Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 8, 2012

Group Think: What Makes A Good Crowdfunding Proposal?

imageTwo days ago, this site praised as necessary and vital a smattering of lengthy, written posts about crowdfunding that have appeared on-line in the wake of Dan Nadel's criticism of a few specific projects that utilized the mechanism. To contribute to that mini-wave of discussion, I'd love to hear from any of you that have thoughts on what makes a good crowdfunding proposal.

I'm primarily interested in the notion that there may be something to the best proposals beyond how effective they are in moving cash in the direction of the project proposed: both the thought that a good proposal contributes to a body of such projects and repeated, long-term investment from interested buyers, and the idea that there should be some sort of ethical framework for publishing generally, for which crowdfunding is one option. But mostly I'm interested in any thoughts you have.

So first, have any of you contributed to a comics project via kickstarter, indiegogo or similar mechanism? What led you to make that contribution? How much of your decision was about the reward received and how much of it was advocacy or outright disinterested patronage on your part?

Second, how would you like to see such crowdfunding projects function going forward? What is the ideal amount of information that these projects should offer? How do you feel about projects that fold in reward for the artist into the payment for which they're asking?

Third, what worries do you see, if any, in the long-term effects of this type of publishing mechanism?

Here is my perspective.

I have barely given to any crowdfunding projects to date. I've given to a few more charitable projects (some mechanisms don't formally allow for charity, so this a loosely-defined thing), projects started by a couple of friends, and one for the great Jim Woodring. The Woodring campaign I contributed to because Jim Woodring was always very nice to me when I was in Seattle and I think he's a pantheon-level cartoonist whom I would give $5 were I walking by and were he to casually ask. The main reason I have not given to more crowdfunding projects is because of my surpassing disinterest in the vast, vast majority of projects I see being funded this way. I have other reasons, but I think that's the main one.

I'd like to see higher standards generally. I'm frequently astonished that people give to such projects when there is no detail work on how the money will be used, or when pressed on the point the organizers babble back partial or false information as to what money might be required and where. In other words, I'm personally confused by the massive lack of sophistication people apply to this element of giving someone money -- both sides of it. Knowing how the money is to be spent also provides a better guarantee that any rewards dependent on the publishing project itself are realized. If I were to do this on a regular basis it would be mostly with some sort of reward in mind -- mostly the item itself, as I'm far from a store -- but I'd also like to be more confident that I'm not contributing to bad, sloppy publishing because I don't see how that would benefit anyone other than the people that got to spend the money. I would also like to see a greater variety of projects. I think I'd probably be amenable to seeing some sort of crucial need involved in terms of why a project is being funded that way. That's personal preference; I can't really articulate why I think that raising a few hundred bucks for your next mini-comic is less appealing than raising $12K for a fancy book that's a culmination of a dream. Call it a gut feeling. It seems likely to me there may at some point be a hybrid mechanism that better facilitates ongoing crowdfunding, but who knows?

I have a lot of worries moving forward. One is that I suspect that I won't like the vast majority of art that is best facilitated by crowdfunding, probably because I don't see any specific virtue in an artist that's able to raise money over one that can't. I also worry that these campaigns potentially contribute to the same kind of closed-circle practices on which small-press comics have more recently relied -- that as inefficient as the existing system can be, that as much as the current systems for distribution may thwart this, that the possibility that newer work might be discovered by people is a crucial part of growing an audience for the kinds of comics I value. The self-selecting mechanism that Mike Dawson describes here is something of a concern, although I'm not sure how much of that is inherent to the way people make decisions and how much that is facilitated by the crowdfunding option. I also worry that as the mechanism is in the process of being assumed by people that see themselves as publishers first that this will continue to absolve such people of the traditional responsibilities that I believe such folks should bring to the table. I believe that publishers that feel absolved of traditional publishing responsibilities may -- not "will"; "may" -- result in the exploitation of artists over the long term. I don't think that all funding mechanisms are equal when it comes to the investment of the publisher. I already worry about this kind of thing when publishers assume a kind of publishing control over projects for which they haven't paid that are paid out of pocket by the cartoonists; I think that the possibility for crowdfunding may increase this phenomenon.

I'm interested in your perspective, not a criticism of my own or anyone else's except if it helps you articulate your point of view. Any response I think primarily takes me to task rather than puts forward a specific point of view will go in the letters section. I feel we can argue this stuff at a later date; for now, I'd like to see as many ideas and perspectives on the table. Where does your future with comics intersect with this mechanism for funding comics? What are your thoughts?


William Cardini

I've contributed to and been published because of several Kickstarter projects. It’s been the funding source for several anthologies that my comics are in (such as RUB THE BLOOD and Digestate) and for comics that my friends have put out (such as The City Troll and The Melinderly). I've contributed to both the projects that publish my work and my friend's projects. I've also contributed to a few other small press, "art comix" projects, like Suspect Device #2, and projects outside of comics, such as records and video games.

