Kevin Kelly originally proposed the idea of 1000 true fans in 2008.
To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans. Kevin Kelly
Today everyone has access to more tools, resources, and distribution channels that are cheaper and easier to use. The power that was once in the hands of enterprises, studios, and publishers is in the hands of anyone who wants to build something.
But the paradox is that it’s easier than ever to start but harder than it’s ever been to stand out in a sea of noise because it’s an opportunity that’s available to everyone.
“There is a positive side to the ways that the internet has enabled people to circumvent gatekeepers, speak directly to the audience, build an audience directly. All of that is true. One thing that’s also true..You’re not the only person who’s heard this message, which means that everybody is trying to do it” said William Dereschwitz in our interview on The Unmistakable Creative.
The fragmentation of the media landscape took us from a handful of talk show hosts on TV to over a million podcasts on iTunes, millions of blogs, and millions of youtube channels.
As the fragmentation continues, Kevin Kelly’s idea will become even more relevant. Loyalty will matter more than reach.
You can reach a million people, but if they don’t give a shit, don’t come back, or wouldn’t miss you if you were gone, then you’re not going to build a career.
You’re going to become a one-hit-wonder. You’ll be the talk of the town today and afterthought tomorrow.
When nothing follows something that goes viral, an audience doesn’t either. It becomes all too easy to confuse attention with accomplishment. What’s been true since the beginning of time is just as true today: mastery not metrics is what leads to a sustainable creative career.
“True fans require idiosyncrasy. True fans are looking for something peculiar because if all wanted was the top 40, or the regular kind, they could find it more easily from someone who isn’t you” says Seth Godin in his latest book, The Practice.
This is good news for the individual creator, but not so much for mass media.
But this idea of “true fans” pre-dates Kevin Kelly. He just put in words for us.
Dave Matthews Band is a perfect example of how loyalty translates into reach. The members of the band are in the spotlight. But the band belongs to the fans as much as it belongs to Dave Matthews.
It was the loyalty of their fans that eventually led to sold-out amphitheaters.
And if you know a fan or are one, you know they’re not just fans. They’re fanatics. When DMB is in town, they attend every concert in the area.
Sustainable virality isn’t about reaching a million people today and fading into oblivion by the end of the week. It starts with a small loyal group of fans, who become fanatics. As their loyalty grows, so does the size of the audience.
When something is viral and sustainable, it no longer belongs only to the creator, it belongs to the audience as well. The creator is just a vehicle for giving the audience want it wants.
But in a world that moves at breakneck speed, this requires patience on the part of the creator, a long term view, and a long term commitment. It could be the journey of a lifetime.
One thing you’ll hear me say is that purpose of our podcast is not to provide publicity for our guests. It’s to create value for our listeners. The truth is the show belongs to them. I’m just the host.
So the question for any aspiring artist is this: are up for taking this journey?