SPX Kickstarter Panel: Push Button, Receive Money (Not) / by David Anderson


Oh yeah, I also went to the Kickstarter Panel SPX hosted. The panel was run by Isaac Cates, Spike Trotman, Box Brown, Marnie Galloway, and T. Edward Bak. At first I thought it was going to be some kind of weird thing where we all hand dollar bills to the front like at church but I have no idea where I got that idea from. It was, however, a very good and sobering discussion about the nature of Kickstarter. Well, sobering, I guess, for any idealists in the crowd. I am always really confused when people talk about him

See, the thing is that to the uninitiated and the casually aware, Kickstarter is like a free app that gives you money for whatever kind of product you want to make. Sure, there might be scams and a few limits and rules here and there, but mostly it's a robust and easy way to get what you need for your project.

Of course, as with life, chemistry class and dating etiquette, nothing is that simple. Kickstarter's definitely been the victim/instigator of hype and anyone unprepared for a serious commitment is probably going to abandon their project before they even reach their target. Each panelist had stories to tell about their individual experiences with Kickstarter and discussed everything from differences between that site and Indiegogo to how ridiculously easy it is to run out of the money that you make from crowdfunding. Here's the stuff I remember from the notes I took:

- Indiegogo lets you keep whatever money you make regardless of whether you hit your target or not. They also allow you to create a campaign for just about anything, including "fund-my-life" projects (help me pay bills, etc.) Kickstarter has a few more limitations in place to keep people on both sides honest, like giving back money to the donors if the target goal isn't met. Generally the panelists seemed to prefer Kickstarter to Indiegogo- if you need to use a crowdfunding site, anyway. Checking out this Forbes article, it seems Kickstarter campaigns fail to reach their target around half the time, while Indiegogo campaigns fail 80% of the time.

- Crowdfunding has a ton of hidden and creeping costs. Box Brown and Spike both had stories of how once they had the money to make their comics, they went out and had them printed- and the pallets of books took up entire rooms, or just about did. Brown said one of his projects had papers piled to the ceiling.

- Remember, the entire time this project is going you need to promote your Kickstarter. It's like plugging a song you made on Bandcamp. You need to get the word out, and you'll pretty much be screaming "DONATE TO MEEEE" almost constantly. Quiet people don't succeed. Sales & Marketing 101.

- A good example of a creeping cost is the fact that when you make reward tiers for your campaign, you just add more labor and expense that isn't even related to producing a book. If you give out a keychain for everyone donating ten bucks and a T-shirt to everyone donating twenty bucks, that's X dollars you need to set aside to produce those keychains and shirts. You are adding tons of logistical costs without even making the book yet.

- On that note, a very cost effective way to raise money without raising costs is ego-stroking. Hey, you! Fifty dollars gets your name on a "Special Thanks" page and a character in the book that looks like you! Now you have fifty bucks and the only thing you're losing is a little more ink. I guess a couple books got some pretty big help from people who requested they have their pets on the cover of the comic book, or illustrations of the donors on a random page. Those kinds of things are useful, if a bit exploitative.

- One weird psychological trend related to ego stroking that is very common is that when you get close to your target goal, you can generally race through the finish line very strongly by getting donors to compete with each other. "Who's gonna be the lucky one to push us past the finish line?!? Come on, free dreamcatcher made from my hair for the winner!" People seem to jump for those kinds of benefits.

- Tax laws are always behind the times. Right now, the best you can do is write it off as business income, since the money you get from crowdfunding goes directly to production. Oh, and make sure your bank knows about this stuff, because a sudden influx of money from the internet always looks fishy unless they have prior knowledge.

- Don't look just to crowdfunding for support, of course. There are various state and federal grant programs in the US that dole out cash to help promote art and enable its production. The thing is, like pretty much every program in the government, the amount of cash available is directly related to how much is spent. If there's 3,000 dollars earmarked for art and only 500 gets spent in a fiscal year, there will be only 500 dollars available next year. The military gets away with this stuff by having "Spend Exes"- training exercises where they just go out and waste a ton of ammo so they can keep their budget from shrinking- but here in Normal People Space it's all up to us to grab that money and use it. So hit the internets and find grants to help get your anthology published, because it might not be there next year.

So, that's pretty much the gist of their discussion. If you're going to do a Kickstarter to fund a project of any kind, be ready for a commitment that takes lots of work. In the end your mindset should be geared towards humble goals, because the only people that get rich overnight are lottery ticket winners and rich kids inheriting their parents' estate.