I contribute to projects that I want to see happen, that I don't think will be funded without my involvement, and that I won't be able to subsequently purchase at my local comics shop. I have two great local comic shops, Domy Books and Austin Books, so I try to purchase comics from them rather than online whenever possible.

I've thought about what makes an ideal crowd-funding project a lot, both from the perspective of a contributor and in planning my own potential future project. I think that every reward should include a digital or physical copy of the book. I'm totally fine when someone includes higher level rewards, as long as those include the lower levels and they're also physical products, such as a print or painting. I'm less interesting in thank yous on a website or having my name printed in the final product.

The most important thing, however, is that the project is completed and ready to be printed before the crowd-funding begins. From my perspective as a contributor, this protects me against vaporware and reduces the time between when I fund the project and when I get it in the mail. As a project creator, this means I can concentrate fully on the crowd-funding campaign and fulfilling orders in a timely fashion rather than finishing the book. I like your idea of disclosing how the money is going to be spent. Personally, I would do as much research as possible to come up with the amount I want, such as getting printing quotes and figuring out the cost of shipping. I might as well disclose that!



Robert Boyd

So first, have any of you contributed to a comics project via kickstarter, indiegogo or similar mechanism?

Yes. You can see what I've done through Kickstarter here and my IndieGoGo contributions here. And I supported the same USA Projects project you did.

What led you to make that contribution? How much of your decision was about the reward received and how much of it was advocacy or outright disinterested patronage on your part?

With comics, a lot of what I've given has been about getting a copy of a comic that looks interesting that I feel certain I won't be able to get through any other source. These comics will never be in my local comic store. So in those cases, it is just a preordering mechanism.

In some cases, I am supporting a project that may not get finished without such support because I admire the cartoonists or the project. For instance, the Carter Family book. I gave them $100 -- way more than I would spend just buying the book. But I will get a copy of the book out of it, which is nice, too. I also gave money to C.A.K.E. not because I was planning to attend, but because I think in general art comics festivals need to be nurtured and encouraged. (And I got a bright pink Tshirt out of it.)

But I support a lot more than just comics. I give to arts projects by artists I like and to local (Houston) arts things even if I don't have a strong personal connection to them. I just want to see local art projects succeed. And I want to support artists whose work I admire, especially if they are working in especially if their work is especially uncommercial (it may be ephemeral or difficult or whatever). Looking back, one category of giving has been to help fund artists whose work I like to travel--plane tickets, hotels, etc. Artists (and I include cartoonists in that group) are generally poor people. If my $10 helps them attend a convention or an exhibit or a performance event, that's great.

Second, how would you like to see such crowdfunding projects function going forward? What is the ideal amount of information that these projects should offer? How do you feel about projects that fold in reward for the artist into the payment for which they're asking?

First of all, I agree that often a solicitation will be super-vague and therefore inspire very little confidence. Here's an extreme (and funny and slightly sad) example of that: . But I generally look for three things before I fund:

1) Some clarity about what the money is for. I don't need to see their spreadsheets, but if someone says that printing is going to cost X and we're asking for X, that's a positive. I don't mind if some of it is pay for the artist(s) -- certainly if the person requesting the money is publishing an anthology and says that part of the expense he is crowdfunding for is to pay his contributors, I don't have a problem with that. But with comics, they will in the end have something to sell, so the artist can get paid on the back-end that way. (With other kinds of projects, there is no hope of getting paid ever unless someone just gives them money--hence crowdfunding.)

2) Experience. I feel a lot better giving someone some money to publish a comic if they have done it before or at least been involved in the process before.

3) A feeling that the person asking is competent. 1) and 2) feed into this, but it also is indicated by the quality of their request -- the video they make, the description, etc. If they do that part well, it helps me feel that they will publish their book well.

And here's a 4). I don't absolutely require this, but it helps me to know that the requester has already done work on the project. He or she has already thrown in their own labor and/or money into the project. If someone asks for something without having yet done anything, it feels like they lack commitment.

Third, what worries do you see, if any, in the long-term effects of this type of publishing mechanism?

I could see it becoming faddish or overly commercial. I could see it being used by scammers of various sorts. I could see it becoming so widespread and ubiquitous that it stops working because every potential giver is spread too thin. These are not things I worry about. If Kickstarter went away tomorrow, I'd continue my life as before, except that it might be a bit harder for me to find certain small-press art comics.

But I do like it. Look, I donate money to nonprofit art institutions frequently. But that's a little different from helping an artist buy a plane ticket to attend (and perform in) an a performance art festival. One is, well, institutional. The other is personal. I think that is one of the big virtues of these crowdfunding mechanisms. The directness. You could give money to a foundation that might give a grant to Jim Woodring to make a giant pen, or you could give money directly to Jim Woodring to make a giant pen. That's a big advantage in my mind.


Patrick Ford

A very complex question.

My first thought is wondering what role the demise of the "alternative" serial format plays. I know Jim Woodring has mentioned the need to pay bills during the long period of time it takes to complete a graphic novel. My assumption is when his graphic novel is finished Jim won't be looking to self-publish it.

