More on Kickstarter: I Was Wrong

After much discussion about Kickstarter this week, I’ve learned a lot. The most important lesson was not to be over-broad, that Kickstarter should be viewed as a tool, with its own pluses and minuses. It’s true, I was focusing too much on what could go wrong instead of also considering what benefits it brought to some types of creators, including providing a standardized interface/system.

Kickstarter logo

Thanks especially to Matt Seneca for a well-timed reminder of the need for capital; Christian Beranek for sharing a couple of example projects; Bradley W. Schenck for doing the math; and Russell Lissau for his general patience. Since we’re talking about the subject, I found this article on what happens when a Kickstarter project is too successful thought-provoking.

I also very much appreciated an email I received from an artist who wished to remain anonymous who wanted to share with me thoughts on the value of unique, challenging, and personal work created out of love. I was reminded how many art forms these days (such as live theater or opera) survive only due to patronage, grants, and similar acts of charity. (I’d rather compare comics to rock’n’roll than chamber music, but that’s a different conversation.) So why not try patronage for unusual comics? Like webcomics or self-published indies, there are going to be some terrible Kickstarter projects, some mediocre ones, and a few very good ones. Since the former are going to need more help, those are going to be the ones I’m more likely to hear about, but I shouldn’t let that color my perception.


19 Responses to “More on Kickstarter: I Was Wrong”

  1. Chris Mosby Says:

    Glad to see that you were willing to reexamine your stand after getting more input. Not many will do that in this day and age.

  2. Trisha Lynn Says:

    Agreed, but then again I shouldn’t have been surprised. Also, way to keep your cool when someone attempted to derail the discussion.

  3. In Which My Arithmetic Astounds All Who See It | Webomator Blog Says:

    […] I’m complimented on my math so seldom that whenever it happens, I link to the place. In fact it’s happened only once. This is it. […]

  4. Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    [...] Creators | Johanna Draper Carlson has rethought her earlier stance on not supporting creators' Kickstarter projects. [Comics Worth Reading] [...]

  5. Saturday Morning Hotlink Extravaganza! | KS Comics Says:

    [...] and e-mails that shared similar sentiments to the ones I posted here, Johanna Draper Carlson has changed her mind about Kickstarter. She still has a few valid points in regard to ideal situations vs. reality but the fact remains: [...]

  6. MC Nedelsky Says:

    Big ups on having the gumption to admit you were wrong. Though you did once again use a slightly over the top title to attract attention :P

  7. Johanna Says:

    Finally, someone noticed the parallel! Yep, both titles are just as exaggerated. Thank you for renewing my faith in reading comprehension.

  8. MC Nedelsky Says:

    I don’t know whether that faith is justified. I only noticed because you explicitly mentioned your OTT titles in the previous comment thread. I know punchy titles are a common rhetorical device, but you can’t help but know what a title will colour or frame the entire reading. Thus, despite the contents of the original post more or less amounting to “I think there are some flaws within the Kickstarter system and its attendant mentality” it came off as “GO DIE IN A DITCH YOU PATHETIC HOBO! MY MONEY IS MINE, ALL MINE!” Likewise, today’s post basically says “perhaps I require a slightly more nuanced perception of things” it’s hard not to read it as “FORGIVE ME INTERNET FOR MY FOOLISHNESS! I BOW BEFORE YOUR MUCH GREATER COLLECTIVE WISDOM AND PRAY THAT YOU HONOUR ME BY DEFECATING ON MY FACE!”

    Or something.

    I also don’t buy the suggestion you will hear about the bad ones because they need the most help.

  9. Johanna Says:

    In this specific case, it’s so rare to see someone flat-out say “I was wrong” on the internet that I thought I’d try it.

    As for your last line, I’ve found that when it comes to review copies, the good works don’t need to send them out (and so don’t distribute as widely) nearly as much as the bad ones do. I’m assuming something similar is going to start happening with Kickstarter “press releases”. Perhaps I’ll wind up being wrong about that, too — we’ll have to wait and see.

