As we've discussed before, one benefit of crowd-funded programs like Kickstarter is the massive amount of market research you can gather from potential customers. Whether the project is unsuccessful, or whether you're the ridiculously successful Double Fine, the feedback you get can assist with everything from wooing other investors to building new ideas into your product. Making the latter even more useful, Kickstarter-style projects can actually let you do this kind of thing on the fly, building in features based on backer feedback, resulting in an ultimately more appealing end-product for the largest number of customers.
“One of the cool things is we have the opportunity to think about it and address it because we brought it to the community,” says [Double Fine's Brad] Muir, suddenly grinning. “We brought it to a broader group of people, and then there were some people who brought it up and wanted to talk about it. There’s a raging thread on our forums.”
So hurrah, hugs and well-muscled sexytimes for all. This, Muir figures, is the optimal outcome. Everybody wins, and then they all get married.
The coupling of Kickstarter's platform and Double Fine's actions is the very blueprint of CwF+RtB. If you can manage to check any ideological feelings about gay marriage at the door, from either side of the debate, this is pure market feedback resulting in a product more potential customers desire. Muir notes that they didn't preclude gay marriage in their game consciously. It simply never came up. Comments on their project alerted them to this, as well as providing a clear desire from many gamers that this kind of option be included, so they went back and put it in. More notable, Muir seems to think this all would have gone much differently under a more traditional, game-publisher route.
“If we had gone with a publisher on this, I really think [it wouldn't have ended well]. Because you sign the deal, you go underground, you start working on the game, you don’t talk to the community or anybody, and you get so focused on all these other aspects of the game. Just making it work – and all the tactical combat and mechanical things. We might just overlook something like same-sex coupling all the way until we announce the game. And then people say, ‘Hey, what about gay marriage?’ And we’re like, ‘Fuck,’ because we’ve already worked on it for more than a year.”
In other words, this is a direct result of connecting with their fans. And, by being proactive about it, they avoid the kind of mess that other games have had when their stance on the subject is vague. So, regardless of your politics, we should all be applauding Double Fine's ability to listen, engage, and react to the feedback they get from their customers. Is it any wonder they have been so massively successful?
There's just something really cool about things that glow in the dark. It's even more breathtaking when the glowing originates from living creatures, like fireflies or deep sea fish. While nature uses bioluminescence for purposes such as attracting mates (or prey), humans seem to be more interested in bioengineering plants or animals that glow by using fluorescent proteins from organisms that produce them naturally. Here are some examples of what people are doing with fluorescent proteins.
A lot of the attention given to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms these days has been spurred by the big runaway success stories — the Pebble smartwatch, the Double Fine Adventure, Amanda Palmer's project, and many others that exceeded their fundraising goals in the first few days and kept on climbing. The phenomenon is not limited to these multi-million dollar examples: countless smaller projects have shot past their more modest goals multiple times over.
Whether it's a $500 project that raises $10,000 or a $100,000 project that raises millions, the result for the creator is the same: a stunning success that has the potential to turn into a crisis or an even bigger opportunity, depending on how they handle it.
That's the other side of the double-edged sword that is success on Kickstarter, and it often gets ignored. If you're a creator with a product in the pipeline — whether it's software, hardware, an album, a film or anything else that takes time and work — and your plan is to raise some money while piloting it out to a few hundred people, suddenly having hundreds of thousands of paying customers on your hands can be more daunting than exciting.
Not only does the challenge of order fulfillment become much bigger and more complex (this is where a lot of campaigns fall down), there's also the issue of managing so many expectations. Hundreds of wall comments and private messages (some less polite and more demanding than others) start arriving, all while you're trying to finish the actual work. And that starts the moment the campaign picks up steam — meaning the actual money often won't be arriving for weeks.
A big part of the problem is the relatively lackluster backer management tools found on Kickstarter and similar services. Communication is a huge part of running a successful campaign, since things are bound to go wrong, but backers are almost always understanding as long as they aren't left in the dark. Runaway success projects — or at least the ones that still deliver — tend to move beyond Kickstarter for the hard work of customer management: they take the discussion to their own forums, they set up their own mailing lists and customer request systems, and they move more and more communication to more robust platforms (Kickstarter only offers blog-esque updates and an inflexible survey system). Apart from ensuring that a project delivers its goals on time, there's the fact that most crowdfunding campaigns are also about starting a business, which means hopefully converting lots of backers into repeat customers.
