Back in the middle of the year, I posted a few essays about the current state of crowd-funding. It’s been a while, and I want to check in again with a few links and comments. Crowd-funding is still new and evolving quickly.
First, some optimistic news. Sometimes I can be cynical about Kickstarter campaigns for unprofessional projects that disappoint everyone in the end, so it’s good to remember the things that they can do that normal commercial ventures can’t.
The Maze of Games was a Kickstarter campaign by Lone Shark Games to create a cool-sounding “puzzle novel”. It completed its funding back in March, but has missed the November delivery date. Earlier this week, the team posted an update to say that the book definitely would not be available on time to deliver as a Christmas present. As an apology, they’re creating a holiday card with an extra puzzle on it. It’s being distributed online to all backers, and if you intended to give the book as a present, you can ask for a physical copy of this card to be sent to you. Lone Shark asked that people only request the hard copy of the card if they needed something to give to someone who would eventually get the book as a present.
Ok, so this is another example of a Kickstarter project missing its timeline, and a card saying “you’ll get this book in a couple months” isn’t as good as actually receiving the book. But I find it pretty impressive that the team could ask backers, on the honor system, to tell them whether they needed the extra collectable card in the mail. I’ll bet you that most people do answer that honestly. The creative team is trying to do something extra for their supporters, and those supporters won’t take unfair advantage of it. I like seeing the community that these campaigns are building.
On a sadder note, I’ve been following Ryan Estrada’s Broken Telephone campaign lately. With less than a week to go, it may still reach its funding goal, but it’s not a sure thing at all. This never should have been a question. Estrada is trusted name in webcomics who has been around for years, and he has a clever idea: Eighteen interlocked stories will be delivered one at a time, “book of the month” style, in which the hero of one story is the villain of another. Estrada is pushing a pay what you want model with a minimum price of only $1, so there’s no reason not to give this one a chance.
A creative, inexpensive product from someone reliable? Why is this having so much trouble meeting its goal? Well, this is the first Kickstarter campaign I’ve seen that really embraces a pay-what-you-want approach. You can get the entire project for $1. $18 gets you a small add-on, and $48 gets a bunch of Estrada’s old comics thrown in. There’s no option for a physical book, because a project delivered in installments only makes sense when digital. So basically, the only motivation to pay more is in supporting the art.
If you do the math, it’s obvious that a lot of people are paying more than the minimum. It still may not be enough, though. This is the first project I’ve seen that really tests whether backer generosity alone is enough to get a new project funded. Pay-what-you-want models have so far been the domain of the Humble Bundle and similar systems, in which people sell already-created works at a discounted rate. Kickstarter is for people to create new things, and so there are costs that can’t be ignored.
I hope the Broken Telephone campaign succeeds. Whether it does or not, though, I wouldn’t encourage people to follow this model in the future.
Finally, you may recall that I was excited about Patreon a few months ago. I hoped that it would provide a way to give webcomics the regular income they needed to keep going for years, since Kickstarter’s model of funding specific projects doesn’t really apply to that. Well, we now have a webcomics artist I really like, Jon Rosenberg, trying the system out! He’s looking for readers to sponsor his continued work on Scenes From a Multiverse, and I really hope it succeeds. All it takes is $1 or $2 a month from is most committed readers.
I’m not sure whether Rosenberg’s campaign is the best test case or not. His bonuses for backers don’t add much value – I’d think that bonus strips and art would be a natural fit for webcomics. Also, his stated goals ($2000-$4000 per month) are pretty high, and he only promises a few comics per week even if those levels are hit. I understand where he’s coming from. Rosenberg has been making webcomics for well over a decade, and now has a decent freelance career to support his family with. His standards for succeeding with webcomics are higher than a lot of young eager artists who would be thrilled to get an extra $50-$100 per comic. I do think a top-tier webcomic deserves to bring in that sort of money, but I just worry about the first high-profile test setting the expectations to that right away.
Either way, though, it’s a reminder that crowd-funding is still changing fast. I hope that Rosenberg’s campaign succeeds, but whether it does or not, I would like to see other people following his lead.