What amazes me most about crowdfunding is there are apparently a very large number of comics fans who have considerable discretionary income. I my case I can't imagine any project I'd be inclined to donate to. There are a far larger number of comics being published I'd like to have than I can afford to buy. In the case of small press publishers like Nobrow, AdHouse, Koyama, and PictureBox just about everything they put out is something I'd like to have, but as with reprints of old comic strips by IDW, and Sunday Press, I have to make decisions about what to buy with the budget I have, the space I have for shelving, and the amount of time I have for reading. Funding things which don't even exist if just out of the question for me.


Chris Cummins

Personally, I have Kickstarter fatigue. There isn't a day that goes by where my Twitter feed isn't overrun with people promoting and supporting crowdfunded projects. It's information overload and instead of taking the time to look at these -- many of which are probably worthwhile -- I summarily dismiss them all. Then I wind out feeling guilty because these are people who are desperately trying to ignite their create spark, and I could possibly help them do it. At this point, I'd rather just go into my local comic store or art shop and buy a locally created indie work than take the time to research a project that may or may not ever come to fruition. Again, I feel rather bad about this but there are only so many hours a day...and that doesn't ever get into the financial realities of myself and other potential contributor's lives. I fear that we are reaching critical mass with crowd-funding campaigns. They are everywhere. But how many of them are worthwhile? Hmm...

Another issue I see with these campaigns is just a lot of misguided/ill-defined ideas. You want to make a documentary on so-and-so? Okay great, tell me why you want to do this, clearly illustrate what you hope to achieve/produce, interview subjects you have lined up, etc, first before asking for my money. The old adage of keep it simple applies more than ever. I want people who are asking for my money to simply define their intent, how they plan on achieving their goals and offer plenty of incentives/rewards for the contributors.(Ultimately though, I'm more interested in having a great piece of art produced that getting a souvenir). The majority of campaigns that I have seen don't give me enough information about how the creator's goals will be accomplished. You can have a dazzling trailer or plenty of hyperbole, but that will only wow me so much. Just tell me what you want to do and how you plan on doing it. It really is that simple.

So yeah, as you can tell I have ambivalence about the whole crowdfunding shindig, in theory I'm all for it. But I fear that soon enough that it will just be more ubiquitous background noise that I wind up skipping over while online.


Derik A. Badman

I've given to a few crowdfunding projects (SAW, Retrofit, Secret Prison, a photographer's art project, Karl Stevens' next book, the Projects festival, maybe others I'm now forgetting). I think I've given to each for slightly different reasons, though in the end, the reward ends up being less about if I'll donate, then occasionally helping me decide how much I'll donate. In all but the photographer's project (which was recommended by someone I trust), the projects have been for people I have met once or twice if not a few times, enough so that I felt they were trustworthy. Rewards can be a nice bonus (especially that Hutch Owen strip I just took to the framer's), but for some of these I've donated in higher brackets than necessary for the reward I chose just because I'm more interested in helping out than in accumulating more stuff. Some of my donations have been of the "I really want to see this happen", others are more of a "I have some money I can spare, so I want to help support parts of the comics community", or maybe some combination of both.

It would be nice to see more accounting of how money is planned to be spent and particularly how funding over the goal will be spent. Though I don't feel the need for a detailed breakdown. For instance, I know with Secret Prison that money goes to printing/shipping and that since it's a free publication, the guys involved are clearly not involved in some kind of cash grab (Disclaimer: I've been in some of the issues). I don't recall how detailed the SAW crowdfunding project was, but Tom feels like reliable enough guy that I wasn't concerned about specifics, and starting a school is a much broader goal than a single book publication so the need/use for funds is way more diverse and flexible.

I'm certainly not opposed to parts of funding going to "reward for the artist." Art is work--a very undervalued work for most people doing it. I don't see giving money for a book or a piece of original art as all that different a process. Any art selling price is partially about paying the artist for their work as much as paying for the artifact itself (though I'm not sure how many people think of it that way, especially in a realm where "collectibles" are still so prominent), and if the work is something you like and the artist someone you respect or want to see succeed, then paying a little more doesn't seem unreasonable. This can certainly be less clear cut when dealing with editors and publishers who are acting as a filter between the money and the artist, which is where clearer accounting of the funds is more desirable.

I'm not sure I have worries at this time as regards the crowdfunding publishing model (it still seems early on), though I wonder at how much an improvement it is on artists just selling the pre-orders and rewards as their own thing (Jenn Manley Lee did that for Dicebox Book 1).



RM Rhodes

1. I have contributed finacially to exactly one Kickstarter campaign: Christian Sager's Think of the Children project. The reason I backed the project was that they were going to produce a sculpted cover for the book, which I found to be an interesting concept. Small press publishing sails very close to boutique publishing anyway and the fact that they were producing a limited edition comic with a sculpted cover that would not ever be produced again or sold in a store appealed to me. Mr. Sager is also a friend of mine and I wanted to support his attempt to do something new and different.

