'New ideas, big and small': Kickstarter issues its annual greeting card

'New ideas, big and small': Kickstarter issues its annual greeting card


'Three years ago Rebecca's project got a pledge from Scott. This year they got married.'

That's from Kickstarter's look-back in handkerchieves at 2014.

My associate at The Bookseller Charlotte Eyre has ably written up the attractive annual report that Kickstarter creates to regale us with how well things have gone.

Her story, Kickstarter publishing projects raised $22 million in 2014, tells us that "22,252 Kickstarter projects reached their funding goals  thanks to $529 million of pledges from 3.3 million backers."

Important to us here in The FutureBook digital community, Eyre notes that in 2014: 

Publishing was the third most common type of project on Kickstarter, with 2,064 successfully funded ventures worldwide, after music (4,009) and film and video (3,846). Another six categories – art, design, food, games, technology and theater – had more than 1,000 projects.

Not for nothing does Kickstarter open its 2014 review with:

In 2014, creativity was blooming everywhere.

All told, we learn in the company's Medium-esque report, people were pledging $1,000 per minute in 2014. Contributors were able to "save a neighbourhood taco joint" and Neil Young "made a hi-fi music player" and LeVar Burton's Reading Rainbow "made a huge comeback" and "a band delivered a pizza to space." Marriages, tech innovations, and the Museum of Modern Art and so many others found ways to utilise crowdfunding. 

New ideas, big and small, came from people everywhere. And millions of people worked together to make them a reality. 

There's a nice heart at the end of the presentation.

Crowdfunding Unbound

Although it's not Kickstarter, we also see the specialised crowdfunding publisher Unbound, rightly, as a new kind of creature on the landscape, and not only for the fact that it answers, "What happens when the computer says no, but the reader might say yes?" (As in, the reader might like to pay to help a book become a reality.)

In addition, Unbound specialises in very high-quality, intentionally and thoughtfully designed production values for its books. 

My good colleague Philip Jones in Unbound among the fans, a piece on one of Unbound's co-founding authors, Dan Kieran, cinched it here at The FutureBook in August:

The significance of the Unbound model is that it allows its publisher and authors to try out ideas in a safe-space, without the risk inherent in the advance model of publishing. If projects don't work—and out of the 110 tried out, only 30 have failed—the funder receives their money back. In most cases, says Kieran, they actually just transfer the money to another project.

Kieran and John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard are among our favorite people in the business. Unbound won The 2014 FutureBook Innovation Award for best consumer-facing Web site, Jones praising it as "a triumph of design, implementation, and effectiveness." 

But, as in much of life, all crowdfunding is not created equal.

Note Jones' reference to the fact that only 30 Unbound book projects had failed in August to reach their funding, of the 110 at that point attempted -- "In most cases, says Kieran" Jones wrote, the funders "actually just transfer the money to another project."

Not so much at Kickstarter -- a bigger, more boisterous boat of hopes on which one needs the ballast of some truth-in-funding to keep creative dreams on an even keel.

Happily, the company is more than willing to provide some perspective for those who want it. 

The best part of Kickstarter's Web site, to my mind, is its unadorned Stats section. Kickstarter's staff is to be commended for creating and maintaining this daily-updating section of its Web site. This gives discerning observers a more complete picture, if they want it, than the gauze of the annual highlights.

Many outfits are not so quick to show you how many things have gone sideways. This transparency is easy to respect.

The Stats section has none of the dreamy cheer of great goals accomplished in the navy-blue sky that the annual report gives us. Its numbers are for the life of the company, not for one year. We don't see the negative numbers for the year 2014 broken out, making the aggregate figures all the more welcome and instructive.

Overall at Kickstarter, at the time of this writing: 

  • 197,582 projects have been launched since Kickstarter itself kicked off in 2009.
  • 76,908 completed projects in all 15 categories have successfully funded since Kickstarter launched.
  • 116,587 completed projects in all 15 categories have failed to fund. 

The still-running campaigns are not included in the successes and failure numbers for obvious reasons. That's why you'll find those numbers don't add up to the total-launched figure. Also: If you check the Stats page after the publication of the story you're reading now, you'll find its numbers already are a bit larter -- remember, it updates daily. We're taking our snapshot from a single day, 6th January 2015.

Kickstarter used to have 13 categories -- crafts and journalism were added in June.

And while "creativity was blooming everywhere" in 2014, money certainly wasn't growing on every flowering tree. The information we can pull together here on publishing projects overall at Kickstarter is particularly interesting.

