Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Theory of 1,000 Fans

A theory that continues to be bandied about on the Internet is that if an artist has one thousand dedicated fans they could make a living from their art without being contractually tied to a company. The theory began when the concept of the “Long Tail” was popularized by Wired magazine in 2004. Musicians quickly ran with the concept; that it was possible to profit from “selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items.” (Wikipedia) With the Internet knocking down the number of companies in the music industry, musicians took up the reins themselves, and lead the way for the rest of us artists in this new “wired” world.

Independent musicians, despite illegal downloading, were better set up to make money based on the long tail concept. They found dedicated fans and could relate to them more directly. Not only did fans buy music, they bought tickets to concerts, T-shirts, key-chains, stickers, posters, etc. A true fan was willing to spend a days’ worth of their yearly income on their favourite musician. Musicians like Amanda Palmer and Jonathan Coulton now making a living from their fans in this way. Things have progressed and we now witness the “Bucky Awards,” where CBC3 radio celebrates independent Canadian musicians, and if you go to you can see how this site helped musicians make over 32 billion dollars. Now that promotion, along with making the music falls into the musician’s laps it helps of course if the musician is already famous, like Prince, yet he sells a tenth of the number of albums that he did back in the 1980s and makes just as much money, because he doesn’t share the profit with the middlemen.

The most famous visual artists were the greatest and most shameless self-promoters: Rubens, Picasso, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Damien Hurst, and many others. Most had agents, galleries, workshops filled with apprentices, wives and groupies to help them, but it is a little easier for visual artists to promote their work. An audience can determine in seconds based on what they see, usually, if they want to buy a painting. It often takes a little more time to discern the quality of music and text. In painting there is often a lot of psychology involved in putting added value into a painting to make it fully understood, or worth more than what it appears. This is another story.

However, the new rules for visual artists today, like musicians, has changed somewhat, and is fairly straightforward: get a computer, website, a blog, business cards, an actual physical space to sell the work, be honest, produce lots of likeable works and show it to lots and lots of people wherever you can in as professional manner as you can. Selling lots of reproductions helps too. And be friendly.
Writers like Terry Fallis can’t rely solely on good reviews. As a public relations man Fallis wasn’t bashful about self-promotion. He’s got a website, makes short videos to tell stories about himself, creates podcasts, and holds classes on self-promotion. The number of appearances listed on his website for this year is incredible. He does have a publisher, but started without one, winning the Stephen Leacock award for humour. He has far more than a thousand fans at this point, which is why he opted for a publisher.

Writers are quickly discovering the benefits and drawbacks of being completely independent. Printing costs have dropped, but distribution is more difficult, especially in as large a country as Canada. Networks for discussion and promotion of work are growing on the Internet and with Facebook, Twitter, etc., spreading the word is becoming easier. eBooks are another massive topic, but related to the rule of finding 1,000 dedicated fans, authors now have the ability to relate much more directly to an audience if they so choose.

The theory of 1,000 True Fans is becoming more and more a reality for all sorts of artists as they become more aware that technology has created a power shift that benefits them, for the moment at least. For now, our Time, capital T, can be as exciting as artists want to make it. Here in Thunder Bay, with more young talented people deciding to remain in town, avenues to reach an audience within and outside of Thunder Bay have grown. One only needs to get motivated to take advantage of the opportunities.

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