How to get 1000 true fans and succeed as an artist in a long tail economy

OK, read this blog post by Kevin Kelly first.

It’s the first time (in my knowledge) that a seasoned commentator has turned their attention to how an individual artist/writer/musician can work in a long tail environment, rather than examining it from the point of view of retailers (Kevin does reference some other blog posts on the subject, as do some of the comments on the blog post, but I think this is the first article that presents the theory in such a clear and succinct manner).

Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait. Read the comments too – there’s some great information in there as well.

Read it now? Good.

Kevin’s proposition is that an artist “needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living”, defining a true (diehard) fan as someone who will purchase anything and everything you make. Actually the number “1,000″, as Kevin admits, depends on the particular profit margins etc. based on whether the artist in question is a painter, musician, writer, photographer etc. but the point is that it’s in that ballpark – not millions or billions. 1,000 is an achievable goal – it’s not like trying to be as famous as Damien Hurst, J.K. Rowling or Radiohead, or trying to win the lottery.

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.

OK, so how do you get 1,000 True Fans? Well, hopefully by following all the strategies I’ve been blogging about here. Making a living on the long tail is not about avoiding the aggregators, but about using the hyper-efficient distribution they provide to reach those 1,000 people who will just love your work.

And once you’ve managed to reach them, you need to invest in them – invest your time in them (by communicating with them and listening to them) because True Fans are worth investing that sort of effort in.