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Kickstarter: Does It Even Matter What You Sell?

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This recent Kickstarter that I did with Neil Gaiman (my husband) went really well, and I've definitely taken some education from it.

Here's the project:

We raised $133,341 of a stated $20,000 goal, though we knew we were setting a fairly achievable target.

Setting the "funding goal" was an interesting consideration. The actual amount of capital we needed was really pretty minimal -- this project was basically a CD and poster pre-order, so I decided $20k was a good number to shoot for -- it wasn't greedy and it wasn't ridiculously low. (Though, one thing I'd really love to know is how this project would have done if Neil or I had simply sold it as a pre-order on one of our websites... I have the feeling that we would have seen less than half the business.) There's just something magical about Kickstarter, the way it's set up, and the fact that everyone is using it as a common platform by which to do crowd-funding businesses. You immediately feel like you're part of a larger club of art-supporting fanatics.

I also think this campaign added a huge awareness to the tour itself (we launched the Kickstarter before the tickets for the tour itself went on sale). Portland and San Fran both sold out within a matter of minutes. I don't think all these folks would have known about the show if they hadn't already been seeing the buzz around the Kickstarter. It bodes incredibly well for the cross-promo possibilities of pre-ordering music and touring - if you time it right.

And as far as I'm concerned, once something becomes a common verb ("Hey dude, aren't you guys working on a new record?" "Yeah, we Kickstartered it last month, and we go into the studio next week"), it's a done deal. We don't search, we google. And from now on, we don't crowd-fund, we Kickstarter. Massive props to them for choosing a way less stupid word than "Google" -- which still makes me cringe. 

In the pitfall "well-we-learned-for-next-time" department, we should have been a little clearer with some of our wording. We had some wording in the general description of the project saying that this Kickstarter would provide people with "first crack at tickets" for the upcoming tour.... And people misinterpreted that to mean that ALL the Kickstarter supporters would have some sort of advantage over the general public when tickets went on sale. Not true: we'd been referring to the fact that you could pre-purchase high-level tickets as part of the Kickstarter bundles (there were packages at $250 where you could purchase a VIP ticket on-the-spot), all the other bundles were also available to the general public. That caused some confusion. We tried to alleviate it by adding a second show in San Fran (where most of the complaints were coming from) and giving the Kickstarter supporters the heads up before we announced the show and ticket details to the general public. That took the edge off a little, I hope.

One thing that I've been noticing about Kickstarter, and that was confirmed when I went in and had a meeting with the folks who work there, was that many people WANT TO SUPPORT and will simply SUPPORT AT THEIR DESIRED LEVEL, regardless of what's being offered. Often people will decline to even give their T-shirt size when Kickstarter sends the follow-up email -- they didnt' want the shirt, they simply wanted to donate $100 and that level came with a shirt... and they already own 200 black T-shirts, they don't need another one. This is fascinating.

I also noted that my friend Sxip Shirey had THE MOST VAGUE BUNDLES in the history of Kickstarter: bascially for $25 you got his CD plus "a really cool surprise", for $50 you got "a REALLY REALLY cool surprise" and for $500 you got a MINDBLOWING SURPRISE. And you know what? It totally worked. People donated across the board at all levels. This confirms my ongoing theory that people LOVE helping artists and are willing to go along for the ride with the artist at the steering wheel. I can't wait to see what Sxip sends me in the fucking mail, by the way.


initiated Oct 10, 2011 in Lessons Learned by amanda palmer (510 points)   3 5 6

5 Responses

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I said I would update this thread to let you how our home grown concert kickstarter project has been going.

After one successful campaign that resulted in me flying to Sweden to a lovely house-gig in front of a really warm crowd, with no financial risk (thanks to the prepaid tickets), we now have 15 concerts set up in May/June that are mostly all related to the kickstarter site.

Once our fans heard about the site, although many of them weren't willing to prepay for a ticket to a hypothetical concert, they were all more than willing to help us set up a tour. We were even contacted by a booking agent who offered to help us book some shows in Spain!

By using the postcodes we have been collecting over the past 3 years for people downloading or buying our music, we were able to get more people involved (by targeting specific cities). Some offered to organise a concert, others offered to put us in touch with venues and little by little we were able to pencil in some dates.

By explaining how touring works, we were able to demonstrate to our fans that we are willing to hit the road and play shows, but that we needed a little help to make it work.
response added Apr 26, 2012 by Andy Richards (1,100 points)   4 8 14
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FWIW, I cared in the sense that I want to hear the recording on CD.  I distrust digital downloads still, because there are so many opportunities for incompatibility, DRM, etc (I use a free software system, so occasionally there are roadblocks). Also I worry about accidentally deleting the download or something.

