Last night after class, I was skimming through my RSS feeds and saw Kevin Kelly’s post on how creators can make a sustainable business for themselves if they can get 1000 True Fans. I really liked Kelly’s take on it being more important to reach a smaller number of fanatics than to reach the mass market, as fanatics evangelize for you in a way that casual fans do not (plus they spend more).
That article linked to an article co-authored by Bruce Schneier, called The Street Performer Protocol, which suggests a way for artists and fans to securely negotiate with each other, so that fans can donate money and have some assurance that the artist will deliver a product. This is similar to the model that Jill Sobule is apparently using to fund the recording costs for her next album.
The real problem was that Kelly also mentioned that Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are doing the same thing. I adore the Liaden Universe books, and they’re posting the newest book online a chapter at a time, fuelled by donations ($300 of donations is another chapter). I said “Oh, I’ll only read a few chapters”, and the next thing I knew it was 1am and I’d read all 31 chapters (then I read the 6 chapters of the next book this morning). *sigh* I did chip in my $25 donation towards the cause, which felt good as their books have given me many hours of comfort reading pleasure over the years (plus it gets me a trade paperback edition when the book is completed and published).
I wrote about the growing Internet donation culture last year, and it’s cool to see the different ways in which it is being taken. That post mentions the different strategies people can use to get their work funded, from straight up donations to selling merchandise (T-shirts or books) to posting ads.
My favorite movie reviewer is currently struggling with these issues (see his entries on February 3rd and February 10th). He’s added several ads to his site (including a pop-under – yuck), and has been asking his readers to click on an ad or two per visit to show support. I wrote him and asked if he could add a donation button since I’d much rather give $20 directly to him than to click on ads. Interestingly, he feels more comfortable with ads than with donations, as he feels indebted if he receives donations. I don’t particularly get that, but I loathe ads.
As Shirky observes, the Internet is giving us many new ways to organize ourselves. Instead of having to go into debt with a record company to make an album, Jill Sobule can raise the money to do so from her fans. Radiohead can sell its album online with a pay-what-you-wish model. Kevin Kelly is writing his new book online in front of all of us as he tries out ideas and gets feedback. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are writing their book online, but trading chapters for donations. So many different ways to do things, and new ones are being invented all the time. It’s a pretty interesting time to watch as the “standard” way of doing things collapses because the barriers to publication have collapsed. Now it’s up to us to iterate and find new ways that suit our needs.