Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Can “1,000 fans” be a new approach to journalism?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 3, 2010

You’ve probably heard of the Longtail theory about making money on the internet.

It was dreamed up by Chris Anderson in an article on Wired back in 2004 and goes a bit like this: traditional retailers make money by targeting the bulk of customers to the left of the chart above. In other words, Waterstones makes most its money on bestselling books, which appeal to the mass market; it makes less money selling niche titles to the few niche fans (that’s the long tail). On the internet, Anderson argued, the long tail is bigger: there are more niche customers, and therefore it is possible to make a living selling niche titles alone.

Amazon, Chris says, makes most of its cash selling a wide variety of niche items to niche customers, and there’s enough of them to keep the company going. Anderson later went onto say we can all become millionaires online by giving stuff away for free, so let’s not take everything as a given, but the Long Tail approach has led to another concept, alive and well online.

1,000 ‘true fans’

The Long Tail is good for consumers and good for people like Amazon. Not so good for the content creators: artists, photographers, writers, musicians, film makers – and journalists – all finding it difficult to make a living in the digital world.

What if, as journalists, instead of making content to be seen by millions for free, we make stuff to be seen by just 1,000 people – who will all pay for it. It’s the concept that 1,000 true fans are better than 10 million sort-of fans.

A ‘true fan’ is someone who will buy absolutely everything you create. They love you so much they’ll drive 150 miles to see you speak at the Hay Festival, they’ll buy every book you write in hardback and paperback, they download everyone of your podcasts, or buy your documentary on DVD even though they’ve already seen it online. You might not think you could attract even a thousand fans, writing about industry or farming. But if your journalism was exceptional, if what you say is remarkable, there are enough people physically out there to become your own “fans.” Columnists in the national newspaper have that appeal, writing all sorts of crap. Why can’t you?

Never mind the millions –Β  get just 1,000 of these true fans, and you could make a reasonable living. What if we applied this approach to journalism? Would that work? Just an idea at the moment, let me know what you reckon.


9 Responses

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  1. Marcin Grodzicki said, on June 3, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Inspiring πŸ™‚

  2. carl said, on June 3, 2010 at 11:16 am

    love the idea of this – don’t how easy it is to find those 1000 but i’m gonna try and look

  3. Thoroughly Good said, on June 3, 2010 at 11:35 am

    I like the idea. It sets a target not just in terms of revenue gathering but also in terms of audience building, something tapping into a point Tim Ferris made at the Next Web in 2010 – its not the number of people you broadcast to, but who’s listening that is important.

  4. […] Alexandre Gamela shared Can β€œ1,000 fans” be a new approach to journalism?. […]

  5. Paul said, on June 4, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Nicely written, but no, I don’t believe in this as it was put forward (much too optimistic). The last reference to journalists “writing all kinds of crap” doesn’t take the following into consideration:

    – Newspapers have a proven track record as to quality is concerned (disregarding if its a tabloid or a broadsheet), that is “quality” as perceived by the readers. The readers have had very easy access for a long time and a newspaper stands out more among 20 other newspapers, than say, 1 blog from 1,000,000 blogs.

    – Furthermore, to gather such a tremendous following that they “will buy absolutely everything you create” (not likely), I think we’re not talking about QUALITY but about hype and groupiestyle followers. And that is only valid for (just listing a couple) musicians or standup comedians.

    So… I don’t think it’s THAT simple to gather 1,000 fans to a quality blog. But it’s possible all right.

    Otherwise, thanks for a good blog. I wouldn’t buy ANYTHING you create, but perhaps something. πŸ˜‰


  6. Adam Westbrook said, on June 4, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    @Paul haha I wasn’t suggesting it as a model for myself! I see your concerns about it, although I am not saying it could be a model for hard news or all news – just as an alternative option for journalists working within particular niches.

    Thanks for all the other comments guys! πŸ™‚

  7. Paul said, on June 5, 2010 at 7:45 am

    @Adam yes as an alternative option it’s working out very nicely. πŸ™‚ Also, another aspect worth mentioning (I think) is that blogging has put -pressure- on “real” journalists. Why? Well, there are simply more people with good research, writing and presentation skills than there are journalist jobs in old media. This has led to a much more vibrant culture of journalism where we can see the great mix of articles online with comments that actually add to the story. A great mix of technology, “real” journalism and well-read online writers (bloggers etc).

    Just my 2c (€). πŸ˜€


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