I have also provided rewards (t-shirts) for the DC Conspiracy's two Kickstarter campaigns to fund the printing of the Magic Bullet comics newspaper.

2. I like the idea of a standardized crowd-funding platform (or two). It's a logical concept and it's been around long enough to iron out most of the bugs inherent in the execution. In the end, though, it's a tool that has some very loose rules and a very open format that allows people to do whatever they want to do -- an environment that where Sturgeon's Law will always rule.

What's most interesting to me about the various Kickstarter discussions is that they mostly boil down to opinions about how the tool should be used vis-a-vis how it is being used. Research indicates that best practices are starting to emerge, which are important, but they mostly point to good marketing and clear communication - both of which have been traditional drivers of sales and business success.

More than anything, what Kickstarter does is force creators to pay attention to those aspects of comic creation where most creators traditionally underperform or flat-out ignore: the business and marketing side of things. If some creators choose to include financial reward for themselves in the amount they are trying to raise and have met those goals, more power to them. If backers have an issue with this, they don't have to contribute.

3. Long term I see Kickstarter turning into another marketing platform, which is a shame. Paying attention to the trends, I've noticed that the more successful Kickstarter campaigns have been run by people who already have an established audience and are harnassing that innate support. One of the reasons that I have not started a Kickstarter campaign is that I do not yet have an audience large enough to support any kind of serious crowd-funding effort -- mostly because I have not been making commercial comics that I felt were worth bothering people about. I'd prefer to save that kind of attention-getting effort for something worthwhile -- sort of like an IPO. Not every Kickstarter follows that philosophy, which is fine; not everyone should necessarily use the same tools in the same way.

I can see there being an issue with the mid-level publishers garnering money through this mechanism, however. For example, Brian Hibbs has expressed reservations about carrying books produced through Kickstarter on the theory that everyone who was interested in buying the book did so during the campaign. This is clearly bullshit -- RPG publishers are running Kickstarter campaigns that include incentives for retailers as part of the backing and clearly expect to sell the books they produce in gaming stores that have expressed enthusiasm (which probably speaks more to the difference in attitude between the gaming and comics markets) -- but if that opinion picked up and became more widespread, it could limit the retailing exposure that comics printed through Kickstarter campaigns would have in local comic shops.


Mark Coale

So far, I've only contributed to projects where I know the person behind it, be it on a personal or professional level. I probably contributed more than I initially would have wanted to get a better incentive, be it a hard copy of the book in question, a book and a t-shirt and the like.

I have no problem if the person wants to take some of the funding as "profit" or to pay living expenses while they are doing it or they put 100% of the money into it. I am giving them them money and once it's gone from my hands, it's up to them how they spend it.


Danny Ceballos

I've only contributed to one crowdfunded project: Lasky and Young's Kickstarter campaign for their forthcoming Carter family book DON'T FORGET THIS SONG.

Having followed this work from its initial appearance as a small chunk in the art cluttered pages of KRAMERS ERGOT 4 to an artist-run blog announcing this work's future publication via Abrams, my interest in contributing funds can be seen as somewhat selfish: wanting to hold a physical copy of a work I was interested in seeing completed. This is the sole reward I was most interested in (although the beautiful Carter Family print offered as a reward didn't hurt either). How many more years would I have to wait to read this book if I didn't help when help was asked for? I didn't want to find out.

What led me to make a contribution is simply that the artists themselves were asking for help. Artists I admire needed some monetary assistance to finish a work I was deeply interested in seeing finished. I would like to imagine if crowdfunding existed back when Sergei Eisenstein was trying to raise funds to complete QUE VIVA MEXICO I would have gladly forked over any excess cash I had lying around so that i could see this movie completed (I also like to imagine that as a reward he would send you one of his erotic pen and ink bullfighter / crucifixion drawings).

Do I need rewards to make me want to contribute to a project I'm interested in: no. I would have sent along my money to Messrs Lasky and Young even if the only reward was knowing that the work would (eventually) be completed. Having almost no knowledge of how a book is published, I don't feel I need to know the nuts-and-bolts accounting of where my cash is going. Does the artist I send funds to really need to explain to me that my money is going towards pen nibs and not a bag of weed? It's none of my business. I'm merely fronting some cash (an amount I might have spent on seeing five shitty movies or two grand meals) so that the work is finished to the artist satisfaction. That is where my contribution to and participation in crowdfunding ends as far as I'm concerned.

I have no idea what the future for crowdfunding is. Looking in my crystal ball I don't imagine I'll ever participate in a Kickstarter campaign again (the Amazon connection certainly doesn't help). I followed the progress of Jim Woodring's fund raising efforts and if he fell short of his goal I was prepared to go to his website and buy some books or prints from him directly. I've bought directly from artists in the past (via eBay, their websites, etc). My take away is to be interested in helping the artists you'd like to see succeed, whether it's sending an encouraging email or buying they're work directly from them. Any time an artist I admire asks for financial help and it's within my capacity to give, I will gladly open my wallet. Vote with your wallets, as Uncle Sam likes to groan, right?


imageNat Gertler

So first, have any of you contributed to a comics project via kickstarter, indiegogo or similar mechanism? What led you to make that contribution? How much of your decision was about the reward received and how much of it was advocacy or outright disinterested patronage on your part?