  10. Christian Beranek Says:

    Johanna,

    Thank you for following up on this subject. I too have learned much from the discussion and will be doing my best to produce good projects. We stake our reputations on what we offer to deliver via Kickstarter and it is up to us to make sure we do so.

    Take care,

    –Christian

  11. Business of Comics LinkBlogging » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] reward is so well-chosen for the strip (a logo-bearing flask). I think this will be my first Kickstarter contribution. [...]

  12. Kevin Fishburne Says:

    FYI there is a fatal flaw in Kickstarter’s design. Unless one or both of two things happen to your project you’re almost guaranteed to fail to raise funding. First the popular press can pick up your project (Diaspora, for example), bringing so much traffic that you will succeed on odds alone. Second the Kickstarter staff can flag your project as “recommended by staff”, allowing it to be browsed from the Discover page.

    Kickstarter is like eBay in that it provides a system where money can safely exchange hands and that they charge a fee for advertising your product. The problem is, if your project isn’t “staff recommended” no one will likely ever see it. When you click the Discover link it defaults to only showing staff recommended projects. Even clicking a sub topic like Games or Film, you’re still filtered by staff recommended until you manually change it to “ending soon” or something else, which almost no one will do.

    As an example, my project has been online for over 30 days and is not staff recommended. I added an html hit counter 10 days ago and the project is averaging 3.4 unique visits per day. Most of these are probably robots/crawlers or the results of my press release a few weeks ago. In other words, Kickstarter isn’t advertising my project at all, which defeats half the purpose.

    The bottom line is that unless your project gets picked up by the press or becomes staff recommended, you’re better off just asking your friends and family for money and starting your own web page with a “donate with PayPal” button. So far I’ve wasted over $200 on press releases and countless hours of time creating the Kickstarter project, and when funding inevitably fails will be worse off than when I started.

    I’ve emailed their staff about this and after a week have received no response.

  13. Johanna Says:

    I think you may be expecting more of Kickstarter than they promise. They just provide the machinery to make donations easy — you are still responsible for getting the word out, as you suggest.

    I visited your project page and noted the following issues, that may be negatively affecting you:

    1. You’re asking for $10,000, which is an awful lot. People may see that amount and think “that’ll never happen, I won’t bother contributing”.
    2. Your project description is too long and made me lose interest before I finished reading it. Concentrate on clear information covering the basics and then provide the details for those who want to read more.
    3. Your rewards are not interesting and cost too much. If I’m funding the game, I want to be able to play it. I have to give $175 to get an unrestricted account, and that’s just ludicrous when I can go buy a commercial video game for less than $60.

    I’m not sure how you’re going to be worse off when this fails, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to succeed, and that’s not Kickstarter’s fault.

  14. Kevin Fishburne Says:

    Johanna said:

    “I think you may be expecting more of Kickstarter than they promise. They just provide the machinery to make donations easy — you are still responsible for getting the word out, as you suggest.”

    Actually Amazon provides that machinery, and charges 3% of total funding to do so (in line with Google Checkout and PayPal). What, then, does Kickstarter charge 5% for if not advertising? Granted, “recommended” projects do enjoy Kickstarter advertising by virtue of being indexed by default on the Discover page, but those that aren’t don’t get enough traffic to justify their existence on Kickstarter according to my experience. Searching Google with multiple obvious keywords it looks like Kickstarter actually isn’t advertising itself at all but solely relying upon its users to do so.

    I’ve used Google AdWords extensively for the last two years and know a bit about click through and conversion rates. 3.4 hits per day isn’t enough to fund a lemonade stand even with a 20% plus conversion rate, which would be unusually high in any market but especially philanthropy.

    Your points about the effectiveness of the project description and rewards as well as the requested funding goal may or may not be valid (no way to tell really since it’s subjective), but they don’t address my main point which is that Kickstarter offers little to no help for projects that aren’t “recommended” due to the design of its web site.

