1000 Little Buddies —
Here’s the thing about Kevin Kelly.
Kevin Kelly gets about 80 percent of whatever he’s talking about right. He makes too wide a jump, uses the wrong term, calls things important that aren’t, or vice versa. But 80 percent is pretty darn good and Kevin Kelly is therefore more useful than, say, a Pop-O-Matic. So credit where credit is due.
In fact, let me make it more clear. Kevin Kelly, he of Wired and many other projects in his long life, is like that Really Cool Uncle you have, the one who has a lot of answers, some of them wrong, but who is willing to give you some ideas without acting like he’s discovered flight or you owe him anything. He just lets you bounce around a bit and often, you find yourself with ideas or worked-out concepts that otherwise you’d never really plunk together. A catalyst, if you will. You come away with a chat with him feeling like you moved ahead and not behind like I do with, say, Cory Doctorow.
So recently, Kelly made this idea/pronouncement that resonated with people. And by resonated you could define an entire set of thinking by “before reading about 1000 Truefans” and “after reading about 1000 Truefans and running off to your weblog to pontificate”.
The short form, which there’s no lack of those on weblogs either, is to suggest a survivable business model for a performer or creator, wherein they have some set of people who pay a lot more than anyone else would pay for your crap, but in return you give them better crap than the other people. This way everyone’s happy; you get to eat and your biggest fans get a more exquisite piece of you or your output. If the number of these fans hits some arbitrary number, in fact, you can probably even support yourself. A thousand fans giving you $100, for example, is $100,000! Make Money Fast!
Kudos to Uncle Kevin for glomming together a bunch of already extant ideas and giving it a new branding. To his credit, he even mentions some of the sources of his ideas, so again, no punching the guy.
As an extra bonus, he even includes Chris Anderson’s quasi-nutty “Long Tail” graph, although he does it by corellating the entire purchasing public to True Fans, which is, as is his nature, a tad off. Not everyone who buys stuff in the major sales period of your work (the first few weeks, months, years) is necessarily a true fan, they might just be some people who bought your crap because you successfully got mention in Teen Beat or Maximum Rock ‘n Roll or some such. No, there’s a little more filtering to it than that…
I’ve had people buy the BBS documentary a couple weeks ago, who are excited I’m making a new movie and want to be informed the minute it’s out. I’ve got people who were there with my pre-orders last time who probably don’t need to do that crazy pre-ordering again. I’ve got people who are major fans who didn’t give me a dime and probably never will, but fuck yeah, that Jason guy’s the shit!!
Still, he’s right, there’s definitely something to making products available in various tiers, and leveraging people’s love for your stuff, however many people those are, and treating them with respect and giving them opportunity. It’s called a fan club, and they’ve been around for decades.
You’d apply to be in the fan club and you’d get special versions of the records, or a nice plastic badge or even special passes to concerts/appearances/events the salient subject of the fan club was appearing at. Surely among my reading audience are several Close Personal Friends of Al or Dementites of the Demento Society.
But OK, fine, people now use “Angel Investors” to mean “non-professional money lenders” because it sounds nicer, until the fights begin. So now people who are more than casually interested parties in your crap are “True Fans”. Bear in mind that Kelly has a website called true films which he uses to mean “Documentaries” and by documentaries he means “any film with a vague connection to being related to reality”. So “True Films” begets “True Fans”.
Like I said, 80%. Nice 80%, though.
Obviously, I’ve got some pleasant enumeration of people who dig the crap I do. Some people don’t like me as a human being, some adore my writing but are ambivalent on my other endeavors, and a number of people have actually flown places or paid good money to get the chance to spend time at an event I’ll be at. It’s an interesting mix. A lot of people don’t know I’m the guy behind some of the stuff I do, so that adds even more fun.
The BBS Documentary had pre-orders. This was a delightful success. GET LAMP will have pre-orders, no doubt about it. GET LAMP had the Adventurers’ Club, which was that rarest of things, a terrifying success. I don’t think of the people who go into these jaunts as being more “true” fans than others. They just have a different level of liquidity/opportunity/approach to my stuff. I pre-order a lot of things, because I like long bets, and I’ve dropped some cash in various directions as needed. I don’t think this means the people who don’t are some sort of sub-class of the audience. They’re just the audience.
Seriously, enjoy Uncle Kevin’s Funhouse. Just don’t assume he’s 100% on the money.
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Nice bit of pontification yourself here, Jason. Writer Carol Bly suggested that selling 400,000 copies of a book was manageable, which seems like an ungodly huge sum to me. Kevin Kelly’s theory struck me as being more easily achieved. No matter how many fans are in your club, it takes more than talent to keep them happy. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into building and maintaining the club.