Can 1,000 true fans pay your bills? They make this guy 6 figures

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A Chicago Cubs fan celebrates a win at Wrigley Field. Credit: Techne.

By Khari Johnson

OK before we get started here, by this guy I don’t mean this guy here with his shirt off at Wrigley Field. This guy is just a true fan and in that respect this article is about this guy because it’s about true fans.

The this guy I’m referring to is Ben Thompson, whose fans allow him to make a living writing about technology.

If you were to read through the various sources of information on crowdfunding in journalism over the last year (including this blog and Newsweek), you would have to come to the conclusion that no one seems to believe that crowdfunding can sustain a career.

In some instances subscription-based crowdfunding and a widely-referenced essay challenge this assumption.

From Kevin Kelly’s essay “1,000 True Fans”:

“A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”

Brown Institute for Media Innovation Deputy Director Tanya Aitamurto was the first I heard invoke Kevin Kelly to describe the success of subscription-based crowdfunding, then Gigaom writer Mathew Ingram in the headline of a piece published Thursday titled “You can make a living from a thousand true fans — Ben Thompson is proof.”

“Let a thousand funding models bloom,” Ingram proclaimed at the end of his piece.

Thompson’s site Stratechery relies on a paywall and people to pay $10 a month or $100 a year. Not all his content is behind a paywall. Most blog posts are free. Here’s a link to his series on the future of journalism.

Shortly after he finished the series in April he brought the crowdfunded or membership element to Stratechery and now the site brings in more than $100,000 in annual revenue. Here’s a link to Thompson’s blog post to update readers on how the crowdfunding ventures is going, also published Thursday.

More journalists should try a direct-to-reader subscription approach, Thompson told Ingram, and begin to explore the vast possibilities for journalism online.

“It’s striking to me how many people in the media only see the internet as a bogeyman, and completely fail to see the potential that it enables — what I’m doing would be totally impossible without the internet. Yes, the world is going to look totally different than it did during the glory years of newspapers, but we have only scratched the surface of what’s possible.”

Many journalists rely on the Patreon and Beacon Reader platforms to get their fans to have their fans pay a monthly subscription but Thompson takes payment directly through his site.

On a larger scale, De Correspondent and Kraut Reporter of Holland and Germany launched after finding approximately 15,000 subscribers to pay an annual subscription.

Another reporter who Ingram wrote about recently is Canadaland host Jesse Brown. His show is a critical analysis of media in Canada, a need he felt was unmet and an idea that got little interest from established media, he told HuffPost Canada.

Last month Brown worked with the Toronto Star to reveal accusations of sexual misconduct lobbed at former Q radio show host Jian Ghomeshi.

See Also: 3 Emerging Trends of Crowdsourcing and Media Innovation and The Subscription Model: Crowdfunding for People with ‘2 Kids and a Mortgage.’

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Khari Johnson
Khari is founder and editor of Through the Cracks: Crowdfunding in Journalism. He also writes about bots and artificial intelligence for VentureBeat. He has built news startups in the U.S. and Europe for the last decade.

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