Second, how would you like to see such crowdfunding projects function going forward? What is the ideal amount of information that these projects should offer? How do you feel about projects that fold in reward for the artist into the payment for which they're asking?

Third, what worries do you see, if any, in the long-term effects of this type of publishing mechanism?

I've contributed to several comics-related kickstarters (as well as non-comics ones). In some cases, it was a minimal amount, either simply as a way of voicing support or as a way of being linked into the updates, so that I can follow how that campaign goes for my own educational purposes. I do not give noticable money out of patronage, simply because I'm a comics publisher myself (About Comics), and its through publishing comics that I plow money into helping insure the existence of the comics that I think should exist.
What I'm more likely to put money into is projects where I want the reward, generally the finished product in some form, and think that the price for it is good. I'd be curious to see what portion of the funders (and what portion of the funds) come from that, because when viewed through that lens, Kickstarter is not that different from the direct market. The direct market for indie books runs on preorders. Diamond chooses whether to offer a product based on what they guess the preorders will be, retailers preorder new indie books based largely on the preorders of their customers, and the publisher is counting on those preorders to guarantee the print costs, and if the preorders are insufficient, there's a real chance that the printing won't take place. So the publisher and creators put effort into publicizing the work to try to get this preorders, much as they promote their Kickstarter campaign. I think that a lot of the criticism of Kickstarter comes from the insistence on seeing it as a charity system rather than an ordering system, when it can be used in either way.

When viewed as an ordering platform, a lot of the other questions drop away. It's not inherently my business how the money is being used. I certainly don't look at a $14.99 TPB in the comic shop and think "gee, I hope the creators and publisher aren't making any money off of this!" As long as I'm getting a good price for the content, I hope they all make a nice profit off of it. The question I am faced with, however, is trustworthiness - if I'm paying in advance, I want the odds that I won't get the item I paid for to be low. Now, if Jeff Smith were to run a Kickstarter camaign for some interesting book, I can feel very comfortable ordering it. I know Jeff can get work done, and I know Jeff (or certainly Vijaya) knows how much production costs. If, on the other hand, Jeth Smiff were to run a campaign, I've never heard of him, and he doesn't have that trust. He'll need to be more convincing, and that's when things like showing that the art is completed, that getting Kickstarter orders for 1000 copies will give him enough to print and ship those copies and still have 1000 copies left to make a profit from. Convince me that there's a 90% chance that I'll get what I pay for, and I'll be glad to pay for it.

My only concerns over Kickstarter is the way that it's turning too much of social media into a hard-sell platform, (that's the main reason why I've not used the system for any of my own projects yet, though I'm considering it; I don't feel like turning my social media into an NPR pledge drive week for a whole month). That, and a slight concern that it may bleed enough orders from the direct market to make the DM that much less willing to support non-superhero material... but that's balanced out by the chance that it will encourage quality non-superhero material that the DM will profit from.


Michael Grabowski

My first and so far only kickstarter-backing in comics was for the High Society project. This is specifically because I'd like to see these comics preserved and marketed digitally and I know that the nature of the original raw materials makes that more expensive to do than for currently produced comics art. I guess this falls into the advocacy bracket, because I wouldn't necessarily buy the eventual 99 cent individual digital comics and I don't anticipate re-reading the book on my iPad (or good lord, choke, having Dave Sim read it to me). My initial donation was based in part on the reward offered but mostly because I really wanted to see it done.

As the month went on and the nature of Dave Sim's personal involvement became more clear, (because other than the autograph & artwork rewards and his audio recording, it wasn't clear at first) I upped my donation knowing that Sim would directly get some money from me. I have no problem being a part of the patron tradition in art, and I see this as that sort of thing. It's not dissimilar to subscribing to King-Cat Comics, right? If the artist makes good on the project in question and the price seems reasonable to me for what I get, then I'd likely back further projects by the artist aka renew the subscription.

I also participate in crowd-funding/patronizing a musician (Kristin Hersh) through a direct subscription of sorts through her own website. It's similar in that the rewards include regular free exclusive music, occasional free physical CDs, advance previews/demos of upcoming work. Again, though, for me the rewards are secondary to my desire to support her in the creation and recording of new music.

Mainly what I want to see from crowd-funding is regular communication from the artist about progress towards completion. Back in the '90s a self-publisher I enjoyed ceased production on his regular comic with the promise of completing the work as a graphic novel, and when he asked for pre-orders in order to finance the book's completion, I happily sent a check. Without a regular book to put out and talk to his readers, he could only send out very occasional emails (months apart) about creeping progress on the work, and any emails I sent him in the meantime were replied to as if I was being a pest. To the best of my knowledge the book was never completed--I certainly never saw a copy, nor a refund. These days, there are much better ways for the artist to remain accountable to his/her supporters, and I think the free market in this arena will reward those who can be relied on to show progress and make good on their promises.

