Why I Won’t Be Giving to Kickstarter Projects

Kickstarter logo

I’m sure you’ve seen at least one of the emails or posts. An artist or group has a great idea for a comic book (usually with a spine), so they set up a Kickstarter project. That allows users to donate some amount of money, with the following rules:

  • If the target amount (“I aim to raise $8,000 in 60 days”, or whatever) isn’t reached in the specified time frame, all pledges are canceled. So no partial funding leading to “well, do I try to continue or just do part of it?” quandries.
  • Most project owners offer tiered rewards — copies of the eventual comic, for instance, at different levels (signed, dedicated, etc.), or for more money, being drawn into the comic or original art.

It’s a way to “crowd-source” your development and publication costs. The idea seems to be that if you ask a whole bunch of people for just a few dollars each, they won’t mind giving it and you can raise money easily by spreading the bite. So why don’t I like it?

Kickstarter logo

In short, gatekeepers are good. (As a reviewer, of course I’d say that, but bear with me.) Kickstarter plugs their site as allowing “people to test concepts (or conditionally sell stuff) without risk. If you don’t receive the support you want, you’re not compelled to follow through.” Why is that a good thing? Risk keeps business owners tough and determined. Having to sell their project to banks or publishers gives them valuable feedback that someone else thinks it’s worth investing in. Why would you encourage them to bail on following through?

Maybe that’s the problem. If you set out to make and sell a comic, you are a small business owner. But Kickstarter doesn’t view you that way. Instead of being encouraged to make smart business decisions and have a sensible plan, Kickstarter tells you to have a compelling “story”, to share your experience while you keep begging for donations.

I’d rather see a creator learn to think like an entrepreneur. Put together a business plan and get dedicated loans and funding. I know Kickstarter, which seems like free money, seems a lot easier, without putting you on the hook in any way, but ultimately, I think it’s better in the long run for creators to understand how to run their own small business. If they get the money in advance, what’s the impetus to keep going? If you’re not willing to risk your own money and fund your own startup, why should I? If you believe in it, you take the risk.

Note that, as with any new method in its early days, there have been a number of success stories. This method still seems fresh, but as more people jump on the bandwagon, it’s going to be harder to get the desired result. Early success is encouraging, I feel, young artists to aim too high. Instead of asking for $3,000 (a print bill, roughly), I see them asking for $8,000 or $10,000. When they fail, it’s going to be discouraging. People are quickly going to get tired of these pleas for funds. What’s going to happen when you need to pay for the second book? This isn’t a long-term funding method. Repeatability is low.

It’s also, like so much stuff online, a popularity contest. Kickstarter tells you to work your social network. To succeed, you have to get the word out — which means lots of contacts. Which is odd, because some of the people I see doing Kickstarter projects already have the established networks they need to be published in a more traditional fashion. I’m not sure why they’re seeking to eliminate the middleman here, unless it’s about getting more control. Which is a fine goal, only it comes with responsibilities that they may not realize.

For one thing, are they ready to do all the reward fulfillment? Storing, packing, and shipping all the comics going to individual purchasers, instead of doing mass shipments to distributors? If you’re running a small business — and if you’re trying to sell product to customers, retailers, and/or distributors, you are — you should have enough funding in place for at least a year before you plan to start making a profit. Kickstarter tries to jump-start you to a position you may not be ready to handle.

Plus, there’s the question of trust. I’m sure that most everyone who uses it is highly trustworthy, so I’m not casting any individual aspersions, but comics — I know you’re going to be shocked — do occasionally attract flakes (those who mean well but rarely follow through) and thieves (those who don’t mean well, only caring about their own benefit and ripping off others in the process). Kickstarter combines the uncertainty of preordering from a business you know little or nothing about with the self-satisfied feel of helping the disadvantaged. You too can be a magnanimous patron of the arts by throwing a few credit card dollars (using Amazon payments) at an artist worse off than you. Doesn’t charity make you feel good? AND you get a comic out of it at the end, and you only paid a premium over cover price to get that feel of contributing to creativity without actually doing anything. Assuming you get what you ordered at some unspecified future date.

Again, I’m sure that there are plenty of trustworthy creators out there, but I shopped with Martin Wagner. That broke me of believing that a creator, no matter how well-meaning, will follow through on their commitments. Comics has had too many people who didn’t respect deadlines for me to do anything but look askance at preorders. Kickstarter bails out of responsibility on this one, saying, “At the end of the day, use your internet street smarts,” and later, “It’s up to the project creator to create, price, and fulfill their rewards.” They only provide the funding engine, at a cost of 5% of the goal, plus the cost to the poster of Amazon’s fees.

On a personal basis, I’m already tired of getting “press releases” that are thinly disguised pleas for funds. I want to buy a book when I know when it’s available and what it looks like. I don’t want to take your word for it that this will be cool. There are alternate uses, too. Instead of aiming at a publication release, some creators are using Kickstarter to ask for living expenses while doing their webcomic, which makes this just the newest incarnation of the PayPal donation button, while others want a new computer. (Both drives were successful.)

Now that I went wandering through the list of projects ending soon, looking for those unlikely to make it, I’m rethinking my objection. If your comic looks generic or just plain bad, maybe it’s better you find out early without going into debt. And if users want to give artists money, hey, more power to them. I’m just a curmudgeon who still sees some value to the way it used to be done.


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