Protected content and 1,000 true fans
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Protected content and 1,000 true fans

Bruce Maples
Bruce Maples

Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed a change in the way ForwardKY is operating. We have started protecting some of our content by only making it available to Subscribers and Members. I want to take a moment to explain why.

In the past, we have done like so many other media outlets have done – we have gone for the clicks, for the views, for the downloads, for the stats. Seeing those page view numbers go up and up was exciting. It was also a means of validation; if you had 60,000 page views in a month, you were a success. And, FWIW, we hit that number and went over it, multiple times.

Even after putting in a paywall, we kept the amount of free articles fairly high. A number of people became paying members, but even so, most of our content was read by people who paid nothing to read it or listen to it or watch it.

So why the change?

The concept of "true fans"

Some time ago, I reread an article I had first seen years ago called "1,000 True Fans." It's an essay written in 2008 by Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired magazine, about the impact of the internet on people who do creative work, and how you didn't need to sell a million records or a million books to be successful or to make a living. In fact, he maintains that you just need 1,000 true fans to make a living as a creative.

What, then, is a true fan? Here's the definition from the article:

A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce. These diehard fans will drive 200 miles to see you sing; they will buy the hardback and paperback and audible versions of your book; they will purchase your next figurine sight unseen; they will pay for the “best-of” DVD version of your free youtube channel; they will come to your chef’s table once a month. If you have roughly a thousand true fans like this (also known as super fans), you can make a living — if you are content to make a living but not a fortune.

In other words, you don't try to "go viral" or "capture your niche." Instead, you produce good content that your "true fans" will value, and you work to meet their needs and grow your fan base.

It's scary

I have to be honest: it is scary to adopt this mindset. Almost everything in the media world, including the political news and commentary space, is aimed at trying to get big numbers and then using that to sell advertising. Every how-to article and book, every expert out there, is about increasing your ranking on Google searches and using popups to sell things.

The first time I put a good article into the Subscriber-only space on this site, it was almost a surreal experience. It was an article by Neal Turpin about the voting stats for handicapped voters in the most recent election, and I knew it was an excellent article that by rights should have a large readership. But, it was also a great piece of original content, and would be just the sort of article that our true fans would appreciate. So, I made it Subscriber only.

The next step

Some of the writers and publishers using this model are taking the next step: they are sharing their progress toward being self-sustaining. They are posting numbers showing both their fan growth and their monetary situation.

I'm thinking about doing that as well. I think most people just don't realize what it costs just to have the basic site. Add to that paying your contributors, and paying for such things as news photos and the like, and readers can see what their true-fandom is going for.

Thoughts? Feedback?

So, now you know why some of our content is protected, and what I hope doing that will help us build. Basically, I want to gather enough "true fans" of the work done by everyone at Forward Kentucky that we can be sustainable for the long term. Rather than thousands of drive-by readers, I want to build a core of true fans who value the work enough to keep it going.

Any thoughts on this? Any feedback you want to share? Please feel free to add your comments below, or to email me directly at Bruce@ForwardKY.com.

And — thanks.

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Bruce Maples

Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)


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