The ‘1000 True Fans’ Book Project

This week Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails released his new, four-part instrumental album Ghosts I-IV, Rather than distribute the album through a record label, Reznor is selling it at a variety of price points from his own website. The $300 “ultra deluxe edition”, which was limited to 2500 copies, sold out in a couple days. As New York Magazine’s blog Vulture points out, “Trent Reznor’s probably already made at least $600,000 on a double album of synthesizer instrumentals.”
While only a handful of musicians will be able to duplicate Reznor’s success, his approach may provide a useful model for the starving artist. As Kevin Kelly argues in his intriguing post titled “1000 True Friends”, there is a “path out of the quiet doldrums of minuscule sales.”

One solution is to find 1,000 True Fans. While some artists have discovered this path without calling it that, I think it is worth trying to formalize. The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply:
A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. 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….
Young artists starting out in this digitally mediated world have another path other than stardom, a path made possible by the very technology that creates the long tail. 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.

Kelly’s article is a must-read for all producers of creative content who hope to someday earn revenue from their chosen craft. I include myself in that category, though my ambition is much, much more modest (I aspire to be the poor-man’s Malcolm Gladwell.). In fact, I’ve decided to test the model in the hopes that if it succeeds it will provide inspiration and encouragement for other “creators.” I figure that if it can work for a small-time, obscure blogger like me, then those with real talent will be able to implement it to greater effect.

The experiment will be a mix of a pre-financing model and a micro-patronage, or distributed patronage, model. The plan is for me to produce a book which will consist of either a collection of original essays or a monograph on a topic chosen by both me and my patrons.
If the book is picked up by a publisher, each patron who contributed more than $15 will receive a signed copy delivered to them by mail (unless I know where you live, then I may deliver it in person). If the book is not picked up by a publisher, I will self-publish the work and distribute it to the individual patrons.
Each patron who contributes more than a $100 dollars will have their name (and a website URL if they choose) included on the dedication page. Those who contribute between $50-100 will have their name included in the acknowledgments section. And anyone who makes a donation of any amount will have their name added to a special appreciation section at the end of the book.
The plan is to raise $5,350 (the amount of an average publisher’s advance plus service fees) using Fundable, a web-based enterprise which allows anyone to raise a fixed amount of money for a project, while reassuring the backers the project will happen. Fundable withholds the money until the full amount is collected. They return the money if the minimum is not reached.
(Also, to test the True Fan concept, I ask each patron to make a non-binding pledge to buy a copy of The New Media Frontier: Blogging, Vlogging, and Podcasting for Christ (Crossway, Sept. 2008)—a book in which I contribute two chapters–and How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator (Crossway, Jan. 2009)–a book I co-authored with John Coleman.)
The deadline to raise the funds is March 31st. This is quite optimistic considering I am nowhere close to having 1000 “True Fans” (I suspect the number, optimistically, is closer, to 100-150). Still, I think setting the bar lower would undercut the intention of the experiment.
I’m interested to hear what you think of this experiment. Leave a comment below or send me feedback by emailing me at Also, send me a link if you mention this project on your blog.
Click here make a contribution of any amount. If you made a donation send me your name and I’ll add it to the list below. (Please specify if you’d prefer to remain anonymous.) I’d like to provide readers with an ongoing tally of “True Fans” so that they can gauge the success–or abject failure–of this project.

  1. Misty Carter
  2. Anonymous
  3. Brant DeBow
  4. Anonymous
  5. Cameron Moore

Thanks to the following blogs for mentioning this project:

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter founded Evangelical Outpost in 2005. He is the web editor for First Things and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. A fifteen-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously served as the managing editor for the online magazine Culture11 and The East Texas Tribune. Joe has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign and as a director of communications for both the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and Family Research Council. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicaton.

  • Cyndy Salzmann

    This is brillant!
    As Christian author who spends much more time trying to create “buzz” to sell enough copies of my books to keep my publisher happy than actually writing, I love this idea.
    In fact, I love it so much that I may try it myself. In the meantime,you can count on me for a donation to your project.

  • Boonton

    Joe, somebody,
    Could someone please fix the layout of this page. That damm ‘sponsor’ box is always covering up half the text of the articles Joe writes!

  • ChrisB

    Neat idea. Good luck!
    BTW, your right side bar is still obscuring a large portion of your text (at least in IE6).

  • giggling

    Hmm I don’t have a layout problem in Firefox, but I do think the middle column is a bit too cramped by the sidebars in this new design..

  • David Wayne

    Hey Joe – consider me one of your “true fans” – I plan on supporting you in this endeavor.

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