artists don’t.

  18. JC says:

    @manstraw: Well said. You write my posts from now on K?

  19. Fascinating article! I really gives hope to those like Jon who want to attempt the same feat! I met a couple of true fans at a BB King concert last year and they told me they were going to every one of his concerts on the west coast during that tour. I have to admit though that I do not have what it takes to be a “true fan” for anybody…but I am definitely a “lesser fan” for a number of artists.

  20. Gina says:

    Tomorrow will be my sixth show in one year. I think maybe I am a true fan.
    :D

  21. SevinPackage says:

    I’m proud of being a True Fan of yours.

    Thanks for giving me something to be a True Fan of!

  22. Amanda says:

    @manstraw I can’t speak for others, but the 1,000 fans number didn’t bother me at all — I did recognize that it’s just a nice round number. What did bother me was this particular sentence:

    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.

    That’s a very casual erasure of how much it costs to travel to gigs, print CDs, buy good gear and software for making music, all that.

  23. Marcy says:

    Interesting relevant article on msnbc today:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23506799/

  24. [...] was directed to an article by Kevin Kelly saying perhaps not, by the oft-praised-on-this-blog Jonathan Coulton. It posits a simple and elegant set of conclusions to take from all of the premises above: When [...]

  25. Amanda says:

    Interesting thing from the article that Marcy linked to:

    But DeRogatis asserts that the majority of recording artists never made much money through selling recordings, though, and always had to tour to turn a healthy profit. These days, emerging artists like New York indie rockers Vampire Weekend and British songstress Lily Allen use the Web as a marketing tool, then make most of their money from live gigs.

    I used to think the same thing about the profession of musicianship in the Internet Age: that the recordings themselves would be mostly a loss leader, and that musicians would make most of their money from performing live and some from selling merch and digital downloads. But your example suggests otherwise; that digital downloads might be the majority, even, of a musician’s income.

    Always assuming that s/he has the mad skillz to build an awesome store like this one, or can find someone else to do so. I think that must make a huge difference.

    The record biz was just silly for not building their own digital distribution infrastructure long ago.

  26. Erica says:

    Interesting discussion on this topic! I don’t have an informed enough opinion to join in, but I was inspired to type up a tribute that sums up my position, and is my thank you to JC for all the work he put into this phenomenon….

    (Yes this will sound familiar….everyone knows where all the props go!!)

    FAN TRIBUTE WARNING!!!! GEEKY TO THE MAX!!

    Ahem…

    Hello from my secret lair on a Sudbury Mountain
    It’s cold though nothing’s fallen off so far
    We have ways of keeping warm in this place!!!!
    I’m a Student, I’m a Debt Slave,
    And I don’t have money so much,
    But I’m a geeky “Canadian hottie”
    And You have a way of writing funny things,
    And posting them for me……

    Oh I’m so into you,
    But I’m way too poor for you,
    (Even my best friends think I’m crazy, I’m not surprised if you’ll agree…)
    But you have found a way to be
    Creative and nice to folks like me
    I love the music you’re recording,
    But my empty purse says I can’ afford you yet!

    I know you started making music and lyrics to please you
    And now you’re soft-rocking near and far,
    And your videos are streaming
    I like your monkeys, and I like babies,
    But really I don’t like robots so much
    Your music has got so many junkies,
    Cause you have a way of singing funny things and merchandising too!

    Oh I’m so into you,
    But I’m way too poor for you,
    (Even my best friends think I’m crazy, I’m not surprised if you’ll agree…)
    But you have found a way to be
    Creative and nice to folks like me
    I love the music you’re recording,
    But my empty purse says I can’ afford you yet!

    You know it isn’t easy living here on a Sudbury mountain,
    But your music it can bring me ’bout a million laughs,
    And it keeps my demeanor civil!
    I’ll be patient, I’ll be studious,
    (In my papers, I’ll limit the ‘bull’)
    And then one day, (Before I have children)
    I will just stay awake for 24 hours and buy cool stuff from you….

    Oh I’m so into you,
    But I’m way too poor for you,
    (Even my best friends think I’m crazy, I’m not surprised if you’ll agree…)
    But you have found a way to be
    Creative and nice to folks like me
    I love the music you’re recording,
    But my empty purse says I can’ afford you yet!

  27. JoAnn in VA says:

    Must have been at least a thousand last night in the Birchmere- way to sell out the place! WOOT! I had a great time as did the husband, son and his girlfriend (first timers, those three).

    JoAnn
    (the cookie lady)

  28. So what you’re saying is, I need to stop forcing homeless people to read my comics and focus more on the internets? hmmmmm I dunno.

  29. Craig says:

    I disagree with a portion of this article. Perhaps more relative to music than to journalism (blogging or podcasting), if you are good enough to harness 1,000 TrueFans I don’t see any reason why it would stop there. 1000…1500…2000…and so on.

    The dissemination of music and it’s popularity are exponential by nature. Frankly, I don’t see JoCo’s music as exclusively serving a “niche”. The niche is just the root of the tree. In the end, most people enjoy good melodies, rhythm, and songwriting. Which, ultimately, is the reason I’ve enjoyed his music over the long-term.