finding your true fans

by     /    March 06, 2008   

Kevin Kelly’s article 1000 True Fans has been buzzing around the internet these past couple days. In it, he describes how he believes how “anyone producing works of art” can make a living if they find 1,000 dedicated fans of their work:

“Instead of trying to reach the narrow and unlikely peaks of platinum hits, bestseller blockbusters, and celebrity status, they can aim for direct connection with 1,000 True Fans. It’s a much saner destination to hope for. You make a living instead of a fortune. You are surrounded not by fad and fashionable infatuation, but by True Fans. And you are much more likely to actually arrive there.”

He nails a gut feeling I’ve had for a long time. Our culture celebrates the two extremes of the artistic profession: the few superstars who make tons of money, and the starving artists, valiantly struggling for their Capital-A Art. As an artist, you are supposed to be the latter, dreaming of the former. The middle ground — the normal working artist — is always ignored. But that’s my goal. I don’t want fame and I don’t care about my image as an artist. I just want to make a living from my creativity. I want to get paid enough for my creativity to help take care of my family and live a decent life.

Kelly’s suggestion is that this is possible, if you can find (in his estimation) 1,000 “true fans”: people who will buy anything you make, who will go to all of your shows, who will follow and support your career. He arrives at 1,000 by calculating that a true fan would be willing to buy $100 of your work each year, thereby earning you $100,000. But he stresses that the exact number it takes doesn’t matter (it may be 100, it may be 5,000), but that there is a number for every artist, and that number is realistic and attainable. Huzzah! What I like is that his calculations perfectly match my own. Back in June I posted about finding a market for my art, and had arrived at the same idea: the hope of finding a middle, supportable market for art.

The challenge, of course, is figuring out how to do this. I think I have found one audience of true fans through my ketubah business. People who buy my ketubahs often tell me that when they found my work, they knew instantly that it was what they wanted (which always makes me blush). Unfortunately, this market is limited, since you hopefully only every need to buy one ketubah. The challenge I face is trying to convince these fans that they want more of my art, to convert them from one-time fans (for a specific product) into long-term fans. Or to find a new group of fans who respond to my photography with just as much enthusiasm. When Kelly talks about it, it sounds easy: sure, find 1000 people who’ll buy my art on a regular basis. But in reality…. whew, it’s tough. Anyone have any ideas?

Other blogger/artists weigh in: Jonathan Coulton (musician), Wil Wheaton (author), and John Scalzi (author).

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Comments on 'finding your true fans'

Lisa  (March 6th, 2008):

I read the 1000 true fans article yesterday and had the same reaction. Although I’m not sure his 1 fan a day rate is realistic for everyone, I believe it still feels very doable.

The internet certainly makes all this easier.

Daniel Sroka  (March 6th, 2008):

True, his one new fan a day rate is sweetly naive, with that silicon valley “we can do anything” bravado. Sure, it’s that easy to find someone so completely into your work! 🙂

Paul Grecian  (March 6th, 2008):

Dan,

I’ve played with that 1000 number in my head as well, not as a number of people but a number of pieces sold per year. For me to sell 1000 pieces a year would almost restrain me to the studio. But if I can become more efficient I think it’s doable. I think the idea of fostering and maintaining a core group of fans though is a good one and definitely worth while. Thanks for yet another great link.

Angela Rockett  (March 6th, 2008):

My husband just emailed me a link to that article right before I found that you had posted about it. Weird. Anyway, yes, very interesting, much to think about.

Mark  (March 8th, 2008):

I would think that this (ie. the repeat purchases) would be hard for a photographer, or any artist producing some sizeable physical piece of work. After all, not everyone has big open spaces to hang new pieces year after year. So I am not entirely sure I buy into the concept.

I guess what you can hope for is that one of those fans has lots of friends over all the time, and that they can act as recruiters. I know I have had repeat sales within families. So perhaps it is worth considering family discounts, or discounts on referrals.

Daniel Sroka  (March 8th, 2008):

That’s a good point Mark. Even if you had the most devoted fan, how many pieces of art could you realistically expect them to buy over time. One significant piece every year? That’d be a lot of art! But one piece every few years might be realistic.

Kim Hambric  (March 14th, 2008):

Went looking for those fans. Turned over some rocks — found 100 bugs (at least that means spring is coming). I’ve got to find some better places to look for my fans.

Thanks for the great post. I, too, am one of those folks who would like to make a happy living with my artwork. I think the middle ground can be a fantastic place to be.

Cynthia  (March 17th, 2008):

1000 fans would be a good thing – and I would be more than happy to earn a middle income from my artwork.

You’re right, we don’t hear so much about working artists who are making a sustainable income.

paula  (March 27th, 2008):

excuse my ignorance, but is it possible that there is a way to get the ketubah people to get interested in anniversary type works? renewing vows, birth announcements etc?
by the way, just checked your ketubah site out, haven’t been there in awhile…did you do an overhaul? it looks GREAT.

Daniel Sroka  (March 28th, 2008):

Thanks Paula. Yes, I did a bit of an overhaul this winter. I always love coding my website; it gives me a nice alternative to making art.

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Walt Sorensen  (September 11th, 2008):

I’m right there with you; the 1,000 true fans seems like a dream that will take years to build. To meet the goal of 1 fan a day you would have to get your work and name out to at least 100 people a day; and I think that number might be more like 1000 people a day. I’ve read other lofty marketing ideas, like the 6 figure photographer, and I get the same feeling; It’s about getting your name out.

I think to make it as a normal working artist you have to shoot for being the rock star famous artist. Market like your the hottest thing since the iphone, and you might land close to the 1,000 true fan mark. (whether that 1,000 fans is really 500 or 5,000 fans)

But realistically his numbers are off. If you have 1,000 dedicated fans who bought $100 dollars worth of your work every year. You would likely have another 1,000 fans who only buy $50 or $25 dollars worth of your work so instead of $100,000 dollars of income you would likely be at $125,000-150,000. There surely is a large gamut where one might land on this mystical Island of success.

At the very least I think I will revise my marketing plan to allow for arriving at the 1,000 true fan mark.