The Long Tail, 1,000 True Fans & Idea Generation

Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson wrote about The Long Tail in 2004. The idea is that publishing and distribution used to be controlled by the powerful elite who could invest in expensive content creation, owned the distribution channels and were always looking for the next big hit. Now, however, content creation and distribution have been democratised by technology and the internet respectively, allowing for new content producers to make niche content. Content in increasingly narrow niches makes increasingly smaller (but not zero) sales, hence the shape of the long tail. Corporately, however, the long tail accounts for a significant proportion of sales and it’s the aggregators – Amazon, iTunes, etc – who are cleaning up.

Kevin Kelly (the founding editor of Wired magazine) wrote a recent article (found by Seth) on the long tail and how it’s great for the aggregators, fabulous for consumers but not so good for niche artists who are selling a few albums a week, say, out on the long tail. Kevin has a brilliant solution – to create 1,000 True Fans. True Fans are people who wait with baited breath for the next album / exhibition / book and attend every show or book signing. 1,000 is the number that an artist probably needs to survive, and it’s an achievable number to create. With this new framework an artist can take heart – they don’t need to convert the world nor do they need to be lost in the long tail. They can focus on creating 1,000 fans.

This works in business too, of course. You don’t need to change the world, you just need to create those 10, 100, 1,000 or 10,000 customers (depending on the value of your sales) who love absolutely everything about who you are, what you do and keep coming back for more. This is a great encouragement to small business owners who are rightly concerned about their message being lost in the noise of mainstream media and advertising. You don’t have to go to the millions, you just have to build your fan base and have ongoing, direct conversations with them. Do read & digest Kevin’s article for inspiration.

Kevin’s solution reminded me of a useful book by innovation consultant Ken Hudson, called The Idea Generator. This book lives in my laptop bag, ready for when I need inspiration solving a problem. It contains 60 tools to:

  • solve problems in a more powerful way,
  • create new growth opportunities,
  • immediately improve your performance,
  • enhance your teams performance,
  • help you sell with more impact, and
  • deliver breakthrough leadership results.

The premise of the book is that we often come up with the same solutions because we look at the same problem through the same lens. By changing our lens (how we view a problem) and/or looking at a different problem (eg. instead of ‘how can we increase customer satisfaction?’ ask ‘how can we make people more passionate about our brand?’, say), we can come up with new solutions. And by looking at multiple problems through multiple lenses we can come up with multiple solutions. The 60 tools are methods of changing lens or changing the problem to suit different situations.

Kevin’s solution is consistent with the third tool in The Idea Generator – Find new measurements. This tool advises that we create new, different measurements and solve the problem in the light of these. For an artist, the conventional method of measuring success might be ranking in the music charts or radio airplay. Kevin points out that this is unnecessary – the new measurements artists (and business owners) should focus on the number of fans they have who consistently buying their products. With this new measurement, artists (and you) can now find solutions to do just that – build your fan base. Good luck.