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.
To raise your sales out of the flatline of the long tail you need to connect with your True Fans directly. Another way to state this is, you need to convert a thousand Lesser Fans into a thousand True Fans.
Assume conservatively that your True Fans will each spend one day's wages per year in support of what you do. That "one-day-wage" is an average, because of course your truest fans will spend a lot more than that. Let's peg that per diem each True Fan spends at $100 per year. If you have 1,000 fans that sums up to $100,000 per year, which minus some modest expenses, is a living for most folks.
Dude, I'd be happy to make $10K at this point. But anyway. Kelly's reasoning seems sound. This is what one does in the Internet Age, with possible direct communication between creators and fans. Cultivating one's tribe, as Seth Godin said of Neil Gaiman (I think - don't quote me on that).
Inspired by this, Jeremiah Tolbert is offering his short story "The President's Stiff" online if he gets $100 in sponsorships. Tolbert is soliciting sponsorships through Fundable, a site I wasn't previously aware of.
Fundable's concept: you set a fundraising goal. People send money. If the goal isn't reached or the project doesn't happen, Fundable returns the money.
This is a great idea that falters, IMO, on just a few points.
The main thing is that Fundable doesn't allow for sponsorships under $10. Now, maybe Kevin Kelly's fans have $100 to drop on being a Patron of the Arts, but mine have more like $5. Tolbert's at $30 collected - I think that'd be doubled, at least, if Fundable allowed for smaller donations. Those $3-$5 sponsorships add up.
The other thing... I get the money I get for Wind Tunnel Dreams because people see the stories then give me monies if they like them (and if they have monies). I do not think I would get as much if I asked for money first, then released the story. The feedback I've gotten on this does seem to indicate that people like seeing what they're paying for. Does "throw me the money, I'll throw you the story" work?
What do you think, dear readers?
I'm tempted to do something with Fundable just as a social experiment. Maybe chapters of Places You Haunt or Seizure Lass. Anyone interested in that? If so, which one? Vegas punk-rock Tam Lin or epilepsy memoir?