Kevin Kelly has an interesting idea about a way for independent creators to achieve success without trying to create a “blockbuster hit”. Given the difficulty involved in achieving blockbuster hit status, I was immediately intrigued. Kevin argues that independent creators can harness the idea of the “long tail”, and achieve success by trying to find 1,000 True Fans.
In case you haven’t heard the term before, the “long tail” is the idea that there are a nearly infinite number of niches, and that by leveraging a site like Lulu, independent creators whose work fills one of these niches can find a market for their book, CD, video, etc. which might not have a place in a more traditional setting. This benefits the company as well, since a large number of creators selling small numbers of niche titles can be profitable to the company.
The long tail works well for everyone involved, but it’s pretty easy to see that the company benefits more than the creator. They may be selling more than if they were still waiting for a traditional publisher to pick them up, but it’s hard to break out of the small number of sales you can expect using the long tail without a blockbuster hit and that route is unlikely.
When Kevin refers to True Fans, he means someone who will purchase anything and everything that a specific independent creator produces. For example, let’s say I write science fiction novels. A True Fan would purchase every novel I put out, and any merchandise I sold related to my novels (t-shirts, mugs, hats, whatever).
Kevin argues that if you can get 1,000 “True Fans”, then you can make a significant amount of money from your creations. This of course means you have to create material they want to purchase throughout the year, and that you spend time make sure your fans are happy. This means communicating directly with them, and soliciting them for feedback. If you aren’t cut out for nurturing your fan base, then this probably isn’t going to work for you.
So, how can you use Lulu to help you find and cultivate 1,000 True Fans? Well, the first step is the most obvious, and the most difficult. You have to create something. If you’re an author that means writing your book, or collecting your short stories, or writing up your role-playing game. If you’re a musician it means recording your music. Whatever it is you do, you have to create something to get started.
Once you have created something, whether through Lulu or some other venue, you have to get people to check it out. Usually the easiest way to do this is to provide some or all of your content as a preview so people can decide if they like it or not. A great way to do this is by using Lulu’s own preview tools (which you can find at the end of the publishing process (here’s a helpful help node on the topic). Another great method to help people find your work include creating a MySpace, Facebook, etc. page to showcase you and your work. Link the two together with a Lulu widget, or use a button or banner to directly link to your work so that people can purchase it, and you’re ready to go!
“That’s great,” you say, “but how do I get fans?” My approach has always been to start with people you know personally. Tell your friends and family about your book, and “friend” them on the social networking site you’ve set up. Ask them to review your work, and post about it. This is a very grassroots approach, and there are many more complicated and probably more effective methods, but if you want loyal fans, I think it’s a good place to start. Ideally, their friends will then check out your work and like it, and follow suit. You may not reach 1,000 True Fans this way, but it seems like a good start.