January 8, 2015
Just guess how many Kickstarter dollars went to publishing projects last year
by Kirsten Reach
No, you goon! TWENTY TWO MILLION.
Publishing projects were the third most common projects funded on Kickstarter in 2014, reported by Charlotte Eyre of The Bookseller. There were fewer of them than music and film projects, but more than art, theater, dance, and comics. The total amount funded last year was significantly less than categories like games and technology. In 2013, about 32% of projects were fully funded.
It raises a few follow-up questions: How many of these projects were picked up by a major publisher? How many were self-published? How did they sell?
As crowd-sourcing rises and advances boom and/or bust, authors are turning to places like Kickstarter to raise their own advances. Kickstarter has made a conscious effort to expand its presence in the publishing world. And the success has been steady: the numbers in 2013 were around $22.2 million, too.
They had some high-profile projects in 2014. Some seem to be toeing a line, like Reading Rainbow. LeVar Burton closed the Kickstarter page after 106K backers had invested $5,408,916 to help expand the app for classroom use, according to Forbes. But his funding made the project sound like a nonprofit, which it isn’t. Bigger than that, though this was probably filed under “film” in Kickstarter’s stats, Griffin Dunne raised $80K in one day for a documentary about Joan Didion. Would this project have been funded by a studio, anyway? Is it wrong to ask for cash from fans before selling the rights to a product to a movie production company or a publisher?
This is a different kind of publishing. The language changes slightly, but in an important way. It’s no longer a publisher investing in a product. It’s a team of “backers.” When it’s not just one advance from one company, but a whole heap of small investments from friends and strangers, it’s up to the author to fulfill promises to the backers. When a published book is successful, generally the author and the publisher both benefit with royalties.
And if a publishing project funded by crowd-sourcing is wildly successful, there’s no contract. Does the author owe anything to his or her earliest investors other than, say, a signed copy or a pair of sunglasses?
Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.