Crowdfunding a guide to crowdfunding

Crowdfunding imageCrowdfunding has fascinated me since 2009, when Kickstarter, Sellaband, Indiegogo, and others were starting to pick up steam in allowing hundreds to thousands of individuals to contribute relatively small amounts to fund artists and groups recording albums, building products, and making films.

Even after thousands of projects had been funded and completed, it was common to read articles or blog posts stating that crowdfunding was a flash-in-the-pan and a fad. People would become tired of backing efforts, the argument went, and stop contributing. Donor fatigue is a real problem with any fundraising, whether for non-profits or commercial outfits. But it occurs when you pass the hat with the same group of people. What's evolved with crowdfunding is that every project has a unique audience, although some lucky projects break out through word of mouth and mainstream coverage to reach a much broader range of potential supporters.

How real is crowdfunding from the economic side? The Economist said in a recent article there are 450 crowdfunding sites worldwide, and it cites a report estimating $2.8 billion with raised in 2012, nearly twice that of 2011. Hardly a fad! Kickstarter, in particular, has raised the most consistently, with $84 million in completed pledges brought in last year, and likely double that for 2012.

Kickstarter is a generalist's site that helps pull projects from idea into existence for any serious visual artist, videogame designer, independent filmmaker, musician, graphic novelist or cartoonist, industrial designer, food maker, and other makers and creators. But there are many others (hundreds!) with different rules and which reach different people.

I'm turning this fascination into a book about how to plan and execute crowdfunding projects. I'm funding the book's costs, such as travel, collaborators, and print production, through Kickstarter. I like the notion of a snake eating its own tail, and I can't imagine that I could be taken credibly in writing about how you go about raising money in this fashion if I hadn't gone through the process myself.

Over the last two years, I've interviewed piles of people who have raised funds (or failed to) through crowdfunding, and had many more informal conversations on Twitter and through email with others. I found that everyone I spoke to had learned one or more lessons in the process of building a project and getting it funded or missing a target. It dawned on me that collecting this information and then distilling it into a book would be both a great journey and destination both for who want to launch a funding effort and for myself. Tens of thousands of projects have launched so far; hundreds of thousands will launch in the next few years. I want to help people achieve their goals more easily and with more participation.

My effort won't just focus on blockbuster projects, even though Amanda Palmer, who raised nearly $1.2 million for her latest album and tour, shared an enormous number of useful bits of information valuable to anyone when I interviewed her recently. But so have folks who raised just a few thousand, like Kyle Durrie and her cross-country type truck tour. Rather, I'll look at projects of all scales, from a few thousand dollars up to millions to find the commonalities that exist.

I think of the book as two entities: one is a series of essays illustrated by photographs (and accompanied online by videos) about individual projects and creators, focused on what they did, and what they learned in the process. The other is specific how-to advice from conceiving a project through launching it, funding it, and fulfilling it. I want the book to be good to look at as well as a guide to making a crowdfunded project happen. (The book will focus heavily on Kickstarter projects, but I'll provide advice about choosing among the various crowdfunding sites depending on what the project is.)

I've figured out the minimum cost to travel far enough and enlist enough assistance to create a solid book, which I've tentatively titled: "Crowdfunding: A Guide to What Works and Why." While I'm on the journey over the next several months, I'll write blog posts (some of which will appear here at BoingBoing) about people I interview and what I learn, as well as shoot and post video interviews for backers of the project. By about March 2013, I'll have a finished book available as an ebook and as paperback and hard-cover editions.

Crowdfunding lets artists and makers explore work that they might otherwise be unable to find funding for, and take creative and technological risks that they couldn't afford. I want to document what's happening out there, bring back stories from the field, and bundle it up for others to learn from. I've launched my project. Now I get to see if I learned lessons well enough so far to bring my idea to fruition.

(Photo: Used via Credit Commons license and with permission. ©2011 Mike Krzeszak)