June 8, 2011

Kickstarter crowdsources publishing



Drawing by Chris McJunkin, a comic book artist raising funds on Kickstarter

So who will be Kickstarter‘s Amanda Hocking? That’s the question that immediately comes to mind after reading this article in Publishers Weekly by Todd Allen.

Kickstarter, if you don’t know, is a sort of public venture capital fund where you post projects that you’d like to get funded, you set a goal for how much money you want to raise, and you have a certain amount of time to raise that amount before the project is taken down. But instead of private investors pitching in on a project for a return on an investment, Kickstarter projects are funded by random people on the internet who would just like to see certain ideas come to fruition.

While it’s been useful for a whole slew of projects like designer bags, video games, and movies, Kickstarter now funds nearly as many comic book and graphic novel projects as big houses like Vertigo. For instance, in May Vertigo funded a total of 17 projects (graphic novels and single issue comics). Kickstarter funded 15.

Allen says that the average amount of money devoted to comics/graphic novels a month has gone from $81,000 per month in January to $102,110 per month in May. Projects run the gamut from titles like Girls Making Comics: A Midsummer Night’s Dream to The TRANSMETROPOLITAN Art Book.

Okay, so graphic novelists and comics writers and illustrators have found a new way to raise money to support themselves and get projects funded. The inevitable question is, what does this make Kickstarter? Like Amazon, who provides the infrastructure for many writers to self-publish their work, does Kickstarter count as a self-publishing platform?

Not exactly according to Allen. “Functionally,” he says, “it exists somewhere between a direct-to-consumer pre-sales program and a PBS/NPR pledge drive.”

But then, the question remains, who exactly is publishing these books? Patrons? The authors? And how does it all work? Allen offers something of an answer:

Is it possible for artists to work out a price they need to create and then print each issue or graphic novel, then put the project’s price tag on Kickstarter, offering a copy of the finished work to everyone who pledges the cover price and then selling the product in the direct market? That’s not far off from what’s happening right now. The emphasis here is on shorter print runs and on more dedicated fans doing the heavily lifting with larger pledge amounts.

What’s intriguing about this model versus the Amazon model is that it seems to me that the functions of the publisher–which, under the Amazon model, are largely taken over by the author–are somewhat diffused under the Kickstarter model. Pledgers, or investors, or whatever you call people who give money to Kickstarter projects, are collectively asserting some sort of editorial preferences in the projects they decide to fund.

Of course, this doesn’t even begin to address production, marketing, publicity, and distribution questions–so it’s not exactly publishing–but it is interesting. Thoughts?