Noah J Nelson on Thursday, May. 9th
There has been a lot, and I mean a LOT of digital ink spilled on the issue of "who Kickstarter is for" in the past few weeks. Ever since actor-director Zack Braff turned to the crowdfunding site looking to fund his followup to the indie hit Garden State.
The essential complaint: that Kickstarter was created with the specific intent of being for unknowns to rise up from obscurity and get their work funded.
Today no less than the founders of Kickstarter have finally weighed in with a gentle "you don't know what you're talking about".
Before we get into their peace, let's look at the other side of the argument.
One of the most recent and well-spread polemics against "richers muscling in on the little guys" was from TV writer Ken Levine:
This is what Hollywood does, dear reader. It sees an opportunity for exploitation and takes it. The Sundance Film Festival is another prime example. At one time it showcased modest little movies by unknown filmmakers. Kevin Smith made CLERKS – a grimy black and white film starring all unknowns. The result was discovered talent.Now look at the festival…Sundance is a lost cause. But Kickstarter isn’t. Not if we put a stop to this now.
Levine–an industry vet with credits that include M.A.S.H. and Cheers–has an old-school, scarcity model outlook on this process.
The Kickstarter founders, in their post today, see crowdfunding with a different generation's eyes:
Kickstarter is a new way for creators to bring their projects to life. Not through commerce, charity, or investment — through a new model powered by a willing audience. The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects offered backers tickets to the premiere, cameos in the movie, access to the creative process, and other experiences in exchange for pledges. Fans were thrilled, and 100,000 people jumped on board.
According to the founders high visibility projects have a positive effect on the overall ecosystem:
The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects have brought tens of thousands of new people to Kickstarter. 63% of those people had never backed a project before. Thousands of them have since gone on to back other projects, with more than $400,000 pledged to 2,200 projects so far. Nearly 40% of that has gone to other film projects.
We've seen this happen before. Last year we wrote a post called Blockbuster Effects that detailed the same phenomenon in the Games and Comics categories. Two big projects brought tons of new people to Kickstarter who went on to back more than 1,000 other projects in the following weeks, pledging more than $1 million. Projects bring new backers to other projects. That supports our mission too.
Writers like Levine, and at least one project creator I know, still believe that "Kickstarter is for the little guy". That it is inherently "indie" in nature.
Set aside the fact that founder Yancey Strickler is on record that the cancelation of Arrested Development was part of the inspiration for Kickstarter. That doesn't matter. What matters is that the perception that crowdfunding is only for start-ups persists.
At least that perception remains in the film vertical. It has faded somewhat in the games section. No one complains when an established video or paper game developer earns $100K in an hour.
When Kickstarter first appeared, I thought that crowdfunding was the solution to the "indie problem". That it would fill in the gap that lackluster arts funding here in the U.S. creates. That a creator with big dreams could be rescued from the cycle of debt and frustration and find their 1000 True Fans with ease.
I've come to believe that crowdfunding can help do this–minus the ease part.
Yet crowdfunding is a tool with much broader uses. Nor can this tool on its own solve the central problem that independent projects face: finding an audience. If anything crowdfunding makes the struggle more clear, and shows that creators who build their audience up methodically can receive great support with a modicum of effort at the moment of the ask.
Folks who are looking for a magic bullet should start figuring out ways to fill in the other missing pieces of the indie puzzle. The cat is out of the bag on crowdfunding and the corporations are coming. Even if they weren't the "indie problem" doesn't go away just because we can fund a project without credit cards, foreign investors, rich uncles or questionably legal schemes.
Will the champions of indie who have torn their hair out over the audacity of Zack Braff start building tools to help smaller projects on any platform find community support? Or will they just cry into their gluten-free craft beers?
I hope to God it's the former, because gluten-free beer sucks.
Follow Noah Nelson on Twitter (@noahjnelson)