    $10,000 is about what I need for a professional digital camera, test server and hundreds of miniatures for the game graphics, so the number isn’t arbitrary. Were I to have a 100% conversion rate and maintained 3.4 unique visits per day for the 90-day duration of the project I would need each visitor to pledge an average of $32.68 to successfully fund the project. Regardless of my project description, video, audio or anything else related to the project page this is unlikely to happen without more daily visitors. If Kickstarter isn’t bringing eyes to your project, then what is it really doing that your own web site wouldn’t?

    Johanna said:

    “I’m not sure how you’re going to be worse off when this fails, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to succeed, and that’s not Kickstarter’s fault.”

    The investment of time (creating and maintaining the Kickstarter project page) and money ($200+ in press releases) constitute being worse off should the funding fail, as mentioned in my previous post.

    To use eBay again as an analogue, imagine posting an item for sale and having no one see it because they have to adjust a default filter to show “non staff recommended” items for it to appear in the categories they’re browsing. That’s really my point here, all others aside. I’m just glad I put a hit counter on the page so I wouldn’t be second-guessing myself as to why I wasn’t getting more pledges.

  15. Johanna Says:

    I think we’re agreeing on the point that Kickstarter doesn’t advertise for you — you are expected to do that. I think you may have had a misunderstanding of just how much benefit it would bring/work it would save you. I haven’t used them, just read about them, but I never got the impression that they would help do anything but collect whatever pledges you could bring in. I appreciate you bringing this point home, though. (Also, I had no idea anyone would pay for press releases.)

  16. Martin Says:

    I used them and was very disappointed. I know others who used them and were disappointed. An article recently ran in the paper that kind of explained why. Most projects on Kickstarter fail. In fact, the paper said something like the overwhelming majority fail. So, if you didn’t raise your money—you are not alone.

    You are crammed on a page with 14 other projects. It used to be less but Kickstarter had over 400 pages crammed with projects and needed to find a way to hide that. So they added more projects per page.

    The search is clumsy. I checked the site today and searched around. I think it sucks that failed, expired projects are showing up before running projects!

    And I for one will throw my hand up that I noticed that there were “pet projects” getting tons of attention. And it does not help when sites like Kickstarter staff pick sections. Wow, let’s increase the favoritism even more!

    Sure there are Kickstarter successes, but there are far more fails. The odds are against you from the start.

    Kickstarter doesn’t list your project in the newest projects section until after you have raised funds. Why? Because Kickstarter and Indiegogo are set up so that the funds drive everything. They don’t see you and no one else will unless you are making money. I could be selling dismembered toes and so long as I got people pledging I would see my project going up, up, up. This means my project will be king of the mountain and everyone else can go screw themselves. It is like when you play pinball and the ball gets stuck between the bumpers and everything goes DING! DING! DING!

    Remember, it is about money and Kickstarter will place whoever is making the most money at the top. It became a popularity contest, not a valid fund-raising tool. You can’t really call it crowd-funding because the crowd never really got a chance to see most of the projects, there are thousands upon thousands of them.

    At least I know now that I am not the only one to feel this way.

    This explains why the fads, the shooting stars are kings of the site and always show near the top. I feel bad for people trying to raise money for crayons for Rwandan children because it is doubtful to raise the buzz. And within days that Rwanda project will be many, many pages down with little hope of being seen.

  17. Johanna Says:

    Kickstarter is not going to do your promotion for you. If you have a project, Kickstarter provides a safe place to put information and collect pledges, nothing more. You still have to go out and get those pledges and find ways to draw attention to your effort.

    I’m not surprised to hear that they’ve already reached a point when more projects fail than succeed.

  18. Advice to Make Kickstarter Successful for Your Project » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] months ago, I warned people of the dangers of Kickstarter before moderating my concerns. Since then I’ve donated to my first Kickstarter effort — I’m looking forward to [...]

  19. Kickstarter: The New Model of the Micro-Niche? « Manga Widget Says:

    [...] have talked about Kickstarter – Johanna Draper Carlson being the most prominent, having voiced her opinions about the platform multiple times. While I agree with some of her cautionary words, I also am [...]

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