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March 12, 2008
Artists and How to Support Them
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.
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