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March 12, 2008

Artists and How to Support Them

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Kevin Kelly has caused a bit of a stir by putting out a model for patronage support of creative people. His concept is that of a "true fan" and the piece's title is "1,000 True Fans". The idea is that if a person was willing to spend about one day's salary (Kelly picks the arbitrary sum of $100) then an artist could be supported by one thousand such people.

This is on the surface a very attractive idea, not least because the numbers seem manageable. Most people well enough off to be regularly on the Net probably can manage a $100 donation. Most people can conceive of appealing to an audience of 1,000. It's almost the polar opposite of the mega-millions/blockbuster mentality that pervades so much corporate media production, from books to movies to music and so on.

Unfortunately the idea isn't as appealing once you dig past the ideal surface and into the gritty details. Probably the best counter-analysis I've read so far is John Scalzi's: "The Problem With 1,000 True Fans."

Scalzi starts from the point of being someone who probably has at least that many True Fans already. And then points out a number of uncomfortable things, such as those fans being drawn from a base population that is at least two orders of magnitude greater. And that even though the tens of thousands of well-off Netizens represents a good pool of people from which Fans may be drawn it's still a very small pool and quickly exhausted.

Just to pick my own personal favorite example, the south-by-southwest festival this month features over 2000 bands, interactive artists/designers, filmmakers, and other creative types. Supporting just that one festival by Kelly's patronage model would consume nearly a quarter-million True Fans. And that doesn't even scratch the surface of the vast sea of writers, musicians, and artists who would like to get paid and maybe even make a living from their creative work.

That doesn't make Kelly's idea stupid - it just makes it not-completely-thought-out, which is OK. Right now you can cast your eyes around the Web and find a hodgepodge of "Donate" buttons and similar mechanisms for fans to express their direct support of creative types; these also have their pros and cons. We need more big thoughts on how to develop alternatives to (that can co-exist with) large corporate funding.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts


1. Jayel Aheram on March 13, 2008 6:28 AM writes...

This was the first time I have actually heard of this article by Mr. Kelly. Just yesterday, I was explaining to a colleague of mine why the geishas are a dying tradition. The decreasing pool of patrons and sometimes the lack of patronage deserves much of the blame.

One of the commenters on the blog post pointed out something: not all true fans are in the position of buying your products.

Permalink to Comment

2. None of on March 14, 2008 4:15 PM writes...

A hidden and questionable assumption here seems to be that no-one can be a "true fan" of more than one act at a time. Lots of people are strong fans of, say, three different music groups, Star Wars, and one or two novelists, though.

As for not all true fans being in the position of buying one's products, well that's mostly a business issue. The products have to be easily available with a minimum of hoop-jumping. Awkward and difficult ordering processes will not do; see for more on that topic.

Another problem there is the way that credit cards have become the de facto standard method for buying things over the net. This locks out a large chunk of the planet's population; e-commerce is a breeze for Americans, but increasingly difficult and more awkward the further from the US you live on the globe. In most places the bank cards are not compatible with credit card number requiring transactions, for instance. What's really needed is for e-commerce as a whole to develop a new standard, a kind of "online traveller's cheques", with all the fraud protection that those offer, no requirement to be a good risk for a loan, and ubiquitous interoperability, without being evil and brain-dead like PayPal.

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3. themusicgod1 on July 6, 2008 11:16 AM writes...

"with all the fraud protection that those offer, no requirement to be a good risk for a loan, and ubiquitous interoperability, without being evil and brain-dead like PayPal."


Permalink to Comment

4. None of on July 18, 2008 11:23 PM writes...

Is it ubiquitously supported by vendors and easy to use without needing a credit card or jumping through too many hoops?

Permalink to Comment

5. Anonymous on July 20, 2008 3:05 AM writes...

None Of:

Ubiquitous interoperability is not the same as ubiquitously supported. Ripple is interoperable. Paypal isn't.

As far as ubiquity is concerned, paypal had to start somewhere, credit cards had to start somewhere. Ripple is still small. But there is nothing stopping vendors from using ripple, except perhaps the lack of infrastructure and users. And truth be told, most of the infrastructure is in place; anywhere with an internet connection, or with an internet connection nearby can be conceivably converted to a ripple payment kiosk. And once it's done once, the costs plummet---this is a business opportunity with a good deal of profit involved, assuming ripple catches on.
All that's left at this point is for vendors, and more users in general to get on board, and good things start happening.

Permalink to Comment

6. Nobody on September 1, 2008 12:14 PM writes...

Nobody much is going to sign up for, and expose sensitive financial information to, a rinky-dink payment provider that nobody much has ever heard of, which has no reputation as yet, and which grants the ability to buy from a whopping 3 online merchants, all three of which also take Paypal.

How can they know it's not just some fly-by-night that will drain their bank account as soon as they have the information needed to do so and then simply disappear?

It's like a bank. Nobody much will trust their money to one until it has a big solid edifice in the financial district of a major city and has a well-known and reputable brand.

Well, unless one starts operating that doesn't require direct access to your banking info, and instead lets you just send them money by cheque or something, which they credit to your account, and then lets you use that money to pay for things online. But how likely is that? Paypal used to operate something like that, but began requiring full info on one's checking account...

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