The Kickstarter Debate

I believe that the democracy of Kickstarter is very real.  People get to determine if a project is worth funding, and they get to decide what the project is worth to them.

Like democracy, some people will always have a leg up.  People who are already wealthy and influential will find it easier to spread the word about their Kickstarter projects.  It will be easier for them to get funded.

But that doesn’t mean their projects will always be funded.  Bjork may not be the world’s biggest celebrity, but she has the channels to reach a lot of people.  Still, her project failed.  Why?  It was vague, expensive and poorly promoted.  Compare that to Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter, which was fairly detailed, offered a lot of incentives, was originally a low funding goal and was promoted constantly.  Bjork is a major-label and ultimately wealthier celebrity, but Palmer won by sheer brute force.

A lot of controversy has arisen over the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter and the Zach Braff film project.  The Veronica Mars project ultimately channels money to a studio that abandoned the series and it’s been argue that Braff could’ve funded the thing out of pocket and wouldn’t have felt even the slightest of dings in his wallet.

The big argument is–should rich people be allowed to crowdsource?

I say yes.  If people are willing to give an already incredibly wealthy person their money, then that’s democracy at work. If we’re going to argue what’s “right” here, we’re having the wrong discussion.  The point of crowdsourcing is that it’s up to the people holding the cash.  It may be foolish to channel that money into wealthy pockets, but ultimately, it’s not your decision.  It’s the backers’ decision.  Everyone has a right to access the platform.

Trying to discern, as a rule, who can ask for funding or what the project has to be like for it to be acceptable is a muddy area.  Would it be wrong for the Gates Foundation to start a Kickstarter?  Kim Kardashian?  A famous blogger?  That kid you know from art class?  All of them might have the capital on hand to pay for the project out of pocket.  What is an artist’s financial obligation to their work?

I think the best way to combat celebrity overuse of crowdfunding is to spread the word about worthwhile projects.  For every mega-budget celebrity crowdfund project, there are thousands of smaller projects, hoping for attention.  Give it to them.  Even if you can’t contribute, your reTweet or blog post could make a huge difference.

And I’m not saying “shut up about those celebrity Kickstarters”.  If you have strong distaste for a Kickstarter project, tweet at its founder and discourage friends from laying down cash.  But I’d argue that celebrity Kickstarters have helped make Kickstarter a part of our lexicon and added legitimacy to what seemed like a fishy enterprise on the outset, so I don’t think they’re necessarily “wrong”.