News Column

Internet Connects Dreams, Donors

July 30, 2012

Kirk Baird

Sometimes art is as much about money as it is about creativity.

And just like having the skill that's required to create, you either have the funds or you don't to make your project a reality.

If it's the latter, it has historically meant hitting up friends or family for money, landing a grant, or even taking out a loan. But that's changing thanks to a relatively new phenomenon on the Internet called crowdfunding, which allows artists to take their pleas for financial assistance to potentially millions of possible investors.

Kickstarter.com is one of several funding platforms for creative projects on the Web, including ArtistShare, Indiegogo, Pledge Music, and GoFundMe. Launched in April, 2008, Kickstarter is also the biggest, with more than $285 million pledged to projects on the site -- films, albums, theatrical productions, graphic novels -- with more than 26,000 of those successfully funded, several of which are for Toledo-area projects.

Investors pledge money through credit cards to bring a project to life. A project has a deadline of one to 60 days to be funded. If the project is successfully funded, it goes. If not, the credit cards are not charged, the project fails, and the artist has the option to try again.

Kickstarter makes its money through a 5 percent fee if the project is funded, while Amazon Payments takes a 3 to 5 percent cut of the total funds raised for processing the transaction.

Local rock band Frank & Jesse relied on Kickstarter to determine if there was enough interest in the band releasing a vinyl version of its first CD, "Let it Come Down." Theater group Second Stages Toledo successfully relied on Kickstarter last year to cover the production costs of staging Jason Robert Brown's musical Songs for a New World and this year for several performances of the 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee.

"For us it successfully gave us a way to sell tickets without a way to manage a box office," said Jared Lefevre, cofounder of Second Stages Toledo along with his wife, Amelia. "This year we would be OK without it, but last year, I don't know how we would have handled ticket sales [with out-of-town and credit card payments] if we didn't have Kickstarter."

Recognition

Kickstarter is also changing the way artists get their projects made. A recent article from Publishers Weekly suggests the site is now the second-biggest publisher of graphic novels in the industry.

Local comic-book scribe Dirk Manning said much of Kickstarter's association with graphic novels can be traced back to Womanthology -- a massive all-female graphic novel anthology by Renae De Liz, who previously worked with Manning on his Nightmare World series. De Liz had the idea to crowdfund through Kickstarter. She wanted $20,000 to fund it and cover printing costs, but when word spread about her project, including to very established comic creators such as Neil Gaiman, she finished with 2,001 backers and raised nearly $110,000. Womanthology's success brought recognition throughout the comic-book industry.

"Here is this relatively unknown young artist in Renae [who] single-handedly created this massive book that got people really excited about it. And I think that's really the book that more than anything else turned people on to Kickstarter as crowdfunding for comics," Manning said. "And now everybody talks about doing it. Whenever someone talks about making a comic they're going to Kickstarter.

"I'm giving a lot of thought to it [but] I don't want to be the first recognizable name in comics who has a Kickstarter fail."

Beginnings

The idea for Kickstarter originated in New Orleans in 2001, when then resident Perry Chen -- the creator and CEO of Kickstarter -- wanted to fund a late-night concert to run after Jazz Fest.

Putting the necessary amount of his own money upfront was too daunting, so Chen passed on creating the concert, but the concept for a public means to generate funding for such creative endeavors stuck with him. After moving back to New York, Chen created the site, along with Yancey Strickler, a rock critic and music journalist, and Charles Adler, a designer, to address a perennial problem facing artists of virtually any genre: a lack of money.

"If you're a creative of some type and you want to come up with a project, you have to have a certain amount of money to make it happen, and unless you have a rich uncle or you're lucky enough to get a music label to sign you or a film studio or get a grant or something," that doesn't happen, said Justin Kazmark, a spokesman for the site. "Kickstarter is trying to be a funding platform for creative projects. People have an idea and want to bring it to life. It doesn't have to be something to generate revenue."

How it works

There's more to successfully funding a project than just posting a plea for funds. Creatives must consider incentives to get others to invest in their project: free CDs and DVDs, a special thanks in liner notes or film credits, a walk-on part in a film or providing a background noise for a song, and even naming a character after them in a film or graphic novel.

"There are all sorts of really creative things, and people get really excited for that," Kazmark said.

A creator also is expected -- though it's not mandatory -- to keep investors up to date with how the project is coming along. This behind-the-scenes peak is partially what sets crowdfunding sites apart from retail stores, he said, where you simply buy the finished project off shelves.

Then there's the marketing strategy necessary to get the word out about the Kickstarter project.

'Full-time job'

Filmmaker Craig Thieman, 32, who grew up in Perrysburg and moved to North Carolina in high school, relied on Kickstarter to generate funding for Love Letter, a $40,000 dark action comedy about a potential serial killer. The film reached its funding goal on the day of its deadline.

"It was very difficult for us to obtain our goal of 40k," he said in an email. "We used a million different strategies. It was a full-time job for me and the co-writer of the film, Ethan Hunter. If we were awake we were working. If I went through a drive-through I was handing the counter girl a flyer with the Web address. Everybody we talked to was sent to the Kickstarter page and asked to share it with their friends. We had news articles, television and radio interviews. On the weekends I spoke at intermission at our local 'Shakespeare in the Park' and then directed people back to a table after the show where we had our video playing and a flyer ready to hand them.

"We fought like passionate and desperate men knowing we needed this funding to finally make our film. [And] we possibly could have raised the funds for the film another way, but it probably would have taken another year or two. The cost of waiting was too high. We have other films to produce after this one and we need to get cracking."

While Thieman said he has no plans to use Kickstarter again -- "the idea behind it was to give us a chance to get our film out there so we can stand on our own two feet" -- he would recommend Kickstarter for the first-time filmmakers, "but not lightly."

"It's a full-time job and an intense campaign," he said. "We only made it through with an onslaught of different strategies and volunteers. You have to educate yourself and strategize in a big bad ninja kind of way. The Kickstarter is only as useful as you make it. It will not go viral and you will not get any attention unless you push it hard."

Mixed feelings

Tim Friedman, a 27-year-old Bowling Green resident, went to Kickstarter to fund several projects from other artists, including records and a graphic novel. He also turned to Kickstarter to fund his own business, Listen Well Records, which specializes in vinyl recordings. Listen Well Records released Frank & Jesse's "Let it Come Down," but a year-and-a-half later that's been the label's only album.

"It's kind of a wash," Friedman acknowledged.

Still, he said, Kickstarter enabled him to start the specialized label debt-free, and provided him important business experience about what to do and not to do in the future.

But he has mixed feelings overall about crowdfunding.

"It's a tremendous boost for artists and people who can't at that time fund whatever it is they want to do but they know there are people who want to help them," Friedman said. "But you have to invest in yourself, and not doing that or not being able to do that or not having the start-up funds ... it's dangerous. Any business owner knows the value of credit cards and finding ways to fund themselves. All that pressure is on you and to do the best you can do."



Source: (c)2012 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) Distributed by MC


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