My biggest concern with kickstarter specifically is that I had no idea how much of my High Society donation would go into non-HS costs. I was ignorant at first that Amazon gets a cut, and dismayed to find out that the state and federal gov't get a huge tax slice off the top. On top of that, in this instance at least there's a fair amount of money being consumed by the cost of shipping the physical reward items around the continent. Ultimately it looks like far less than half of my contribution is going to go directly to production of the digital comics. This is dismaying, to say the least. So I am worried about a system that as a consequence actually costs me 2-3 times as much as necessary as before to see a work of comics art made. I feel like a $5 donation to someone's work will trickle down to a dollar or two before it gets in their hands, and I'm unwilling to make a bigger donation if so much of it is going to go elsewhere.


imageShannon Smith

I talked a bit about Kickstarter here.

In response to your questions; I've only contributed to a couple of projects and by contributed I mean just a couple of dollars. I've contributed simply because they were projects I wanted to see happen. Not because of any reward or end product I would end up owning. For example, I wanted there to be a Harvey Pekar statue. I don't personally see kickstarter as an attractive way for me to buy or pre-order products. For one thing, I use paypal for most all of my online purchases and Kickstarter is limited to Amazon which means you are paying with your credit card and Amazon is getting a chunk. I'd rather they not. Another thing I should mention, and this is really petty of me, but people promoting their Kickstarters on and on every day for weeks can be really annoying. So, part of me want's to buy non-Kickstarter books instead out of spite. But that's just me and my tiny black heart. That said, I'm sure I'll eventually participate in more Kickstarters because I want to own the finished products. When I do, it will most likely be for projects where the work is complete and the money is just for publication and distribution. I basically want to see it in pictures or video before I buy.

Which leads to your second question. I guess I just want to see some evidence of the work that has been done and a realistic explanation of the work that is left to be done. Honest information about printing estimates, shipping estimates etc. And that is partially out of curiosity because I self publish but also because I want some reassurance that they know what they are doing. And I don't mind the creators having their profits calculated in there at all. By all means, get yourself paid! Just be honest about it and don't sell it as some woe is me charity case. I'll be a lot more lenient on all of that if I have already held these creator's previous works in my hands. If someone is on a follow up to something I've liked in the past, I may not even read any of the info before throwing in whatever I can spare at that moment. Which, is another thing I'd like to mention. Almost all internet spending of money on my part is impulse spending even if it is just one dollar to a Kickstarter.

And thirdly, it already is a new publishing model. It is crowd funding with a social media feel so it is the money and the marketing at the same time. And that's okay but I wish there was more honesty in it. I see publishers using it not because they need to but because of all the free publicity the get out of it. People have been suckered in and did not even notice that it has been gobbled up as a marketing tool. And the whole comics-blog-internet community plays right along. We get excited about the little guys making a long awaited project come true and then we turn around and let Cyberforce tell us they are using it to launch a free comic. A free Cyberforce comic that is really just a markting tool that is going to cost it's fans $75,000. It is marketing asking to raise $75,000 for marketing. I can't think of an expletive that properly conveys how wrong that is. And it is a fine line. As a crowd funding tool it seems to be a pretty good one. As a free marketing tool, it kind of creeps me out. And maybe my perception has been wrong from the start, but I always felt the point of crowd funding was to make things happen that did not fit in the existing systems. When the existing systems co-opt the crowd funding it gets gross. So, maybe the Kickstarter guys could take a closer look and ask, is this project about raising funds or is it about marketing and maybe turning some of the later down.


Roger Langridge

So first, have any of you contributed to a comics project via kickstarter, indiegogo or similar mechanism?

Yes, I've contributed to a few. For a couple of reasons: (a) because I know the cartoonist and I want to be a good friend and support them, (b) because I really would like a copy the thing that is being funded regardless of any personal connection I have with the cartoonist -- that's more rare, though. The high-end premiums hold zero interest for me; I'm not really interested in paying way over the odds for something just so I can have a print or a T-shirt or my face drawn in the background of page 73. I'll generally only contribute what I think the book is worth, although I tend to err on the side of generosity there.

Second, how would you like to see such crowdfunding projects function going forward? What is the ideal amount of information that these projects should offer? How do you feel about projects that fold in reward for the artist into the payment for which they're asking?

Really, I think the ideal situation is for people to use these mechanisms as a way of pre-ordering the book, purely and simply -- preferably after a fair chunk of the work is already completed, so people can get a reasonable idea of what it is they're buying. If the fundraiser makes more than its target, I'm perfectly fine with the artist keeping the extra money as compensation for their work -- that seems reasonable enough. Desirable, even. I'm not entirely comfortable with contributing to an artist's living costs while they actually produce as-yet-unseen work, unless it's someone with a proven track record and I know in advance that the resulting work will be exceptional (e.g. Jim Woodring). Then I feel like there's no risk; the work will justify it. As far as information goes, it would be nice to know roughly how much will go towards printing costs, how much for promotion etc. -- particularly if the fundraiser is not somebody I know already. In most actual cases, that isn't an issue, because it's somebody I already know.