Ultimately, the success of crowdfunding campaigns seems to come down to how well the creators build and manage a community — and currently the crowdfunding platforms themselves can only play a small part in that.
Last week, in writing about the silly backlash to Zach Braff's successful Kickstarter project, we noted that he claimed he had the data that showed his success did not take away from other Kickstarter projects, but rather it appeared that Braff brought a lot of new people to Kickstarter, many of whom went on to fund other projects. But still, the ridiculous arguments persisted that somehow famous people using Kickstarter take away money from upstarts. It's as if these people don't understand what a non-zero sum game is. They assume, incorrectly, that if one (famous) person is succeeding, it means one (non-famous) person is not. Perhaps the worst example of this was a piece by Reginald Nelson at TheWrap which ridiculously attacks Kickstarter's founders, arguing that these moves harm "the creative class."
The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects have brought tens of thousands of new people to Kickstarter. 63% of those people had never backed a project before. Thousands of them have since gone on to back other projects, with more than $400,000 pledged to 2,200 projects so far. Nearly 40% of that has gone to other film projects.
We’ve seen this happen before. Last year we wrote a post called Blockbuster Effects that detailed the same phenomenon in the Games and Comics categories. Two big projects brought tons of new people to Kickstarter who went on to back more than 1,000 other projects in the following weeks, pledging more than $1 million. Projects bring new backers to other projects. That supports our mission too.
I'd hope this puts to rest the ridiculous claims, but somehow, I doubt it will (and the comments on the Kickstarter blog post suggest people will still complain anyway).
Not this again. Back in 2011, we first discussed why it was silly that some people got upset that someone rich and famous would use Kickstarter, as if the platform was only allowed for unknown artists. That was about Colin Hanks, the son of Tom Hanks, financing a documentary via the site. Since that time, the argument has popped up a few more times, including when Amanda Palmer used the site, when Bjork tried to use the site and when the Veronica Mars movie was funded via the site. Most recently, it's been aimed at quirky actor/filmmaker Zach Braff for his Kickstarter project, called Wish I Was Here. Braff set a goal of $2 million, which was raised very quickly.
And that's when some people got angry. Just as before. But it's a small group of people. There are at least 36,000 people (i.e., those who have funded the project so far) who did not get angry. Why? Because they like Braff and want to support him. I'm curious if the people who are attacking Braff for using Kickstarter ever have watched one of his TV shows or seen a movie he was in. Because, in that case, they'd be paying the same sort of thing... but most of that money would be going to a giant corporation, rather than to the actor himself. So what are they complaining about?
Frankly, he's more defensive in that video than he needs to be. He's got nothing to be defensive about. He notes, accurately, that he's long been known as someone who engages deeply via social media, especially Twitter and Reddit where Braff has been active for years. He also talks about his own obsession with Kickstarter, and how great it was to get the various updates on projects he'd funded, and how he hoped his fans would enjoy getting updates about the movie making process. And, yes, he's backed a bunch of projects himself, including the Aaron Swartz documentary.
For the life of me, I can't see a single logical argument for why people are upset about this, other than (a) they don't like Braff or (b) they're jealous of him. Neither seems like a particularly compelling reason for why Braff, or any famous person, shouldn't use the platform. The two most common arguments seem to be "he's rich and should fund it himself." But that's stupid. First off, he's probably not quite as rich as you think, and second he's made it clear over and over again that the budget is much higher than the amount he's raising and he's putting in an "ass-ton" (his quote) of his own money as well. Also, if you think that, don't fund him. No sweat off your back. For his fans who like him and want to support him, so what? The second argument is that this means he gets the money instead of some struggling filmmaker. However, as he himself has pointed out, the data suggests something entirely different:
I have something every detractor doesn’t have: the analytics. Most of the backers of my film aren’t people on Kickstarter who had $10 and were deciding where to give it, and then gave it to me instead of someone else. They came to Kickstarter because of me, because of this project. They wouldn’t have been there otherwise. In fact, a lot of people who didn't know about Kickstarter came and wound up giving money to a lot of other projects too. So for people to say, 'That’s ... up; you’re stealing money from documentaries' is just not a sensible argument.
