Crowdfunding, Superfans and the ‘Power of Free’

I thought i’d share a little blog post I wrote a few months ago that originally featured on the Kingston Publishing blog. This was something I wrote for my course but something that has been on my mind a lot over the years…

Social lending has been around for centuries – from the patronage of Renaissance painters, Charles Dickens, or Shakespeare – though it never caused the stir of worry to creative industries that it does today.

Of course, it’s understandable, the internet has taken the whole thing global; everyone has the power and means to ensure the development of projects they love. In return, they receive a token relative to their investment and if full funding isn’t achieved, well, you can just invest that money into another project. This is fantastic! This should be utilised by all industries as a tool, not feared or worse, ignored!

There are so many crowdfunding sites out there, best known perhaps is Kickstarter, but with publishing specific sites like Unbound and Wattpad too, creative industries should really be taking more time to utilise them. In 2014 there were 2,064 successfully funded publishing projects via Kickstarter, albeit with the relatively humble turnover of $21.8m. This is their third most funded category after Music (4,009) and Film and Video (3,846), which just goes to show that even with all the free content available people really are still willing to pay for their entertainment.

2013 saw two traditional publisher’s harnessing the power of crowdfunding – Britain’s own Canongate and USA’s McSweeney’s – in completely different ways. Canongate opened their own channel via Unbound, offering special and limited editions of some of their titles, most notably so far is Letters of Note by Shaun Usher. McSweeney’s, in a completely different turn, utilised Kickstarter to celebrate their 15th birthday with the goal to gain funding of the rather humble $15. In a sense they launched the most successful campaign ever – reaching 204,166% of its goal. Though a rather nonsensical campaign, it showed the power of the superfan and more still, that people will pay for what they believe is deserving of their hard earned cash.

Books like The Curve: From Freeloaders to Superfans by Nicholas Lovell and The Giftby Lewis Hyde have frequently been quoted, shared, and promoted (most recently at Kingston University by Faber’s own Stephen Page) within the publishing industry in the hopes that we can gain some insight into how to keep up with the times, develop our business models and embrace the many ways in which content is and could be distributed in the future. Further reading I would advise would be The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, famed amongst her superfans, not least for her music, but more globally for her staggering $1,192,793 Kickstarter campaign and subsequently her Ted talk. Why this book? Apart from being a beautiful read it is a personal account from the artist, outlining not only how she built up relationships with her fans and how integral the trust between the buyer and the distributer is; this book relates as a participator, not just an observer, how every one of us should be utilising the changes that surround us to sell our work – be that artist, musician, author or indeed publisher.

Full Kickstarter data for 2014 can be found here.
A glimpse at how giving away books in 2008 lead HarperCollins to increased sales here
Watch Amanda Palmer here

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