Third, what worries do you see, if any, in the long-term effects of this type of publishing mechanism?

I think I already see Kickstarter Fatigue kicking in. As much as people argue that it's not "begging" (and I think those arguments are pretty solid when you're talking about using it as a mechanism for pre-ordering a book), when you're constantly inundated by requests to check out this or that Kickstarter project, you feel like you're walking down a street being accosted by bums all asking for a dollar. There's no way you can possibly even look at them all, much less fund them all, so you end up not looking at any of them.

I'm particularly interested in this whole issue right now because I was recently talking to a mid-range, traditional comic-book publisher about doing something with them, and they seemed keen to go - and then they mentioned funding the book through Kickstarter, and I had to wonder what the point of going through them at all was. Because the project I approached them with was conceived with at least one eye towards commercial viability in the direct market. I was expecting one of two reactions - either (a) yes, we'll do it using our traditional model or (b) we won't do it because we don't think it'll find an audience. This third crowdfunding option kind of threw me for a loop, because it seemed to be an admission that they thought my book couldn't make money in the traditional manner. Fair enough; despite my best efforts, I've never done anything even remotely commercially successful, so that's probably a fair perception. But I had to wonder why they expressed any interest in it at all under those conditions.

It seemed to me then that if I were going to use Kickstarter (which I can't, because I don't have a US bank account, but that's another conversation) it ought to be for the kind of project that I couldn't go through a traditional publisher for, one with no compromises for commerce's sake. Or one that I wanted to retain 100% control over, for whatever reason. With the project I was trying to get made in this case, neither of those things would have been true.

So -- all this stuff has been on my mind lately as a consequence.

I should also probably mention that the few people I've discussed this situation with (my wife and a couple of cartoonists I trust) all had the same, negative reaction that I did -- so there's definitely a question of how alliances between crowdfunding and traditional publishing are perceived that needs to be addressed as well, regardless of whether it works on a project-to-project basis or not. I could definitely see a reliance on crowdfunding by a traditional publisher negatively affecting that publisher's reputation in the long term. Maybe for non-traditional publishers as well; the very name "Kickstarter" implies that, after the initial crowd-sourced capital comes in, the thing should have some sort of commercial momentum of its own. If the same people go back to the same backers time after time, I can well imagine those backers just getting fed up and refusing to play any longer.


MK Reed

My views on Kickstarter have changed a little in the past year, but not that much. So it's a tool that under fairly specific circumstances, can be used to pay printing costs, mainly if:

-the book is finished/ very near finished
-it's by an artist with existing & sizable fan base
-it's about a popular premise/subject matter with an existing fanbase
-it's an anthology with several contributors that can each contribute time to promote it

Even amongst most people who support Kickstarters, there's a reluctance to support books and artists in the art production phase, and the supporters seem to be split between a few philanthropists who want to see something happen and a bunch of people who just want to pre-order a book. Part of my reluctance with Kickstarter lies in it being essentially useless towards the creation phase, and I can think of so many creators that I would love to see producing more full-length adult works who are struggling financially and wasting their talents delivering cupcakes or in some corporate gig that is creatively beneath them. I want to see a comic industry strong enough to support the slew of talent it currently contains, and while it helps individuals, I feel that Kickstarter pisses away a lot of energy and efforts that might otherwise support them. Maybe this isn't necessarily a problem with Kickstarter itself, but its existence & failure here makes me pissed off about what could be. Here is a certain hole into which money is being thrust, and it turns out it's the ass instead of the mouth.

There's also the redundancy of making many individuals take on several jobs for each individual's project. The campaigning alone is a huge effort and investment of time, never mind the book production & file prep, shipping of books/rewards, contacting backers, etc. that could be done by basically anyone in a warehouse/ order-fullfilment business. (Like say Amazon, if they wanted to REALLY earn their 5%.) Being a self-publisher is time consuming, and fairly inefficient in terms of labor, because on your own, you either have to learn how to do ten jobs well, or you do them all a bit poorly or incredibly slowly, and then the book looks off because it didn't scan right, or sells badly because you're not a PR wiz, or both. While Kickstarter empowers a project, it does not magically endow a creator with good business sense and practices, or marketing and design skills. This is all labor that can be outsourced to someone who isn't the creative genius - things done perhaps by a publisher, but that also could be built into the budget of any Kickstarter. The thing is, marketers & designers & the other "middle men" know their shit, and can help you sell more books when you're all working in sync. Your book in a handful of stores can maybe sell 1,000 copies, but if you're getting more exposure from, say, a publicist who understands how to write a press release & how to target recipients, you're probably going to sell more books. Not knowing what you're doing on Kickstarter (or without it) might hold you back from where your work can potentially go.

