E-Literate: Is Crowdfunding Out of Control?

How will you fund your next project? Photo Courtesy: Louish Pixel
How will you fund your next project? Photo Courtesy: Louish Pixel

By Ethan Harmon 

We all know Kickstarter. You have a project, but you don’t have the money, so you upload your project idea, how much cash you need, explain what the money will be used for and people donate to help fund your campaign. It’s a great idea, and there have been many successful campaigns funded. And, if you decided to pitch in some of your cash to a campaign, you will be rewarded with swag from those conducting the project. It’s a win-win, right? Eh. Lately, as I have browsed through various Kickstarter campaigns, and other crowd-funded projects, I’m starting to see a negative trend. I started asking myself if this phenomenon getting a little out of hand.

Look, I see the appeal of a Kickstarter. I really do. I even planned to do one myself to start up a new comic book. It’s an easy way to push a potentially expensive project in the direction it needs to go. But, I ultimately decided to try my luck with this new comic by going a different route instead of using a crowd-funded platform, and here’s why:

Incentives are ridiculous. For these campaigns, you have to essentially give prizes to those who donate, regardless of how much. You need to set up tiers of prizes, i.e. five bucks gets you this special swag, and twenty gets you this better thing. The incentives need to be accounted for in your donation goal. If you need two grand to make a novel, you need to add more to your donation goal in order to pay for the special prizes that you have promised your donators. You will need extra money to create and ship these prizes. Oh, and don’t forget: ten percent of what you make goes to Kickstarter, so add that to the budget as well.

Speaking of which, most people don’t really care much about your dreams, goals, campaign or whatever. Many will donate to simply get some awesome, “one of a kind” prize from you. If you don’t have anything special lined up for them, then good luck completing your goal. Worse, social media will not help you too much, unless you completely and effectively advertise your campaign. A lot of people will simply dismiss or ignore your stuff.

If you cannot get the proper attention, your campaign is doomed to fail. To add to the grief and struggle of launching and completing a successful campaign, you have to now compete with celebrities (depending on your medium/project) who are also pressing their very own projects. Zack Braff and Spike Lee have caught a lot of flak for utilizing Kickstarter, and for good reason. They have money. They have connections. And now, they are asking you to pitch in and give them a little extra dough. Though they received a lot of criticism, they still completed their campaigns and finished their projects. And it’s not limited to movies. Famous comic book writers, novelists and others have taken their ideas to the Kickstarter arena to combat your project for attention. And you know what? They will get all the attention and complete their campaigns, while you beg for money and fight for someone’s time.

And who places restrictions on those in charge of the projects? John Campbell, the creator of the webcomic Pictures for Sad Children launched a successful campaign and made over $50,000 to print and distribute his work. He took a long time to send his incentives to the backers and they got angry, spamming his inbox with emails asking for their prizes. And you know what he did? He burned their prizes. I’m not joking. Everyone who sent an angry or annoyed email got to see their incentives, and fundamentally, their money, burn. He then proceeded to blog some angry, self-indulgent, “I am an artist and woe is me” crap to justify his actions. And nothing happened. People were pissed, he had their money, they didn’t get their stuff and he kept doing whatever the hell he was doing (printing and distributing, right?). What’s to stop someone else from doing some equally infuriating and crazy stuff after they have received their payment? Who is going to stop “Steve the Director” from flushing a bunch of flash drives with his short film down the toilet?

And these are my issues with crowdfunding right now. I want to believe I can launch my project and receive the proper backing for it. I want to believe people will see it, actually care about it and send money. But, as of right now, I just don’t see the point. Competing for attention, rewarding the donors as if I am PBS and pulling my hair out trying to budget the project just doesn’t seem worth it to me. I’m sure there will be a better way to launch a crowdfunded project soon. Maybe there already is a better way (Indiegogo seems promising). Right now, I just don’t see it. If you are launching a campaign and you need the attention, money, whatever else, I wish the best of luck and hope you achieve your goal. I’m going to push my projects my way, staying away from the crowdfunding, for now.