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Think of concentric circles with true fans at the center and a wider circle of regular fans around them.These regular fans may buy your creations occasionally, or may have bought only once. While direct relationship with customers was the default mode in old times, the benefits of modern retailing meant that most creators in the last century did not have direct contact with consumers.In other words the most obscure under-selling book, song, or idea, is only one click away from the best selling book, song or idea.Early in the rise of the web the large aggregators of content and products, such as e Bay, Amazon, Netflix, etc, noticed that the total sales of *all* the lowest selling obscure items would equal or in some cases exceed the sales of the few best selling items.For previous creators these intermediates (and there was often more than one) meant you need much larger audiences to have a success.With the advent of ubiquitous peer-to-peer communication and payment systems — also known as the web today — everyone has access to excellent tools that allow anyone to sell directly to anyone else in the world.Chris Anderson (my successor at Wired) named this effect “The Long Tail,” for the visually graphed shape of the sales distribution curve: a low nearly interminable line of items selling only a few copies per year that form a long “tail” for the abrupt vertical beast of a few bestsellers. With that insight, the aggregators had great incentive to encourage audiences to click on the obscure items.They invented recommendation engines and other algorithms to channel attention to the rare creations in the long tail.
I believe the 1,000 True Fans concept will be useful to anyone making things, or making things happen.So a creator in Bend, Oregon can sell — and deliver — a song to someone in Katmandu, Nepal as easily as a New York record label (maybe even more easily).This new technology permits creators to maintain relationships, so that the customer can become a fan, and so that the creator keeps the total amount of payment, which reduces the number of fans needed.This new ability for the creator to retain the full price is revolutionary, but a second technological innovation amplifies that power further.A fundamental virtue of a peer-to-peer network (like the web) is that the most obscure node is only one click away from the most popular node.
If you still want to read the much longer original 2008 essay, you can get it after the end of this version.