Monday, March 10, 2014

Things I Don't Intend To Do When I Get My Kickstarter Going

I'm still in setup mode for my soccer-book Kickstarter; I'm currently working out details of what I'm trying to do with the artist I'm lining up to do my cover. I'm not exactly that artist's only project right now, so it's taking a little bit to get that squared away.

This noted, one of the many potential obstacles of a Kickstarter is, ironically, being too successful. When you put the ask number out there, the goal is to ask for an amount that you think will cover all your expenses, hopefully giving yourself enough leeway in anticipation of some difficulty or other that you didn't see coming beforehand (protip: this will happen somewhere along the way). The thing is, though, when you do that, you calibrate for an amount meant to cover expenses at the level right at the ask number. More money sounds like it's just icing on the cake, right? Big bucks means big success?

Not necessarily. More money means that more people need to be shipped backer rewards, thus upping your costs accordingly. Problems can arise when the creator fails to account for the increased scale and their costs rise faster than their pledges. Or, alternatively, when they find that the rewards and stretch goals they've reached have ended up handing them an amount of work that they can't actually cope with. (This is something I'm specifically trying to calibrate... just in case.)

John Campbell, creator of the webcomic Pictures For Sad Children, got off the Kickstarter for his first book, eponymously titled, without any real issues. The second book, Sad Pictures For Children, was launched similarly, with an ask number of $8,000. He ended up with $51,615, in a campaign ending on May 26, 2012. Which, again, you'd think would be awesome.

But the project turned out not to scale up like he'd hoped. Printing what wound up being 2,000 (hardcover) books ran him $30,000 of that amount, which right there is getting up towards four times the original ask number. An additional amount- don't know how much- was spent on finding enough dead wasps to encase in plastic and affix inside the back covers of each of the books (the identities of the stretch goals have been removed from the campaign page, but I'd think that would have been one of them).

Three backers went in at the $100 level (it was limited to those three), which I think I ought to single out. It read: "a signed/drawn in copy of "sad pictures for children" and i will take a homeless person to eat somewhere and ask them about their life. i will then give them $100, and make a comic about them or about the experience. Then I will send you the original pages of the comic." Which is nice and altruistic and all, in the abstract quite noble, but from a purely project perspective, that was a poor decision. The money you get is supposed to at minimum entirely cover the costs of the project. The money you get at any given backer tier has to not only cover everything you give away at that level, but the remainder is to be applied towards the main project as well. Preferably, you want your rewards to be high-margin: that is, you want to be spending a tiny amount of money relative to the reward level. Autographing the product is a very high-margin option; it costs you literally nothing to grab a pen or a marker and write your name on the product. All the money at that tier can thus be directly applied to the main project. It's a popular option for reward tiers.

When your $100 reward tier starts with you handing the entire $100 to someone, no matter their lot in life, and then using the $0 you have left to make a fresh piece of work, in addition to the main project... that is not only low-margin, you are putting yourself in the hole with everyone who takes that reward tier.

As for the high-margin autograph reward, Campbell didn't really apply it to his benefit at all. All tiers that included a copy of the book automatically came with it autographed. For the autograph to help his cause, it would need to have been applied as an amplifier higher up the ladder. Pledge $X, you get a book; pledge $X+Y, I'll autograph it for you too. (He did, though, opt to make a little drawing in the book as an amplifier, so he did that right at least.)

A 200-page hardcover book, with color sections and a dead wasp, is going to run into money, as I've found out just fiddling around with cost calculators. Color in particular is going to drive up your costs like crazy. Hardcover is going to drive up your costs like crazy. It all eventually caught up to Campbell. With about 75% of the rewards sent out, he ran out of money.

The backers still without their rewards- which happened to be his biggest backers- started getting antsy. They wanted to know what was going on and where their books were- understandable, as they had the most money tied up in this, with the backer tiers ranging up to $1,000. There was radio silence since an update on December 12, 2013.

A week and a half ago on February 27, 21 months after the original end of the campaign, Campbell told them where their books were.

They were in hell. He had set them on fire. He had zero intention of sending any more out. Only 750-800 of the books had gone out, with about 150 more being returned due to shipping errors or wrong/outdated addresses. 127 of the books, one for each message he had gotten asking where the remaining books were, had been burned, along with a statement that one additional book would be burned for every attempt to contact him on the matter until they were all gone. The backers at $75 and above were told to go screw themselves.

That's the short version. The long version... let's put it this way; Campbell wrote the long version. It is barely coherent in places and can only be described as a complete mental breakdown. Campbell did not merely want nothing more to do with the project, or the comic strip itself (which he has now removed from the Internet entirely, ending a run that started in 2007). He wanted nothing more to do with money as a concept. He wanted someone to help him just cover his basic living needs with no expectation of a reward of any kind.

After reading the message, while there was predictably some amount of anger and resignation in the comments section, there has actually been a significant sense of sympathy. These guys just watched a man have a nervous breakdown. To hell with the book; this is still an artist they respected enough to back in the first place. There were multiple calls to seek help, a Buddhist or two who sympathized with the rejection of money.

The problems at this point, though, are threefold:

1) According to the rules of Kickstarter (which due to enforceability is less a rule and more of a severe social obligation), the creator must refund the money of any backer whose reward he cannot or will not fulfill. And Campbell has stated in no uncertain terms, just go ahead and try to get that money out of him at this point.
2) Kickstarter does not permit 'fund-my-life' campaigns.
3) Campbell appears to have no intention of so much as logging onto Kickstarter ever again, let alone start another campaign.

1 comment:

Pinyan said...

Some possible additional context:
Mid-January: Some woman asks webcomic artist Joel Watson (Hijinks Ensue) for advice to give her daughter on webcomicking. He responds with some good advice.
Late January: John Campbell provides a pretty vicious response/additional answer, including asking how dare Joel Watson answer this woman's question.
February 21: After Watson makes a "I don't know what the fark just happened" post, Campbell ups the dickitude with a post saying that since Watson is "uncomfortable being referred to as a white man, so in this post I will refer to Joel Watson as a black woman" (including using the picture of Spike Trotman, a black female webcomicker. The post is titled "Joel Watson is the Only Reason I Am Leaving Webcomics Forever".
John Campbell is roundly called a jackass by other members of the webcomic community including but not limited to Randy Milholland and David Willis. Campbell deletes Pictures of Sad Children on or before February 21, but it's not until several days later that the books are burned