Archive for May 14th, 2012

Kickstarter Postmortem, Part 1

I’ve decided to split this postmortem into two halves.  This first half will focus entirely on my thoughts.  Part two, sometime next week, will include a back-and-forth with the editor of The Memory Eater anthology to talk about the decision to go Kickstarter, and what he thinks of it as a way forward for fiction and anthologies.

First and foremost, I want to say thank you.  From the absolute bottom of my heart, thank you.  I recognized several names on the donors list that I know are followers on Twitter, readers of this blog, friends in real life, or who I otherwise pointed to the Kickstarter.  It’s been overwhelming each time I see one of those names come up.  If you are reading this and you donated, or you helped spread the word, or you simply put up with me becoming a single-focused Kickstarter monster for 40 days and 40 nights, I cannot thank you enough.  I hope that the end product of our campaign justifies your faith in the project.

I didn’t want to go any further without saying those words.

The Kickstarter experience was a hell of a roller coaster, and I wanted to give people a look at what it’s like to be part of a project that doesn’t have A Name attached to it.  What do I mean by A Name?  Let’s look at some of the most successful projects on the site.  The same day we got funded, Steve Jackson was funded just shy of a million dollars to resurrect his classic game Ogre.  During our campaign, Amanda Palmer hit her $100,000 goal in a matter of hours.  The classic example, at least until someone beats its $3.3 million haul, is Double Fine Adventure, which got $300,000 in just eight hours.  In all of these cases, we’re talking about individuals (Jackson, Palmer, and Tim Schafer) who have rabid and devoted followers.

Who were we?  We were a rag-tag collection of authors and illustrators who combined didn’t have the prestige that any of Jackson, Palmer, or Schafer have in their pinky fingers.  In the end we became the 84th most funded Publishing/Fiction project in the site’s short history, well behind juggernauts like Dinocalypse Now and Steampunk Holmes.  Compare that to the three projects above, which all had two things in common when compared to The Memory Eater.  Both had more backers than we had dollars backed, and both had, and sold, rewards worth more than our entire project.  Hell, then some of our stretch goals, even.

There’s another Kickstarter postmortem out there, as web video legend Ze Frank broke down his experiences in funding his new show through the site.  His project and ours have a few differences, namely just about everything except that we both used Kickstarter.  He’s an established name online, with an established fan base, and he chose to go for an 11 day project largely because Kickstarter itself was interested to test short-term projects as they saw most money raised in the first and last three days.  In his postmortem he has a hunch:

:: HUNCH :: My guess is the shape of the blue curve is mainly defined by pretty basic network properties of information spread – a short period of exponential growth followed by exponential decline. The initial spike has to do with novel interest and many overlapping points of broadcast (initial marketing, retweets, blog posts, sharing) Once you are in the phase of exponential decline, you will have to fight to maintain interest, either by enlisting larger broadcast nodes (news articles, bloggers) or by creating shareable events (new reasons to share your campaign.)

My hunch, before our Kickstarter opened, was that the initial spike seen at the beginning of a Kickstarter from a known quantity, A Name, is due to a period before the information about the project is saturated.  It doesn’t take nearly as long for Ze Frank, Jackson, Palmer, or Schafer to largely exhaust their ability to mobilize an existing fan base.  The long tail is due to funding goals being reached, so there’s a decreased excitement.  Those trickling in at this point are those who are curious or somehow missed the opening blast trickle in, then the big finish is from those who were holding out but decided they really wanted to be in on the whole thing.  The concept of exhaustion and diminishing returned interested me as we went into a project where we were reliant on hard fought word of mouth and people stumbling upon our project being curious.  And one that likely wasn’t going to get 72-hour funding.  So, since I like being obsessive, and I like charts, and I like numbers, I put together The Infamous Graph.

