finding your true fans

March 06, 2008 in Art as a professiontopics:

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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