Yesterday, I came upon an old blog post. While I can find no date on the post, I see some comments as old as 3 years old, so it has to be at least 3 years old, but I suspect it is older than that. Anyway, the post is from a fellow named Kevin Kelly. As I dug in a bit and did some research, I find that this post made the rounds in the blog world some time back, but I missed it. I sure was glad that I found it yesterday, though. In fact, not only did I find this one blog post, but it led me to many other posts both from Kevin but from others too, with related information.
The blog post that I am talking about is called “1,000 True Fans“. It relates to The Long Tail, to being a “microcelebrity” and other things that are relevant to me. I was listening to a podcast early in the morning when I first heard about this blog post while listening, maybe around 5 AM or so. Basically, I spent the entire day digging into this topic and got nothing else done, but it was very productive to do so, in my view.
Kevin came up with a theory that if you are a creative person, somebody who produces content of some kind… writer, artist, musician or some such type of creative person if you are searching for that piece of content that will propel you into millions of homes is unlikely to come. You don’t need it, though. If you are a writer (like me), you don’t need to be J.K. Rowling to be successful or to be able to make a living from producing the content that you have a talent for. No, not at all. The kind of fame that J.K. Rowling achieved meant that literally millions of people bought her books. But, Kevin says that if you can simply cultivate 1,000 “True Fans” that is all you need. As I read other articles on the topic and also comments on Kevin’s articles, I found several mentions that you could and should use that target of 1,000 True Fans as a starting point. Once you achieve that number of true fans, you keep building, of course! Why would you not?
One important thing is to consider exactly what a “True Fan” is. What Kevin describes is that a True Fan is somebody who follows everything that you do, and buys everything that you put out. Kevin says that you should count on a true fan to spend about $100 supporting you, buying your merchandise, etc. per year. So, 1,000 fans spending $100 per year… you make $100,000 per year. That is not rich anymore, but it is a good living. Also, you have to figure that there are costs involved. For example, if you have a website you have to pay the costs of having the website. If you put out a T-Shirt and the person buys that T-Shirt you are making a profit, but there are costs involved in producing such an item. If you only put out digital content – downloadable music, eBooks and such – then the costs are pretty low, but there are still some costs. Let’s say that for somebody who mostly puts out digital stuff, out of the $100k in support you might make $80k from that. Still, a nice number, especially when you consider that you will be living a life where you won’t be tied down to a “job” and you won’t be overly burdened.
There is some burden, though, and these are things that I know about. If you want to develop fans into what Kevin is calling “True Fans” you have to make yourself available to these folks. You have to interact with them. Answer emails from them. In my case, I get many emails each and every day. Usually in the hundreds. Many of these emails are from people that I would call “true fans”, people who follow me very closely. A lot of the emails are questions, though, from people who just want information from me, and once they get the information that they want, I won’t hear from them again, unless they need some other information, usually years later. I consider those people, basically just out to take advantage of what they can get, not really interested in being a friend, a fan or supporting me in any way. To an extent that is OK, but it does get old. Sometimes I will get a request from somebody for me to do something for them, and it is something that will require maybe a half day worth of my time. I will write back and tell them that I am sorry, but I will have to charge them for my time because I basically don’t have enough hours in my day to be able to spend a few hours doing stuff for everybody who would want me to do such. Often, when I tell people this in a polite way, they get upset and say that I am taking advantage of them by asking for money. Who is taking advantage of who? I mean, if I get 300 emails on a single day, and spend 5 minutes on each email to help people, that is 25 hours just answering emails! Let’s see, how many hours are there in a single day? 24? Sounds like I might run out of time! And, I would have no time for myself or my family. So, I have to do something.
Developing the True Fans, if it means spending a lot of time with each fan could be really time-consuming! But, if you keep following a model where you help every person for 10 minutes or more in a day.. well, it is just not sustainable, and you also will end up earning very little money – how will you even feed your family?
So, if you do open yourself up to a thousand or so people and offer then access and help, and they are supporting you by purchasing your products and generally following you and being friendly, I believe it is doable and even preferable to the way that I am doing things now. Not every one of those thousand true fans will need your attention on a daily basis. If you were to be in contact with each true fan on-time per month, then you would be doing maybe 30 or 35 emails per day, instead of a few hundred on an average day. Much more manageable, and also more profitable as well. But, when you make the change you will surely get severe criticism from the hundreds of people that you can no longer help on an unlimited basis. So, what are you going to do? After reading and researching this topic, I am leaning toward taking this type of route.
If you are in a position where you are a “microcelebrity” (a term used in the article) I would urge you to read this article and consider it. I would also be interested in hearing what you think about it. Do you think you would consider going to the effort of developing these 1,000 true fans? It is intriguing to me, and I want to hear your thoughts and ideas.
I will be writing more about this topic. In fact, I have barely even scratched the surface of what I learned while researching this. I learned things both good and bad, and all of it is worthy of consideration in my view.