Blah blah blah, get off my lawn.



So first, have any of you contributed to a comics project via kickstarter, indiegogo or similar mechanism? What led you to make that contribution? How much of your decision was about the reward received and how much of it was advocacy or outright disinterested patronage on your part?

Second, how would you like to see such crowdfunding projects function going forward? What is the ideal amount of information that these projects should offer? How do you feel about projects that fold in reward for the artist into the payment for which they're asking?

Third, what worries do you see, if any, in the long-term effects of this type of publishing mechanism?

I'll bite.

In interest of full disclosure, these are the projects I have backed via kickstarter and indiegogo.

For the most part I back creators I already know who are offering a print version of a work I've already seen before. This might be a serial fiction or a serial comic/webcomic already available in part or whole online. The Kickstarters/Indiegogo campaigns tend to be about supporting a print run of those previously available work. Most of the time I will pledge the minimum to obtain a print copy of the work to have on hand. As much as I can tolerate reading things digitally, I am a book geek. I like things in paper. I love smelling the ink. I love having a copy of a work that I can still read if the power goes out or if I'm ever stranded on a deserted island.

For works where I am more than a casual fan, I have gone far beyond the minimum amount to procure a hard copy of a work and supported creators (or small publishers) beyond a minimum level to receive a copy of their work. Sometimes it's because the incentives are compelling. Sometimes it's because I really want to support the creator. They have become more than a "vendor of the stuff I want," but a cause.

At times I will support art books or compilations of a yet to be sampled work from a creator who I have interest in. At times, this may be someone who I generally like as a person or think is interesting as a creator. My interest in these projects is decreasing because honestly my enjoyment of art books tends to be limited as time goes on and, in particular, in "collections" with artists who I feel are often brought together simply because "someone knows someone."

And then there have been a few projects that have been outright donations. I admit to donating to a few folks who I never heard of before the pitch, or who I might have heard of in passing from a friend or relative. The pitch or circumstances being described were compelling enough to motivate me to donate what I could. (These largely have been less about comics or books, but towards installations or other efforts that I felt were more cause oriented. These are the cases where I kind of don't care about what I get back. Rare, but they do exist.)

With respect to your second question, I do admit that my satisfaction with Kickstarters has become rather mixed. I probably won't be funding perceived vanity projects in the future or any creators who appear to be using crowdsourcing as a regular and repeated means of financing their work. I feel that many creators who have multiple successes with Kickstarter or Indiegogo and branch out to presales or another model that falls in line with other small business models. (In other words, take profits from one project and invest in the next.) As a regular Kickstarter/Indiegogo sponsor, my preference is to spread what little capital I have to help other artists, encourage them, and hope they too give back to the community moving forward.

For projects where I have no track record with the creator and have to "gamble" on the output being completed or produced, I will listen to the pitch, look at the costs and business plan, and then decide if and how much to donate. The creator's track record or "celebrity" does influence whether I participate in the campaign and the amount I contribute. Generally I will only give what I feel I can lose.

As for projects that fold in a reward to the artist, I have to tell you that these types of projects make me pause. So far, I don't think I've donated to any projects like that because waiting many months for the reward is frustrating and risky. I realize that statement might anger artists who feel like they deserve to be paid for the work they put in. But I have to say that when I have the choice to support artists who already have completed or are nearly complete with something and can reward within a few months, I strongly prefer to risk my money in projects that are close to delivering their product. This is because I have no means of recouping anything I invested in these campaigns if the artist fails to deliver. Kickstarter absolves itself of all responsibility in these circumstances and Paypal certainly isn't going to return my money if we move beyond the 3 month period of time in which you have to make claims.

Would I support projects that fold in reward? Possibly. Again, this comes down to the transparency of the business plan (i.e., costs, amount back to self). I want the creator to be clear on what they're doing. If I suspect that many of their rewards are being padded and don't know the creator as an honest and credible person, I'll probably choose to invest in other projects.

Your last question about long-term concerns is interesting. As a consumer, I suppose fatigue might already be seeping in, but like any other "platform" in which there is an oversaturation of requests/marketing, I'll simply adjust. I suspect I'll eventually tune out the myriad of Kickstarter pleas/links and focus more selectively on creators I already have an established history with. And as creators keep returning to Kickstarter over and over, I will probably give less and less to repeat campaigners.

In terms of industry -- well I tend to side with consumers as well as independent content creators. My feeling is that it's done a lot of good for the independent creators who have been already sacrificing years of time putting out content for free. I think the amazing success stories should be noted by the established publishing world who has effectively controlled what the consumer gets in recent years. I'm pleased to see many independent (web)comics and works of fiction success in crowdfunding. I hope that the content consumers also continue to support the projects they like, if anything, to make sure that our votes with dollars are clearly seen and observed by those who have otherwise been in control of the market up to now. For this reason alone, I hope platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo don't become burdened down by projects that fail to deliver.



posted 3:00 pm PST | Permalink

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