Each morning at as close to 7:55am eastern time as possible (the time we launched, so our Kickstarter midnight) I grabbed the total contribution from the Kickstarter and scribbled it down.  They all went into an Excel spreadsheet, and I tracked the overall progress (blue bar, left axis) and the daily change in pledges (red bar, right axis).  The other extraneous lines are a green line tracking our overall goal and a purple line representing an even progression towards the goal, so I’d know if we were ahead of or behind pace.  Please note, this is unofficial in every possible way, and I know it’s flawed as I somehow ended up with 39 data points coming out of a 40-day Kickstarter project.

Yes, we did have two days where we lost money, including nearly $50 the last Saturday of the campaign.  We had three more where there was absolutely no movement.  Ze Frank raised 2/3 of his total in those first three days.  We raised just shy of 20% in our initial push.  Ze Frank had a “slight increase” in his last three days.  We raised over $1000, nearly 1/4 of our final total, in a frantic and wonderful last four days.  Ze Frank had a comparative drop off (though his worst day far outstripped our best) and never really shot back up.  Our project kept experiencing fits of activity that kept the blue line right around the purple line.

The projects, in short, couldn’t look much different.  Then again, they couldn’t be much different.  One wanted $50k, the other just over $4k.  One was a single person, the other was a team of artists and creators.  One was a known quantity, the other was more of a gamble for the contributors.

So we experienced some giddy highs.  At the end of that first week when we were on pace to double our money, we started talking stretch goals.  I like stretch goals, and we all had visions of The Memory Eater 2 swooping through our heads.  Yeah, we never even came close.  We were never in as good shape as our best days looked, we were never in as bad shape as our worst days looked.  I’ll be honest, after that bottom out there on day 33, I didn’t expect we would be funded.  Yes, I’d heard of last minute pushes, but I didn’t think they could be as powerful as I’d heard.

They are.  And then some.  I suspect it helped that we were at 80% when we started showing up on Ending Soon pages.  The last 96 hours featured people who were holding on to see if their support was needed, and those Kickstarter regulars who like to push a project over the top.

The project went largely as I expected.  We had a strong start, a strong finish, and some setbacks in the middle.  It took longer for us to reach a point of saturation, because it took our voices so much longer to spread.  We experienced some diminishing returns, but not nearly those represented by Ze Franks graphs.  But then…we also funded on the second to last day, not on day three, so there was never a point where we weren’t in danger.  Hell, up until about 7 hours left in the project there were two backers who could sink us by virtue of the size of their donations, and even up to the finish line there was still just one.  I didn’t expect they actually would, that would take an amount of spite that I would like to think doesn’t exist on Kickstarter, but worrying about things like that is one of my various unhealthy hobbies.  I don’t smoke, so this is what I get.

In the end I wanted to let people see what a Kickstarter project looked like when it had nothing but tenacity and the promise of some excellent short stories going for it.  Plus a couple dozen people who really believed in a thing and wouldn’t say die.  In the end, 166 people joined us for the ride, which is all flavors of exciting.  Where do we go next?  Well, our fearless leader CP has some questionnaires to put together and the rest of us get to take a deep breath and stop spamming our Twitter followers.  Which is one more thank you I owe, to everyone who simply put up with me talking about this project so endlessly.  Especially my wife, who got the best view of my mania.

I’m not sure I’m excited to go through another Kickstarter project.  I liked getting somewhat dragged into one, having a stake but not being the key figure.  It was fun, but it was also nerve-racking, exhausting, and focus drawing.  My writing productivity dropped precipitously near the end.  This isn’t a reason for writers in general not to do Kickstarters, it’s a reason only for writers who are me to never spearhead one.  Which…honestly…if this had gone a lot bigger and better, if we’d hit those stretch goals, I was considering two different projects I’d like to do that might benefit from a Kickstart.  Now, I might still do them, but they won’t be crowdsourced.

I’m looking forward to talking with CP a little more next week.  We’ve been in touch through most of the campaign, I know some of his thoughts on it, but I’ll be interested to get some more formal answer to what he thinks we did right, did wrong, and what lessons other writers and anthologists might take from our experiences before launching their own Kickstarter.  Keep an eye out, I hope to have it up by Friday of next week, but mine is not the only calendar for that.


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