Crowdsourcing My Angst

I have a problem with crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter.

Crowdsourcing has not only turned funding for artistic endeavors on its head, it’s removed one very important part of the equation: the people taking a big part of the risk don’t get to share in the rewards. Oh, I understand that the reward is that they get to see a product or piece of art they otherwise might not have (and please don’t say they definitely wouldn’t have; at least half the stuff on Kickstarter these days is things that existed before that site did in one form or another), but they also paid for it. In many cases they overpaid for it, especially compared to the old model.

Consider: I’ve personally kicked in on a couple games and considered kicking in on a few books. The rewards are pretty standard for these things. Below a certain threshold you get a thank-you somewhere, usually on the front page (maybe the welcome screen), although maybe it’s on the back page. Once you get up to the effective retail value of the product, you get a “free” copy. Imagine that. Sometimes around the $15 mark they throw in a t-shirt, which gets rolled in as you hit the next mark that exceeds “current prize retail value + $15”. After a certain point the costs get exceptionally high and the rewards get extremely intangible,  such as “lunch with the creators”, but I’m actually okay with those; you can’t really put a price on something like that beyond “whatever the market will bear”, so let ’em get what they can. But here’s one thing they don’t offer: a piece of the action.

Here’s the thing that writers, artists, and lots of other creative types don’t seem to understand. It’s not just that publishers are putting forward the printing presses, the marketing machine, and all the other work they do on your behalf to get your work sold that you think you don’t need them for anymore, and hey, maybe you don’t. The other reason they get a cut of the profits is because of the advance – they loaned you the money you already spent so you could keep body and soul together, and it wasn’t the kind of loan you get from a friend and “I’ll pay you back whenever”. This was a business loan, and it accumulates interest. The interest gets paid in profits, and if there are no profits, you lucked out because they are willing to eat the loss – this time (although they probably won’t take your calls next time).

I understand that at least for Kickstarter there are rules against allowing people to buy into the company, and if I understand the situation correctly this has to do largely with government regulations (no, I am not just trying to sneak in my favorite hobby horse, you can look this up). It has something to do with FTC regulations, unless I miss my guess entirely. But even if there were no government restrictions, I’m not sure the folks who run the site would even allow that sort of thing, because from what I have read (not that I’ve read a lot about them, but there was one article in Time) it would violate their philosophy; the site is there to promote art, not business. Which is fine as a philosophy, but impossible to maintain in reality once you introduce filthy lucre into the equation.

I’d also be more okay with it if their definition of what was an acceptable creative project weren’t so expansive as to be effectively meaningless. Everything from 24-hour dance projects to video game controllers to a bike tire pressure system are projects on the site, in addition to comic books and novels and music and just about anything else. Some of this might never be able to achieve funding if it had to prove being profitable, but some if it easily could, and either way I almost feel like some of it should have to. We already have enough junk products (does the world really need another Slap Chop?), and I can’t help but believe much of the manufactured pieces coming through here will end up being the same. Is it so much to ask that the people who throw in their hard earned dollars get more than a virtual thank you card while the people who make the product get to use someone else’s money to see their dream through?

Maybe it doesn’t seem like much – $1 here, $5 there – but it adds up. And if I could get ten thousand random people across the internet to kick in just $5, I could take off the next year and finally write that novel I’ve been dreaming about, My Not So Humble America. I’d even offer an autographed picture of myself at the $20 level. And just like that, even if I never sell a single copy, I just made enough money to live on for a year in one of the most expensive cities in the world. If the book takes off, I’m even richer, and all it cost me was a few autographed photos.

You know what? Forget everything I said about Kickstarter. It’s the best site ever. And be sure to keep an eye out for my new Kickstarter campaign, coming your way soon.


One Comment on “Crowdsourcing My Angst”

  1. Praveen says:

    That sort of realization happens to me also…well I have not used kickstarter (as I am not employed right now…)..:P.

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