Spark Series | Episode 1
This is the 1,000 true fans theory, originally presented by Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine.
There’s often the misconception that in order to be able to make a living with your creative endeavor, you’ll need to have “made it,” meaning that you’ll need to have broken out of the quicksand of all the struggling artists and become known by millions around the globe. Kind of like when J.K. Rowling’s Philosopher’s Stone was published. Kind of like when Post Malone’s White Iverson caught fire on Soundcloud.
What if I told you that in order to make a living as a creator, you don’t need a million fans, or even a hundred thousand fans? What if I told you that in order to make a living as a creator, you actually really only need 1,000 true fans?
Let’s start by defining what a true fan is: a true fan is someone who will purchase anything that you put out creatively. For example, my friend is a huge fan of this small indie band in Chicago called Friday Pilots Club. She’s bought all of their songs off of Bandcamp, has purchased multiple merch items, runs their Genius page, and is willing to hop on a plane all the way from California to see them live. She’s a true fan of this band, albeit a slightly more extreme one. Basically, a true fan buys into what you do and what you put out.
But how can you earn a living with only 1,000 true fans? It doesn’t seem like much, especially in today’s age. Well, here’s how the math works out:
There are two components to the deal. First, each true fan would need to contribute roughly $100 to the artist each year through buying into their product(s). Second, there should be a direct relationship between the artist and the fan, meaning that they pay you directly. The money doesn’t go through a record label or a publishing company or an art gallery or whatever other middle ground there is. You get to keep 100% of the profits.
So if each fan gives you $100 each year, 1,000 times $100 means that you would be earning $100,000 every year — a salary that you can live off of in most places. $100 may sound like a lot of money, but it equates to a monthly subscription or contribution of around $8.33, less than most subscription costs we see nowadays. But that’s not to say that’s the only way to build your business model. In other words, you as the creator will aim to receive around one day’s worth of wages from a true fan in one year — just one day out of 365.
This formula is also easily adjustable to suit whatever kind of team you have going on. If you are a musical duo, it’s likely that you’ll need 2,000 true fans that contribute $100 a year, or maybe still 1,000 true fans, but they contribute 200 a year. Basically, the increase in the size of your true fan base is linearly proportional to the increase in size of your team. If your team increases by 20%, you’ll need to increase your true fan base by 20%. In addition to what your true fans, you’ll also likely have many regular fans, who will buy your albums or works sporadically — in an ideal situation, these are just bonuses to an already stable income.
Acquiring 1,000 true fans in today’s age has become exponentially easier through the internet. Though there is physical distance between you and your consumer, you can still maintain a direct relationship with them through the web; if you reside in LA, it’s just as easy to talk to a fan in New York as it is to talk to a fan in San Diego. Maintaining a relationship with your fanbase has become so much simpler with all the social media sites available in the present day. Everything is just one click away.
Say you acquire one true fan each day. It will take you less than three years to get to 1,000 true fans, and but most likely less because of the way fans grow exponentially. True fans, in addition to being a source of your income, are your chief marketing sources. If someone is passionate about your product, they’ll likely want to recommend it to others. My friend has told all of our mutual friends at my school about her favorite band, getting my other roommate to become a true fan as well.
And that’s generally the idea of Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 fans theory. I think that this idea isn’t necessarily meant to provide you with a business model to follow, but to show you that you don’t need millions of supporters to make a good living. You can do what you love through forming these special, genuine relationships with 1,000 people who want to support your work. Through crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe, this middle ground for artists is a real platform that you can create for yourself.
If you’d like to read Kevin Kelly’s updated or original essay, you can go to http://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/. He also has a bunch of other interesting reads on his site. Let me know what you think about this theory in the comments below, and hit that subscribe button for more content.