Overall publishing projects at Kickstarter, at this writing:

  • 21,443 now-completed publishing projects have been attempted at the big crowdfunder.
  • 6,625 completed publishing projects successfully funded. Congratulations to them all. They represent less than half the publishing campaigns attempted. Note, however, that 2014's number of 2,064 successful projects comprises almost a third of all the success ratings over the years.
  • 14,818 completed publishing projects have failed to fund, much less happy experiences, presumably. For every successful outing, a bit more than two have failed in the publishing category.
  • In numbers of successes, completed publishing projects have come in fourth on the list of 15 Kickstarter categories historically, after music, film and video, and art. 
  • In numbers of failures, completed publishing projects have come in third -- only music projects and film and video projects have failed in greater numbers over time.

In numbers, not proportion, projects in dance, journalism, crafts, comics, theater, photography, fashion, technology, design, food, art, and games have had fewer failures than publishing projects over the years. (Remember that journalism and crafts are very new to the list.)

On the other hand , in numbers, not proportion, more completed publishing projects have successfully funded at Kickstarter over time than those attempted in games, theater, design, food, comics, fashion, technology, photography, dance, crafts, and journalism (those last two categories being very new, of course).

When publishing projects at Kickstarter succeed, they usually have goals of under $10,000.

  • A salutary 825 successful projects in publishing have raised between $10,000 and $19,999.
  • Even better, 496 successful publishing projects have raised between $20,000 and $99,999.
  • And 30 completed publishing projects, Kickstarter reports, have raised between $100,000 and $999,999. 
  • No publishing projects listed by Kickstarter have reached a $1 million contribution level. Thirty-six projects have made it there in the games category, 27 in technology, 12 in design, four in film and video, and 1 each in music, art, comics and fashion.

(At right: Dollars pledged, by category, in 2014 at Kickstarter. From "2014: By The Numbers")

When publishing projects at Kickstarter fail, a great many of them really fail. "Fail big!" we love to exhort our creative workers, and some folks have eagerly obliged us. 

  • A total 3,365 failed completed publishing projects, Kickstarter reveals -- more than half as many as have successfully funded -- have gone down drawing zero contributions, not a penny.
  • A total 9,349 of failed-to-fund projects in the publishing category have drawn only 20 percent or less of their goals.
  • Contributions between 21 and 40 percent of goal have come in for 1,373 failed projects.
  • A group of 508 failed publishing projects have drawn 41 to 60 percent of their goals' contributions.
  • Getting between 61 and 80 percent of their goals? -- 165 failed publishing campaigns have reached that level.
  • And -- the real heartbreakers, surely -- 58 failed, now-completed publishing projects have funded at between 81 and 99 percent of their goals. So close. 

What does it all mean?

Well, it doesn't mean that you need to scrap that Kickstarter plan you had for your publishing project and try going door-to-door instead. 

Nor does it mean that Kickstarter is wrong to create its annual Hallmark-card wrap of how things went. As much as that thing needs a soundtrack with a lot of children's choral work, see "2014: By the Numbers" at the end. Here you can find out some key points about how things went in 2014. Not the negative numbers, mind you, but some interesting trends. 

  • More projects overall funded in August than in other months. Wednesday was the busiest pledge day of the week. Around 1 p.m. was the main hour for pledges. Lunch breeds generosity.
  • As Eyre points out, publishing projects in 2014 were the third-most-successful (2,064), bested handily, as usual, by film and video projects, and music projects. 
  • In terms of dollars pledged, publishing projects were way down the list at a total $21.8 million. But it might interest you to know that the top category in number of projects funded, music, didn't do that much more money than publishing, with a total $34.1 million pledged in 2014. By comparison, the biggie was technology with a monster $125 million pledged. And in dollars, design, a fave of mine, came in second, with $96.7 million pledged. 

The added kick for publishing projects

The folks at crowdfunder Pubslush in New York like to point out that one great element of crowdfunding for books and other publishing projects is that you get an automatic street team going. In these days when marketing is king -- or is it still content? -- the boosterism that can be generated among one's contributors is not to be discounted. 

Granted, not everyone who contributes to a project is so focussed on its success, of course, but many are willing to carry the torch for their favourite campaigns, and that's worth bearing in mind as one of the attractions here. If you can raise a flotilla of social media action among contributors putting their money where their tweets are, you may have something worth even the dollar amount of your campaign. 

Much has been written about the difficulties inherent in successful crowdfunding, too. Composer Paola Prestini, whose own VisionIntoArt company helps support her efforts, has mentioned that the creation and delivery of premiums that contributors pay for can be something to consider -- lots of labour and time, from all reports, go into fulfillment on a campaign.

Still, many find crowdfunding's odds attractive and worth the effort.

Give us your thoughts Friday in our #FutureChat session or in comments below. It's an interesting and still-young component of some publishing work, clearly worth a lot of attention but -- as Kickstarter's annual wrap shows us -- certainly a phenomenon easily romanticised. 

Have you tried crowdfunding? What was your experience? If you've nixed it, what was your thinking? What might get you to give it a go?

Top image: From the opening of "The Year In Kickstarter: 2014" - Kickstarter.com/year/2014