In his classic 2008 essay “1000 True Fans“, Kevin Kelly predicted that the Internet would transform the economy of creative activities:
“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 craftsman, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app creator, entrepreneur, or inventor, you just need thousands of true fans.”
“A true fan is defined as a fan who will buy anything you produce. These hardcore fans will drive 200 miles to see you sing; they’ll buy the hardcover, paperback, and audiobook versions of your book; they’ll purchase your next limited edition figurine unseen; they’ll pay for the ‘best of’ DVD version of your free YouTube channel; they’ll come to your chef’s table once a month.”
Kelly’s vision was that the Internet was the ultimate matchmaker, enabling 21st-century patronage. Creators, no matter how seemingly niche, could now discover their true fans, who in turn would demonstrate their enthusiasm through direct financial support.
But the Internet took a detour. Centralized social platforms became the dominant way for creators and fans to connect. These platforms used this power to become the new intermediaries, inserting ads and algorithmic recommendations between creators and users while keeping the majority of the revenue for themselves.
The good news is that the Internet is returning to Kelly’s vision. For example, many of the top writers on Substack are earning far more than they did in salaried jobs. The combination of low take rates and enthusiastic fandom works wonders. On Substack, 1,000 newsletter subscribers paying $10/month nets the writer over $100K/year.
Cryptocurrencies, specifically non-fungible tokens (NFTs), can further accelerate the trend of creators monetizing directly with their fans. Social platforms will continue to be useful for building audiences (although they should probably be replaced with superior decentralized alternatives), but creators can increasingly rely on other methods, including NFTs and cryptocurrency-enabled economies, to make money.
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