All he's doing is the same thing we've been arguing for years is the business model of the future: connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy. Braff has done exactly that, and has built up a huge and loyal following who are really excited about this project. As we pointed out when Amanda Palmer raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter or when Louis CK made over $1 million by selling direct off his site, the fans who are buying in aren't disturbed by how much money is being made. For the most part, they seem thrilled to be a part of something amazing.
I think that's the key thing that the detractors simply don't understand. This is about two key things: being part of an experience and a community. It's not about "a movie," but about much more than that. And, even specifically around "the movie," people should be supporting what Braff is doing, because funding it this way means that it's going to be Braff's vision for the movie, rather than a giant Hollywood studio. A few months back, Jonathan Taplin, a filmmaker and defender of the old system, told me during a debate that no real filmmaker would ever use Kickstarter. At the 40 minute mark, he goes on a condescending rant saying sarcastically that "major filmmakers" could never possibly use Kickstarter because "the average" film only raised $10,000. But the average is meaningless for something like this. Furthermore, he goes on and on about (his friend) Martin Scorcese getting to do a movie he wants, and how that would never work via Kickstarter. But we're seeing over and over again the exact opposite. When a star with a big following uses something like Kickstarter, it gives them more ability to make the movie they want without outside interference.
Now we're seeing, quite clearly, that "major filmmakers" can use Kickstarter to do interesting things, and somehow, I get the feeling that it's the same sort of people who insisted they couldn't possibly make it in the first place who are now complaining that they are...
The QWERTY keyboard layout, which was created around 1875, was originally designed to prevent typewriter keys from jamming. This was done by arranging letters that were most commonly used together farther apart. While the QWERTY layout is still used today, it may not be the best layout for virtual touchscreen keyboards, so there have been many efforts to design alternative keyboard layouts. Here are just a few examples.
Since we began the awesome stuff series of posts about cool crowdfunded projects to check out each week, they've mostly focused on cool physical objects. However, obviously, we talk a lot about music and musicians doing cool things online, and it just so happens that three different musicians that we've written about many times in the past all popped up associated with new Kickstarter projects this week -- though, amazingly, only one of the three projects involves an album. Let's dive in.
Hopefully you are well aware of Jonathan Coulton, internet sensation and all around nice guy musician. We've written about him many, many times in the past, as an example of a musician who really embraced the internet and his fanbase, connected with them in a really genuine way and has built up a hugely successful career as a professional musician while ignoring all of the traditional routes to music stardom. Now, he's teamed up with famed comic book artist Greg Pak to do do a graphic novel based on characters from various Coulton songs. Plus, Coulton is writing a new song for the book as well. My favorite part about this is how this collaboration came to be. You can trace it back to a single tweet:
And people say the internet isn't awesome? The illustrations are also being done by another top comic book artist, Takeshi Miyazawa, so it's basically just a whole bunch of awesome folks coming together, via Twitter, to do something cool that should exist.
Given who is involved, it should be no surprise that it quickly shot past its target threshold, and Pak has already said that due to the overwhelming response, the book is going to be even longer than originally planned.
Last summer, we wrote about the band Secret Cities, when one of its members talked about how wonderful he thinks it is when he finds out someone downloaded his music, even if it wasn't an authorized copy -- because he knows that obscurity is a bigger threat than piracy, and you'll never get fans who like you if you can't get them to hear your music first. The band has never lived together in the same city, and has always recorded in the past on their own computers, sending the various bits and pieces between each other wherever they were at the time. However, for their next album, they want to try going into a studio, and recording it the old fashioned way -- so they've booked a great studio in San Francisco, and are using Kickstarter to (hopefully) raise the cash to pay for the studio time.
They're about halfway to their goal with 15 days to go, which usually means the project will get funded, but it's no guarantee. So you can kick in and help make their dream a reality. The band's got nearly two dozen songs ready to go, and just watch the video above to see how giddy they are about this project.
Finally, we've got an interesting project from Ondi Timoner, a documentary filmmaker, who is working on a really ambitious project called a Total Disruption telling a variety of stories about innovators of all kind. While most of the stories involve talking to various great entrepreneurs (including some of our favorite entrepreneurs out there: Alexis Ohanian of Reddit, Tony Hsieh from Zappos, Reid Hoffman from Linkedin and Bram Cohen from BitTorrent), Timoner recently decided to do a whole series on Amanda Palmer, as she goes around performing the house concerts from her mega-successful Kickstarter campaign.
