I offered my analysis of why Rich Berlew's Kickstarter project was doing so well, to one of my many editors, when Rich had raised $100K. When the editor passed and Rich's project (hereinafter OOTS) hit $200K I decided to post my analysis on the secret blog you're reading right now. And Rich closed at $1.25M, which was a record for a comics-related project and in the top ten overall (at the time).
Now Amanda Palmer is on Kickstarter again, heading towards a finish of at least $1M three days from now. I don't need to write about Amanda's project because everyone is. Here's a nuanced discussion between Alan Wexelblat and Neil Gaiman (first comment) as an example of the more intelligent analysis out there.
What do these two campaigns, AFP's and OOTS', have in common?
- Both artists have many years' history of connecting directly with fans, growing their fanbase over time, while remaining authentic, not letting fame go to their heads, and continuing to provide self-funded art.
- Both of these Kickstarters were/are essentially selling unique merchandise (some of it digital) to backers. The creators are obsessed with quality and have been sharing with us the details of how they're making stuff, rejecting versions that aren't satisfying and so on. They have a history of professionalism and they convinced us the rewards were going to be in the tradition of quality that they had already established.
- Unlike the "usual" Kickstarter, they provided lots of entertainment and bonus content throughout the funding period.
- Both of these artists will break even on the Kickstarters per se ... if they're careful. Accountants and lawyers get involved; spreadsheets have to be wielded. Here's one of Rich's posts on breaking even: of the first half million, $200K went to postage! Here's one of Amanda's posts on the same subject. This income is taxable. Kickstarter and Amazon take noticeable slices. Kickstarter doesn't let projects charge directly for shipping. Et cetera.
- This isn't about getting rich (because they'll spend almost every dime fulfilling the orders); it's about making it possible for many more people to experience their work, bringing in new fans, and continuing their careers at a much higher level...
- This has been fun for us fans. Rich's fans partied on his backers' board (continually refreshing, late into the night, around the world, as he threw down new rewards in the last few hours); Amanda's tend to use Twitter and earlier today got to see a live interview with a performance of a new song during which she bled on the piano keys. As fans we've been able to enjoy the self-forming networks that have grown up around the Kickstarter projects; relationships and collaborations have begun...
If you have all the preceding in place, you can do likewise. But most artists don't have all these pieces in place.
Amanda's live webcast from the Media Lab was shredded by advertising
Today's live webcast was frustrating because it kept dropping off and on, and because every time it flickered on/off (and sometimes when it didn't) I had to watch an advertisement. The lumosity (brain games) ad was the first one that was skippable (1 of 2 ads skippable in a three hour stretch; the other was a pretty funny credit union ad, which appeared several times) and the only one with a female narrator. (How are the ads chosen? Grrrr USTREAM. Suggest capability to choose ads that actually appeal to the people viewing? Allow me the option of paying to not see them? Because in my browser they interrupted the climax of The Bed Song; I can imagine no harsher criticism.)
Added later: I've broadcast on USTREAM myself (to a Share the Care group, not the general public) and I admire the way its service handles a wide variety of target devices. USTREAM Pro levels allow stream providers to send out content ad-free. Sean Francis (@indeciSEAN) says I can buy credits (as a viewer) to remove them and I'm so doing that for Thursday!
Having said that, it was great to hear Joi Ito's take on the Media Lab's mission (which has morphed over time, of course, so this is his version after 1 year as director), and see some of the latest projects with Amanda explaining how she'd like to use them...
"I want to have a show where everybody holds hands and I get to play every member of the audience as instruments!"
...and playing four songs live, one of them brand new to me (and during the songs ads came on randomly and frequently). There may be a full archived version somewhere, but until there is, search twitter for #AFPatMIT; Amanda's team will eventually be providing a more complete list of URLs.
Amanda's most interesting question was...
...if there are excellent artists out there who are introverts (except Amanda said, "not manaically social" the way she is, but I'm translating that to INTROVERTS because introverts rock - this is their century - we need deep thinking now as never before), do they "have a hope"? Do artists who are less full-on with the public than Rich and Amanda need new intermediaries to help them reach out to fans (so the artists won't have to go through the dying dinosaur artmachines any more)?
This is a great question and I see myself as part of the solution, but let's go on to...
Provocative AFP quotations (excerpted from the Kickstarter updates)
"we are committed to doing amazing things for all of you who pledged. sure, it’s going to cost more to make things extra fancy (and for us to ship things for FREE all over the world), but making this stuff amazing IS THE POINT. if i skimped on making the packaging and actual products INCREDIBLE, i’d be an idiot."
"...a LOT of our income for the next year WON’T COME from this kickstarter. it’ll come gradually, over the following year: from the touring show, from the merchandise we sell on the road, from money we get in donations when i make the tracks available online, from the money i get from iTunes from the people who are sometimes lazy (like me), and so forth. it’ll be a slow burn, like it always is."
"i’ve been running my life this way for years, bouncing up and down financially and just making sure i always had enough money to do WHAT I WANTED, and do it RIGHT...
...it may be what makes me different, fundamentally, from a lot of pop artists. i’m almost never looking at the monetary bottom line, i’m always looking at the creative bottom line. the happiness index of my life and creative self, not the amount of dough i’ll have in the bank at the end of a project."
"if i wind up truly loaded someday, it means i’ll probably buy an abandoned church somewhere and turn it into a free 24-hour circus brunch bar for everybody. cross your fucking fingers. we’ll all win."
"you can't crowdfund without a crowd"
"it makes me cringe to read in the press that people have 'donated $600k to amanda palmer's kickstarter.' that makes it seem like i'm getting away like a bandit. as you can see above, i have to PAY for and manufacture (and pay the staff to help me create) all the products that are for sale. it's almost as ridiculous as newsweek proclaiming that "people donated over $56 million dollars to apple in order to own the new iPhone 4G". that would sound DUMB. this is a marketplace. an art marketplace, but still. it's a real exchange. i have A Thing (it's A Weird Thing, but still) and people are buying it....via the vehicle of kickstarter."
"you know that 10,000 hours theory? i've spent more than 10,000 hours connecting with my fans, figuring out how to be with them. so i'm an expert in them."
"runaway projects on kickstarter that are offering a gadget, like the pebble watch (which has funded over 10 million on kickstarter) don't need FANS. they just need CONSUMERS who want their product. but artists and musicians need REAL supporters. people who believe in their work and want to lift them up, who want to see them succeed and want to own a physical piece of the history that goes along with it. i think this is a subject for a longer blog someday, but you get the gist."
"the music business for years has seen the fanbase as a bunch of faceless consumers who were going to have to be TRICKED into parting with their cash. whereas i see them as people who love art and want to help. attitude is everything."
Many of us have been watching AFP for years, from way before Losers of Friday Night On Their Computers (link is down right now). For the full glory of her pronouncements, go to the Kickstarter page and read the updates in reverse order. There will be a street party in Brooklyn on Thursday night as she heads to the finish line. I'll be watching the webcast and ranting as usual; hope to see you there!