Image via Kickstarter

Close Reading: Kickstarter’s ‘By The Numbers’ Illustrates A Weak Point

on Monday, Jan. 5th

Kickstarter—whose brand name is synonymous with crowdfunding— released an annual “By the Numbers” post today, covering 2014.

There’s some big numbers thrown up amidst the charts and graphs: over half a billion dollars ($529 million to be more specific) was pledged with 22,252 projects getting successfully funded last year.

What I instantly wanted to know was how did Kickstarter do in 2014 compared to it’s own reporting of 2013. Luckily those numbers are still with us, along with the 2012 numbers just for good measure.

Total Take

$529 million – 2014

$480 million – 2013

$319 million – 2012

In terms of total dollars the trend line is still up for Kickstarter, with the platform pulling in $49 million more than it did last year. However that’s much less than the $161 million jump from 2012 to 2013.

Of course 2013 was considered the year the Kickstarter “arrived.” It was the year of Oculus Rift and Oscar nominations. the year that Kickstarter and crowdfunding went from a “huh” to an “oh, yeah” for the mainstream media.

Projects Funded

22,252 – 2014

19,911 – 2013

18,109 – 2012

There’s better news for growth in the number of projects that successfully funded. The total is up for 2014 by 2,614 over the previous year. The jump from 2012 to 2013 was just 1,802 so that means that even though the cash isn’t growing as fast the breadth of funding is getting larger, faster.

Total Backers

3.3 million – 2014

3 million – 2013

2.24 million – 2012

Once gains the numbers look slow but steady, suggesting that crowdfunding has found a natural growth groove.

There is, however, another number that Kickstarter released that is setting off some warning bells: the platform claims that 2,202,171 million people were first time backers in 2014. That’s almost as many people are there were backers in 2012 in total. Yet the total number of backers hasn’t exactly grown exponentially.

Here are two other numbers of interest, when gaging the size of crowdfunding as a phenomenon in and of itself:

773,824 people backed more than one project

71,478 people backed more than 10 projects

Those are lifted straight from the “By The Numbers” report for this year. That, more than anything else, shows the size of the “Kickstarter community” as an entity separate from the individual projects.

What this means for crowdfunding as a whole depends on if you think that the platforms are vital in and of themselves or if you think that all of the focus should be on individual projects. The thing is: these numbers suggest that the power of the network effect that can be leveraged for small and mid-sized projects is leveling off.

I’ve long been aware that each campaign is essentially out there on their own, but I was hoping that over time the network effect would lift more boats faster as a community of dedicated crowdfunding enthusiasts emerged. 71,478 people isn’t bad, but both of the numbers above—more than one and more than 10 projects backed—are down from 2013 (807,733 and 81,090 respectively). They are still up, significantly, from 2012 (570,672 and 50,047, again, respectively) but when coupled with the flux of backers overall it shows that the vast majority of people only flirt with crowdfunding.

Which is fine, unless you harbor any lasting dreams of seeing industries turned upside-down by crowd driven initiatives.

The numbers are far from a reason to panic, however. The splash that Patreon made in 2014—$10 million raised for creators, a 3,761 percent increase from the previous year—shows that there is significant juice to be wrung out of the crowdfunding concept as a whole. The Kickstarter numbers, however, suggest that a natural equilibrium may have been found already, and that success has a hell of a lot more to do with the popularity of a given project or creator than it ever will with the strength of a platform.

What forms it will take over the long run are still up for vigorous debate.

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