Ways to Use Kickstarter

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Last week as copies of his Kickstarter-funded novel Annabel Scheme were arriving around the world, Robin Sloan posted a project update announcing something called The Remix Fund — $1,000 set aside from his Kickstarter earnings to help fund and reward interesting remixes of his novel. He shared links to download the book — free — as a PDF, and a simple submission form to suggest an idea. Robin will sort through the proposals and settle on how best to spend the money.

Robin’s clever idea is a good example of how malleable the Kickstarter system is. The transaction between Robin and his backers is both commerce ($11 pre-ordered a copy) and patronage. Robin has kept his supporters updated with outstanding missives from the creative process: short stories, works-in-progress, and a voice in the evolution of his work. A pledge to Robin’s project bought access, a physical product, and, with the Remix Fund, a stake in a further layer of art and an invitation to directly participate.

That directness helped collaborative art projects like Giant Crowd Painting and New York Makes a Book. Those projects used Kickstarter as a participation tool — the creators had an idea but needed help doing it. With something like the well-titled Send a Postcard, Get a Postcard — whose only reward costs $1 — the point isn’t cash, it’s audience. The community loves these: the backer lists for those projects are filled with people who have backed dozens of other projects. We like participating — it’s social and fun.

In some cases creators find that there’s a bigger audience than anticipated. Last week I came across a successful creator apologizing for his project’s success, writing that since “Kickstarter won’t let me shut it down early… we wait out the clock.” (A project ends at its deadline, not when it reaches 100% funding.) That creator was being bullied by detractors who accused him of taking handouts by using Kickstarter. But as in Robin’s project, backers were simply pre-ordering copies of a finished product. The fact that more people wanted the work than expected is something to celebrate, not hold against him.

The best way to get over-funded is to offer a great reward. We’re selfish creatures, and as backers we’re more motivated by what we’ll get than why you need it. With projects like Polyvinyl, Kind of Bloop, and Poorcraft, among countless others, backers weren’t necessarily supporting a cause — they were buying something, just like they would on Etsy or Amazon.

Their creators made Kickstarter their digital pop-up store. They used the Kickstarter goal to set their success threshold; the deadline to keep the project from dragging on forever; and our payments system to avoid dealing with credit cards, refunds, and those headaches. Kickstarter scales to the imagination of its user. One day it’s Robin Sloan reinventing artist grants, and the next it’s a band funding studio time. Both are perfectly valid.

It doesn’t have to be about need either. Scott Thomas, Design Director of the Obama presidential campaign, could have gotten a publishing deal for his Designing Obama art book. Instead he used Kickstarter because it allowed him to control the creative vision and rights to his work. (In his pitch video he also calls Kickstarter “an Obama-like fundraising model for creative projects.”)

Every project is different but our approach is always the same: propose an idea, set a budget for its execution, and offer people cool stuff in exchange. Fund projects, test concepts, sell stuff, and have fun. It’s as simple as that.

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