However, I do decide how much I'm willing to spend on a project, and I look for a bundle that has the minimum that I want (in this case the CD), and then I'll view any extras as goodwill.

I paid about $50-$60 for a copy of  "Sintel", and that's obviously above the going rate for a full-length DVD (let alone a 15-minute short), although to be fair, the "Sintel" set is a 4-disk set with interviews, tutorials, and source code (but will I use these things? Hard to say -- if not, then they are just tokens).

Also, getting in early, I got a "pre-sale sponsor" credit in the film, which definitely functions as a token. It's sort of tangible proof that I participated in the funding for the project.

The big reason for giving, though, is the leverage. Because you know that funding will not proceed unless enough money is raised to produce the work, you know you aren't throwing money away.

You're paying your share for a digital work you want to see (or hear, in this case).  That's a simplified version of "rational street performer protocol" -- essentially a "matching funds" system with very high leverage. That doesn't feel like charity, it feels like cooperative economics -- I'll put in $X, but only if 99 other people will too, so then each of my dollars is worth $100 in the end. When you can get 100:1 or 1000:1 leverage, you feel _good_ about contributing -- it's like they say about open source software, "You give a brick, you get a house in return."
response added Oct 14, 2011 by Terry Hancock (1,000 points)   3 4 10
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We've been giving the whole crowdfunding thing a lot of thought, especially for touring, as it is really expensive. The financial risk of booking tickets, renting vans, taking time off work makes without knowing how much you're going to earn (or lose in most cases) makes it really difficult to tour more than a week per year at our level.

So this is really valuable feedback. The thing I'm really interested is Amanda's statement that she believes they wouldn't have raised as much money if they had done it on their own site. 

Kickstarter looks like a really great platform but there's no major issue with them as far as we're concerned. It's for US residents only. I mean, they'll take money from anyone, from anywhere in the world, but they won't let people outside of the US set up a fundraising campaign on their site. I'm sure there are reasons for this, but it's still rather frustrating. 

So we've been looking for alternatives. We just found a company who are developing a wordpress plugin that enables you to build your own crowdfunding site. They're called Ignition Deck and they're using the beta version of their own platform to fund the release of their software. Go check them out, they're really great people and are definitely worth supporting!

They've offered to work with us to help us launch our fundraising campaign, which we'll be setting up over the next few weeks. In our case, the campaign will be run directly from our website, so we won't have access to all the art fanatics on Kickstarter! So I hope for our sake that Amanda is wrong and we'll be able to make this work without the help of Kickstarter maniacs!!! 

I'll come back and post our results in a few months!

response added Oct 21, 2011 by Andy Richards (1,100 points)   4 8 14
We just launched
Wish us luck!
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I love the idea that it doesn't even matter what you're selling when you do some crowdfunding projects.  But I do wonder if that depends on the project and/or fanbase.  I definitely could see it working with artists who already have a big fanbase, but I do wonder if that works on the up-and-comers.

Still, I love Sxip's setup because it highlights both the value of true fans who will absolutely support you no matter what (and having seen Sxip perform, I can see how he ends up with hugely dedicated fans!), but also it shows how much those fans (including Amanda) trust Sxip to provide a MINDBLOWING SURPRISE when he promises one.

It's an area I'd love to explore more at some point: the role of trust in all of this.  If you can build up a trusted relationship, you can accomplish a ton of useful things...

response added Oct 13, 2011 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
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Right, this is my umpteenth attempt to post this (from about three different systems) so apologies if it's a bit more terse than my usual replies.

I understand Ginger from the Wildhearts has recently done something similar and crowd-funded his latest album. A number of people at work have been discussing it on our internal forum (we're quite advanced like that) and one quote that stood out for me was "I just love being a part of this project!"

Unsurprisingly this was from a dyed-in-the-wool fan but the point was that this guy would probably have funded the project irrespective of what rewards were offered.

Similary I recently decided to lob some money towards Christopher Baldwin's Spacetrawler comic campaign. Having read the strips since they started appearing (and enjoyed his previous stuff) I'd decided to lob $50 in but, given the cost of international shipping, I hadn't expected to get anything back. Hence it was an added bonus that for another $10 I could get actually get a copy of both books.

Which I think just goes to show that some fans will contribute whatever, but with a bit of effort you can get them to contribute more.

Now if only kickstarter worked for the UK as well :¬(
response added May 10, 2012 by drew stephenson (3,370 points)   3 10 22

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