It's important to note that this is not about creating another 1.5 hour "documentary" with all of these folks, but building an information service / portal that contains as many stories as possible of innovators and the innovation they're working on. This is a sorely needed visual and audio history of some of the most interesting innovations of this era. This project is about 60% funded, with 24 days to go, which is a good sign, but the dollar amount is pretty high, so it may still be a challenge. We love really ambitious projects, and this seems like a great one to check out and support if you agree.
That's it for this week. Check back next week for more awesome stuff.
Just a few weeks ago, we had a story about how an awesome looking documentary about comic artists needed to hit up Kickstarter to raise more money solely to purchase licenses to some of the artwork & video clips in the film. Most of the copyright holders let them use the work for free, but a few were demanding payment -- often thousands of dollars for a single image or short clip. As we've noted, documentary filmmakers are scared to death of relying on fair use, because they don't want to get sued (and some insurance providers won't give you insurance if you plan to rely on fair use).
And, now, there's an even crazier example. Two huge fans of the cult favorite TV show, Arrested Development have made a documentary about the show, talking to a ton of people who created and acted in the show, as well as to a bunch of fans. Given that a new season (via Netflix) is quickly approaching, getting this documentary out would make sense. The film is finished according to the filmmakers. Done done done. So why are they asking Kickstarter for $20,053? Yup, you guessed it. Copyright licensing issues. And this time, it's really crazy:
After five years, we're finally close to releasing the documentary. Our final step is to pay the network for photos from the set of the show. These photos are extremely relevant to the story, and we can't move forward with the release of the documentary until our fees are paid to the network. This is where you come in. Help us pay the network fees so every Arrested fan can see this documentary!
Yes, photos from the set. And, "the network" in this case is 20th Century Fox. This seemed so ridiculous to me that I asked the filmmakers, Jeff Smith & Neil Lieberman, for the details, and they said that these are photos taken by a variety of people on set and that the people who took the photos gave them to Jeff & Neil willingly, but that "the network is claiming copyright." Just to be clear, Jeff & Neil don't have a problem with this, saying that they believe that this is "within the network's rights" to make that claim and they emphasized that Fox was giving them a "deep discount on the photos" and that it "could have been much worse" otherwise.
While it's great that the filmmakers are fine with this, it still seems quite troubling to me. Whoever took the photos in the first place would own the copyright on the basic photos themselves. This implies that Fox is claiming copyright on the set itself, which appears in the images (or, they're lying and claiming copyright on something they have no copyright on). And, yes, they could potentially claim copyright on the set -- but that doesn't make this any less crazy. Jeff & Neil would have a massively clear fair use argument if they were challenged on using these images. It is not as if the use of those images would somehow harm the "market" for "the set" itself (which is about all the network could possibly be claiming copyright on). It would obviously be a transformative use, and they'd just be displaying parts of the set. This is about as open and shut a fair use case as you could possibly imagine.
And, really, this is doubly ridiculous, because this documentary is only going to help promote the show more, not harm it in any way... oh wait. Fox no longer benefits from that because Fox cancelled the show and the new season is happening on Netflix instead... Perhaps that's what this is about. The cash from this Kickstarter could have gone into all sorts of actually useful things, including more marketing and promotions for the documentary (which does look great). But, instead, it's going into Fox's bank account, because Rupert Murdoch needs it more than two independent documentary filmmakers who were huge fans of the show. I thought copyright was supposed to be about helping filmmakers, not forcing them to waste $20,000+ dollars on a bogus copyright claim..
A little while back, on one of our "funniest/most insightful comments of the week" posts, we featured a comment that someone made anonymously, in response to a story about Bjork's Kickstarter project that was taken down before it ended, after it did not look like it was going to get anywhere near the required threshold. However, the comment has stuck with me and I think it deserves a post. In particular, the commenter called us out for saying that her project "failed."
This was not a "failure!"
Platforms like Kickstarter have changed the way the market is functioning, and our ways of thinking about it (even here on Techdirt) have to catch up.
Bjork's campaign did not fail, even though the results were not what she was hoping for. She successfully learned that the market was not interested in this product.
Spending £375,000 of her own money? Now THAT would have been a failure.
