1000 True Fans = Your Salary

Kevin Kelly is a great thinker, and his latest piece about surviving as a creative person is no exception. He says that every artist needs to find and foster 1000 True Fans:

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans…

Assume conservatively that your True Fans will each spend one day’s wages per year in support of what you do. That “one-day-wage” is an average, because of course your truest fans will spend a lot more than that. Let’s peg that per diem each True Fan spends at $100 per year. If you have 1,000 fans that sums up to $100,000 per year, which minus some modest expenses, is a living for most folks.

This is a great, evolved perspective on the Long Tail. It offers a tactile plan that any artist ought to be able to get their head around. The post also reminded me of two terrific articles by John Perry Barlow, published in Wired while Kelly was editor (I think): The Economy of Ideas and the Next Economy of Ideas.

I also like one of Kelly’s caveats:

Not every artist is cut out, or willing, to be a nurturer of fans. Many musicians just want to play music, or photographers just want to shoot, or painters paint, and they temperamentally don’t want to deal with fans, especially True Fans. For these creatives, they need a mediator, a manager, a handler, an agent, a galleryist — someone to manage their fans. Nonetheless, they can still aim for the same middle destination of 1,000 True Fans. They are just working in a duet.

That’s easier said than done, as there are far more artists than there are willing agents and mediators. I’ve seen many an artistic endeavour fail because the creative folks weren’t willing or didn’t know how to promote their project. The most successful artists I know are not necessarily the most talented, but they’re definitely smart, dogged marketers of their own work.

Reading the article, I wondered if I was a True Fan of anybody. I think I’ve read all of Nicholson Baker’s books. I’ve bought all of the Cowboy Junkies’ albums, and seen them four or five times. I can’t think of anybody else. One good indicator of whether you’re a true fan of an artist is if you have them on your Wikipedia watch list.

Who are you a True Fan of?


  1. To keep in thematic convergence, I’d buy anything put out by The Weakerthans. I’d also buy anything Bill Buford wrote.

  2. Rufus Wainwright (including the Judy Garland stuff, even though I’m not wild about her) and Terry Pratchett.

    Also, in high school I was a big fan of Patrick Roy, although I’m not sure if you would include sports figures in that category. Could you – if you bought sports memorabilia for all the teams they played on, religiously followed their stats, and watched every game they played?

  3. Rebecca: I’m not major league sports figures count, because their salary comes from a few corporate sources, and depends significantly on their (somewhat empirically measurable) performance.

    That said, I’d say athletes in less popular sports–figure skating, mountain biking, whatever–could apply this model.

  4. Rebecca, count me in as a Rufus Wainwright True Fan too.

    Duncan Sheik is another. I’m seriously considering blowing some moolah on going to New York to see Spring Awakening, the play he wrote music for. That, and he got me during my awkward years when I needed a religion. But to be truly honest I’m still a bigger fan of him than it, really.

  5. The Tragically Hip…even though I like their first albums the best. I still buy each record and go to their shows when they come to town.

  6. I follow Bruce Campbell. I will see any movie/tvshow/commercial he is in. I buy the dvds, bought the Evil Dead lunch box, have the army of darkness comic books, and even ran “B.C.A.S. Bruce Campbell Appreciation Society” for a while. The Chin is my obsession.

    Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams come in a close second.

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