I've been aware, pretty much since the rise of Napster in 1999, that the Web was changing the way performing artists connected with their audiences and changing the way artists would generate revenue.
While new models are still evolving, even National Public Radio has recently reported on how artists (like Jane Siberry) are tapping into their fan bases to create highly decentralized patronage systems... working on commissions from your audiences.
Kevin Kelly, he of Wired fame (or, for you old timers like me, the Whole Earth Catalog) has posted his analysis of these new emerging models on his blog (link):
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.
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.
Kelly's post is required reading for self-employed performing artists (this means you, storytellers).
More thinking needs to be done to create a workable model for storytellers. The typical working storyteller has thousands of fans, but upwards of 90% of them are in an educational setting. Regardless of whether these kids have disposable income, a school setting is not an appropriate venue to push sales. Even if you could find a venue outside of school, kids aren't going to spend a hundred dollars a year on their favorite storyteller.
Then, as you move to teenagers and 18 to 25 year olds, you have to find the true fans amidst the sea of audiences who are accustomed to getting their culture digitally for free.
For storytellers, even those with adult audiences, $100 per true fan per year may be high. But I think $50 is doable.
And I suspect that a storyteller who has taken either Doug Lipman's marketing course or Sean Buvala's Outside In Boot Camp, and combines it with this True Fan model, will lead the way in creating an alternative model of making a living at storytelling.... one that does not depend on the whims of school board or state funding of elementary schools).
(This is not to take away from those storytellers right now who are making a living at storytelling... they work hard, and they deserve every penny. But I'm intrigued by the alternative model that Kelly describes.)