Tim Longhurst's Blog

How many fans does it take to quit your day job?

March 19th, 2009 · 7 Comments

1000-true-fansWhere does your money come from? If there’s one area where people have consistently innovated throughout history, the way we resource ourselves would have to be it.

When it comes to the creative types, the concept of quitting your day job and just pursuing your art is a great temptation. But if you’re not going to be a Billboard-topping musician or an Academy award-winning filmmaker, how many fans is it going to take for you to lead a comfortable life?

This is a question asked by many, and attempts to answer the question are available via a series of creative types who have been running the numbers… According to Kevin Kelly, it all comes down to the concept of a ‘true fan’. If you have 1000 people who will just about buy any book you write or any album you launch, you probably only need 1000 of these ‘true fans’, because in concentric circles away from your die-hard followers, there will be still others who will buy your work on occasion-

Kelly has concluded that if you’re a creator (artist/designer/author/videomaker etc), as long as you have 1000 people who love you enough to buy what you do, you’ll be well on your way to linking your income to your passion.

Of course, central to this thesis are the questions of ‘how much is enough?’, and ‘what does life with 1000 fans really entail?’.

Bringing some sharp focus on the downside of living a life reliant on this model, musician, Robert Rich offers this take on life as an artist with about 1000 fans:

“The sort of artist who survives at the long tail is the sort who would be happy doing nothing else, who willingly sacrifices security and comfort for the chance to communicate something meaningful, hoping to catch the attention of those few in the world who seek what they also find meaningful. It’s a somewhat solitary existence, a bit like a lighthouse keeper throwing a beam out into the darkness, in faith that this action might help someone unseen.”.

Scott Andrew doesn’t make a distinction between ‘true fans’ and ‘the rest’. He encourages artists to run the numbers on clearing $20 from each fan (a fairly modest number, really). How many fans would it take to quit your day job? He explores the mathematics of this in a rudimentary way –

Brian Austin Whitney [once] pointed out that an artist who has 5000 hardcore fans to give him or her $20 each year — be if from CDs, ticket sales, merchandise, donations, whatever — stands to make $100K per year, more than enough to quit the day job and still have health insurance and a decent car.

…Here’s an exercise: take your own salary, pre-taxes, and divide it by 20. If you were to quit your job right now and start living as a full-time musician, poet or author, that’s how many fans you’d need, spending $20 each year to support your art. So, if you’re making $30K yearly, you’d need 1500 paying fans each year to replace your salary. And it gets better if you’re willing to take a pay cut. In Washington state, where I live, a person working for minimum wage would only need around 700 paying fans.

Of course, if you’re going to manage your relationships with your fans through the various traditional and new media options, you may well need a team of staff who can support you and your art, keep your fans in the loop, etc. so it’s probably best to do the numbers on how you’re going to pay them, too!

This kind of modelling is a great way of looking at breaking outside the mainstream, because it puts your audience – the people you want to reach – at the centre of your planning. After all, art that keeps the audience in mind is far more likely to touch, move and inspire – and surely that should be the whole point?

Thanks to Suzi Dafnis, who’s tiny tweet inspired this post (and its title).

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Category: Communication and connection

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