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When I spoke to Evan Young for my Kickstand column back in May, he had just canceled the Kickstarter for his comic The Last West, the tale of a world in which all scientific and cultural progress has just stopped. But he had done it for a good reason: He had just signed with Alterna Comics, and having a publisher changed enough things that he felt he had to retool the Kickstarter.
Now he’s back, with a new Kickstarter campaign that has already exceeded its goal, and it seemed like a good time to ask him about what changed (and what didn’t).
Robot 6: First of all, can you briefly summarize why you cancelled and relaunched your Kickstarter for The Last West?
Evan Young: Good question. To make a long story short, we finalized a digital publishing deal with Peter Simeti over at Alterna Comics, which came smack in the middle of our first Kickstarter campaign. Which was fantastic for us! Unfortunately, it was not fantastic for our Kickstarter campaign at the time. Kickstarter rules don’t allow you to modify rewards in any way once someone has backed your project for that particular reward, so for that reason alone we were going to have to cancel it and reboot. The rewards we offered the first time around were not geared toward a published book (either digital or in print), they were not timed to coincide with our new Alterna schedule, etc. Just a bunch of problems for us that we weren’t going to be able to work out while at the same time staying fair to our backers.
So at the end of the day, we thought the most fair thing to do would be to cancel the campaign and relaunch it once we had all of our details sorted out — so that’s what we’ve done.
Small comics publisher Alterna Comics is running what it calls a “reverse fundraiser” on the crowd-funding platform IndieGoGo. The term “reverse fundraiser” suggests the company will be giving the money to us, but alas, it’s not that good. What is reversed is actually the chronology of events: Alterna is looking for funding for comics that have already been published. Alterna founder Peter Simeti explains:
When these books originally went to print, fundraising sites like kickstarter and indie gogo weren’t super popular so we ended up putting print runs on credit cards. I’m still in a bit of debt because of this (about $30K) but it’s been getting better every year. I pay about $5K a year in interest fees though because of this, so it’s been a really hard upward battle to pay off the bills, pay creators, and produce new product. Especially on a substitute teacher’s salary… ($11K a year)
Compared to those numbers, the fund-raiser is quite modest; the goal is $2,500. And the rewards are pretty good: For $10, you can get a hard copy of any Alterna comic or a digital collection of 25 graphic novels in PDF format. But this does raise the question of what crowd-funding is really about. Johanna Draper Carlson recently commented that she prefers to donate to a project that is already complete and just needs funding for printing costs. This carries that to its logical extreme — the books are finished — but looked at another way, it is really just using IndieGoGo as a temporary storefront. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s definitely another wrinkle in the crowd-funding model.
Peter Simeti, the president and publisher of Alterna Comics, sent out a mass e-mail this weekend saying “Alterna has had a rough two years” and directing readers to the company’s fund-raising page at Indie GoGo. It sounds like they have a cash flow problem:
Sales don’t come in quick enough (book distribution takes up to 6 months to pay us) and we end up accumulating over $4,000 worth of interest ever year, even though we’ve maintained a small profit for the past 3 years, that profit has been quickly eaten up by the bills we have. The worst part is, our company debt is around $28,000 – which isn’t even a lot for most small companies. But due to the fact that we can’t even make new books to spur new income – the debt has become stifling and will eventually take its toll on us within 1 to 2 years.
So unless they can raise some money pronto, they are going to go into a death spiral of debt. The amount they are trying to raise seems laughably small—$1,000, much less than most Kickstarter drives—but apparently that will keep the wolf from the door for a while. Interestingly, the lowest level of the drive consists simply of buying their books—you fork over $10, you get a $10 book as a “reward”—although a few of the listed books cost more than $10 and at least one costs less. Of course, the indie page cuts out the distributor and thus the distributor’s cut and the time lag in payment. This really goes to Simeti’s point: Alterna’s books are selling well, they just can’t get paid for them, and in a way, the Indie GoGo page is just a direct sales channel that will get a bit of juice from the added publicity of Simeti’s plea. What’s more, it’s a sales channel with some good incentives, as the rewards escalate quickly, and you can get some original art for short money. A plea for funds isn’t really a marketing plan, but maybe this is just what Alterna needs—to sell fewer books through Diamond and Amazon and more on their own.