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.