Response to “1,000 True Fans”

On Kevin Kelly’s blog he discussed the key to independent artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers becoming financially supported off their art: in order to make a living, they must have at least 1,000 true fans.

Kelly defines a “true fan” as someone who will follow you religiously. He writes, “they will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.”

In my Independent Media class, we discussed this article and how the Internet has helped artists and writers who are on the dwindling end of the “long tail” business model. Before the internet, the “long tail” model showed how smaller companies lost most of the money they made from their small fan base on things like renting a building, distribution, or printing costs. The long tail concept demonstrated that if you didn’t make at least tens of thousands, you wouldn’t be in business.

Not only in that article does Kelly argue that 1,000 is the perfect number of fans, but he has some advice for how to get that fan-base: if you gain one fan a day, Kelly states, you will reach 1,000 in three years. In the scheme of things, three years is a relatively short time. (Also: time for me to start gaining fans, I guess).

I like this advice from this article about shooting for “microcelebrity”. He writes, “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.” I really appreciate the honesty behind this idea.

George Seldes and the Tobacco Industry

Rick Goldsmith’s 1996 documentary “Tell The Truth and Run” examines the life of George Seldes, a journalist and media critic through the 1930s-40s. Seldes was an outspoken critic of mainstream media, and most well-known for his independent media publication In Fact, which had the tagline: “An Antidote for Falsehood in the Daily Press.”

One segment of “Tell the Truth and Run” touches on how Seldes was one of the first to dig deep into the reporting being done on the Tobacco Industry—and the reporting being ignored by the mainstream media regarding cigarettes and smoking.

In the July 28, 1947 issue (Vol. XV, No. 17) of In Fact, Seldes reported on what is well-known today: the link between cigarette smoking and cancer. He wrote about clinical studies done that linked the two, quoted doctors who knew cigarettes caused lung cancer and who had identified the link between birth defects and cigarettes. Seldes also acknowledged the complications regarding the mainstream press and advertising, writing: “the U.S. press has suppressed at least 90% of the news items in which tobacco and especially the use of cigarets, have been mentioned unfavorably.” To back up this claim, Seldes went on to name some of the headlines and stories run by big mainstream newspapers stating that smoking is harmless, or that doctors recommend smoking—and focused on the high-paying cigarette ads running adjacent to these articles. This is an example of how independent media, which traditionally did not have as many advertisers—rather being kept afloat by the community it supports—often reports and publishes on the kind of issues that the mainstream media does not do justice.