Robot 6

The Kickstarter feedback loop [Updated]

An image from Shadowbinders, which is having better luck the second time around

After this post went live, a representative from Kickstarter reached out to clarify some of the points made below. I don’t think it changes my basic conclusion, but when you’re working with statistics, it’s good to have all your caveats in a row, so I added a few more comments after the cut.

Unlike some people, Mike Dawson has no problem with Kickstarter, per se, and in fact has contributed to some other creators’ projects. But he is reluctant to use it for his own work:

Simply put, I’d be wary of allowing my ability or inability to successfully fund the printing costs of a book to have any influence over whether or not I saw said project through to completion.

Pre-failing financially, would undoubtedly undermine any chances I have of succeeding creatively.

Allowing a kind of market to pre-determine if my project has value… that would alter my own perception about it’s worth, no matter how hard I tried to fight that.

Failing to raise funds would mean I’d scrap the story and try something else. And I think that’s a crappy outcome.

(Emphasis in the original.) It’s not the same as getting rejected by a publisher — that, he feels, could be written off as the opinion of one or two people. If the entire market rejects your work, it’s a lot harder to get up the enthusiasm to complete it.

But hold on a minute. After looking at the Kickstarter statistics presented by Jeanne Pi of AppsBlogger and Prof. Ethan Mollick of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t be so quick to scrap a project just because it didn’t get a lot of pledges. Pi and Mollick present their findings in a handy infographic, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Kickstarter tends to bury its failures, so it appears more successful than it is.*
  • Most projects that are funded make their goal by a small margin.
  • Projects that don’t get funded, on the other hand, tend to fail by a large margin.
  • The exception to this is that small handful of projects that totally blow out their funding goals. But that’s not the norm.
  • The more Facebook friends you have, the more likely your project is to get funded.**
  • Projects that are featured have an 89% success rate, versus 30% for projects that are not featured.**
  • Projects that have a video are more likely to succeed than those that do not.**

So, the bitter might say that Kickstarter is basically a popularity contest where you either win small or lose big, but really it’s more like a feedback system, where likely projects get a boost and others that don’t hit the right buttons get shunted to the side. If you go to the main page of Kickstarter and click “See all 125 comics projects,” you don’t get a page with all 125 comics projects. You get a curated selection of “Staff Picks,” “Popular Projects” and “Recently Successful.” You can click for more in those categories — and actually, clicking through on “Popular Projects” does give you the full list — but it seems like part of the design of Kickstarter is to make the casual browser look at their chosen projects before revealing the full range. In short, rather than presenting all projects on an equal footing, Kickstarter makes it very easy to find some projects and more difficult to find others. They load the dice.

Those staff picks (what I assume Pi means by “featured projects”) have high visibility — one in each category on the front page, a handful more on the next. I’m guessing that the staff uses quality as a criterion for its picks, meaning these projects may be more likely to get funded to begin with, but the increased exposure has to give them a boost as well.

Still, failure, when it comes, is not absolute. The first Shadowbinders Kickstarter failed (well, the creators canceled it with less than $1,200 pledged toward their $10,000 goal), perhaps not so much because of the comic as a lack of focus, as this blogger implies. The creators picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and started another one, which is almost 80 percent there as of this writing. Lea Hernandez’s Kickstarter for The Garlicks failed, but she promised in her farewell video that she will bring it back in another form in August.

So while failing to make your Kickstarter goal may be embarrassing, it is not necessarily fatal.

* I conflated two things here. I was referring to the point about it being easier to find better-funded projects in progress—the feedback loop. I stand by that conclusion, but it doesn’t belong in the bulleted list. Pi had a different point, having to do with scraping the blog and finding more successes than failures, which led her to believe Kickstarter was making pages for projects that failed to make their goal harder to find. I’m not convinced of that, and my comment wasn’t referring to that. FWIW, Kickstarter has a stats page that gives the exact number of successful and failed projects. The success rate is 44%, as of today.

** The data for these three conclusions was based on Kickstarter projects with a goal of $5,000 or over. The previous bullet points are based on a larger data set but not a complete one: Prof. Mollick eliminated projects with goals under $100 or over $1,000,000 as well as those not based in the U.S.



Sounds like he’s making excuses. If you’re project DOES have merit and you market it to the right audience then really isn’t a problem.

What we have defined as mainstream comics have become a truly niche market in this country as sales data attests.

The super-hero stuff is kept alive by a entitled (hard)core demographic that has been invested in the characters and universes since they were kids and will go to their graves still denying the reality that this stuff is inaccessible to the norms and gives women the creeps. The indie stuff is vanity publishing almost to a man.

This is why these comic Kickstarters are always for chump change and still fail.

Seems to me that if we were to go by readership then the real mainstream is webcomics. Or didn’t Order of the Stick get more money than pretty much every other traditional style comic project combined?

Thanks for the shoutout, Brigid!

Yes, we’re doing *much* better this time around than the first time. (I hope I don’t jinx it by writing here… ha ha)

The lack of support the first time around *was* a bit disheartening for us, given that we know we have a pretty decent readership. Those readers weren’t backing that project though.


I think they just weren’t feeling that particular project. In this case, I feel, Kickstarter was a good litmus test of what will stick. There simply wasn’t a demand for what we were offering (an app), so we listened to our readers and retooled (for a print edition).

It’s not always easy to hear that you’re wrong, but numbers DO talk.