Using Kickstarter is more like running a science experiment than it is like selling a product. It increases the efficiency of the market by orders of magnitude, and apparently beyond our ability to think about it clearly.
This point -- even if it was calling us out -- is so true, and it's so important for people to understand. It's easy to use the word "failure" for those projects that don't meet their goal. Hell, just in writing this post, I repeatedly had to consciously stop myself from using the words "fail" or "failure" in describing projects that don't reach their goal. But, the commenter is right: those projects are not failed projects once you realize what Kickstarter really is: a platform to judge the market for products, and to build commitment and funding around them. If a project doesn't reach the goal, that's actually valuable market research, suggesting that if they had gone ahead, without going through the experience, they likely would have "failed."
So, in actuality, it makes sense to look at such projects and recognize that they were saved from a dismal failure, in which large sums of money may have been spent, but at the same time clarifying the market's reaction to a product before it's even been introduced. With so many people thinking of Kickstarter more as a store, than as a platform for supporting people trying to turn cool ideas into reality, it's important to be careful in how we choose our language. Putting up a Kickstarter project that doesn't reach its goal shouldn't be seen as a failure. It should be seen as a useful bit of data, which helps one avoid failure, and also to (hopefully) sharpen up their product and pitch so that the next time, it is more likely to be funded.
Just a few weeks ago, we wrote about how Kickstarter was incredibly valuable not only as a pre-sales tool but as a way to prove marketability for investors. It appears that even some in Hollywood are recognizing this. In a bit of a surprise move, Warner Bros. has allowed the folks from the critically acclaimed (but viewer-challenged) TV show Veronica Mars to launch a massive Kickstarter campaign to prove that there's demand for a Veronica Mars movie. They put together a cute, mostly in-character video to explain the details:
They need to hit $2 million to get the greenlight from Warner. The money will go into the budget of the film, which has the original actors and the show creator/writer returning (excitedly) to make this a reality after years of talking about the possibility but not having enough believers at Warner.
This is fascinating on a variety of levels. First, it serves as a simple reminder that Kickstarter works as a demand-confirmation tool. Second, and perhaps more interestingly, it suggests ways that traditional Hollywood can integrate with something like Kickstarter at times. While some of old world Hollywood likes to insist that Kickstarter could never be used to fund a "real" movie, it appears that some more progressive-thinking folks at Warner are willing to give this a shot. From show creator Rob Thomas' explanation:
Of course, Warner Bros. still owns Veronica Mars and we would need their blessing and cooperation to pull this off. Kristen and I met with the Warner Bros. brass, and they agreed to allow us to take this shot. They were extremely cool about it, as a matter of fact. Their reaction was, if you can show there’s enough fan interest to warrant a movie, we’re on board. So this is it. This is our shot. I believe it's the only one we've got. It's nerve-wracking. I suppose we could fail in spectacular fashion, but there's also the chance that we completely revolutionize how projects like ours can get made. No Kickstarter project ever has set a goal this high. It's up to you, the fans, now. If the project is successful, our plan is to go into production this summer and the movie will be released in early 2014.
It would appear that his nerves need not be wracked for all that long. Within just a few hours, many thousands of fans had jumped on board, and they'd already passed $1 million and were well on their way to $2 million, and probably significantly beyond that (there are still 30 days to go!)
Separately, one of the things that doesn't get that much attention in crowdfunding campaigns is the importance of having cool rewards, and it looks like the Veronica Mars crew did a good job. They have a lot of options, with the lowest one being getting a script of the movie on the day it comes out. Surprisingly, they're also promising a digital download "a few days" after the movie's theatrical debut. That will be interesting to see in practice, since theaters have balked (stupidly) at showing films that have too small a "window" between theatrical release and digital release. Hopefully theaters aren't so short-sighted in this case, and will realize that many Veronica Mars fans will likely want to see the film on the big screen even if they're getting the digital version.
Other reward levels include the standard stuff like t-shirts, DVDs and posters (some of them signed), as well as more advanced options like voicemail or video greetings from the actors (Kristen Bell costs more, not surprisingly), hanging out on the set, a role in the movie, tickets to the premiere and more. What's impressive is that most of the high end items are sold out already -- within just a few hours of the launch.
Of course, this makes you wonder why Warner Bros. was so unsure that there would be a market for this movie in the first place. Still, kudos to the studio for being willing to jump on board with this kind of experiment.