Now that being said, yes — becoming a Staff Pick gives you a definite boost. After we got picked, there was a noticeable uptick in activity. According to the project dashboard, more than half of our backers wandered in from Kickstarter, and (presumably) were not already familiar with our webcomic. Those backers most likely found us through the Staff Picks page.

I didn’t get a staff pick…and man, did I ever want one but still managed to go over my goal by over %500…of the friends I have on Facebook (I had around 50) one of them pledged…
not so much a popularity contest if you ask me…really about just getting people’s attention in the 2 secs they’ll bother to look at your tiny picture on Kickstarter…I don’t deny a good deal of luck must have been involoved in me doing so well but still I’d say get a good book with good art, promote the hell out of it and you’ll do fine…
also don’t get greedy…I think a lot of people cost themselves a chance to do well by asking for too much and not giving enough back….

This all seems kinda no-brainer.

If you’re using social media to make people aware that you’ve got a project going, you’re more likely to get funded. Really? Someone had to quantify that? If you’ve got a lot of friends, they’ll help you out (kinda goes with the whole friend thing) and Kickstarter seems like a much more classy way to go about it than hey, spot me ten bucks, I want to print a comic. And they’ve got friends they can point your way.

Projects with videos do better. Well, if you’re going to ask me for money and I can see and hear you talk enthusastically about your project, and connect with you in some small, brief way as a real live person instead of a random screenname . . . yeah, you’re more likely to get me to open my wallet. If you’re resourceful enough to be able to make a comic book, you should be able to figure out how to get even a basic video made.

I love how people are always willing to assume the worst. Kickstarter is an awesome concept. Some people fail, and it’s Kickstarter’s fault that teh Interwebz didn’t hoist you up overnight on its collective shoulders and make you a king. This is a time as a creator when you’re hard pressed to get a publisher to look at your work and going out on a limb to self-publish and putting yourself in possible considerable debt isn’t a real smart idea.

“I’m guessing that the staff uses quality as a criterion for its picks, meaning these projects may be more likely to get funded to begin with, but the increased exposure has to give them a boost as well.”

No offense, but kind of obvious there. They’re going to highlight the stuff that they feel positive about . . . kind of the same way an editor at a publisher has to look at something and say, “Well, I personally like this, but I don’t think I can sell it to my bosses, because I’ve been doing this for a while and I kind of have some experience to draw upon as to what they’ll give the thumbs-up to.” This may be a lot harder since you’re trying to judge what a large number of people are going to think. If they just pick the My Little Pony meets Sin City thing, weirdly cool and original as it may be, that kind of undermines the value of their opinion if a lot of people disagree. You can only tell someone “this is cool, check it out” and they come back shaking their heads at you so many times before they just stop listening to what you have to say.

And the whole idea of curating popular projects? It’s CROWDFUNDING. There’s a certain amount of popularity contest built into the concept’s DNA. I’m sure to some demographics, the fact that something is fairly close to its goal is an incentive and drives further donations, the idea that this thing does already stand a good chance of getting made and you’re not getting excited over nothing. People do only have a limited amount of time to go through these things and it probably is safe to assume that any given random viewer can’t whip out the checkbook and throw $5,000 into the pot. So yeah, the ‘orphans’ are going to sink to the bottom. Sad, but that makes logical sense.

It’s not Kickstarter’s job to promote you if you’re not doing it yourself. They’re only there to provide you with a forum in which you can pitch your project and then collect the money. That doesn’t mean they don’t want you to succeed, or are going out of their way to screw you. That’s the kind of whiny, egotistical nonsense that comes from aspiring newbie creators with very fragile egos that either need a huge reality check or a line of work where they’re going to get less bruised on a regular basis.

I can understand an investigative piece looking at if Kickstarter projects live up to what the creators promised in the final product, but kind of trying to find a way to say “AHA! I *KNEW* it was a rip-off” . . . Kickstarter ought to be praised by comics fans, because a lot of publishers don’t even have formal submissions departments anymore, so even having a chance to get new voices into the mix should be a good thing, not nitpicking or looking at ulterior motives because some people didn’t make the cut. It happens, sometimes despite having good stuff you’re just not in the right place at the right time.

“It’s not the same as getting rejected by a publisher — that, he feels, could be written off as the opinion of one or two people. If the entire market rejects your work, it’s a lot harder to get up the enthusiasm to complete it.”

See, it should be the exact opposite — my qualifications for this opinion are having gone through this process and having material published.

You should be MORE upset that an editor found a problem with it. These guys and gals generally have their jobs because they’ve demonstated an ability to spot talent or projects that have potential to make the publisher they work for at least some project. If they rejected it, there may be a very specific reason. Ideally they may give you a clue to that reason, and if more than one person is giving the same reason . . .

The fact that a bunch of random folks on the internet didn’t support you might mean a lot less, all things considered . . . and to bail on something you think is good just because large numbers of people aren’t patting you on the head and giving you a cookie on work you haven’t even fully completed? If it wasn’t worthwhile, why even start it in the first place?

That sounds unduly harsh but it also sounds like a lack of confidence in your material and talent, too. You do what you think is good, do your best work regardless if anyone but you, your half-blind grandmother and your cat are the only ones to ever see it, you finish it, you start shopping it around, and you start the next one. You pay attention to your rejections and you try to suss out the reasons why it may have been rejected, or met with indifference, and sometimes it is as simple as wrong place, wrong time. Kickstarter’s not supposed to be some sort of marketing litmus test, it’s one potential avenue to getting your work produced.

Quick Update: The Shadowbinders omnibus is now over 100% funded with 6 days to spare.

Second chances rock. :)

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