Here’s a cute little Kickstarter. Ross Pruden has launched a Kickstarter called “Dimeword” to fund one hundred 100-word short stories to be released into the public domain. Everyone who donates $10 gets a 100-word story written just for them. (Found via Techdirt.) Everyone who donates at least $1 gets every story emailed to them a week before the book’s official release. Pruden offers a number of perks at levels ranging from $1 to $5,000, though the highest perk he’s managed to sell (one of) is $500.
In the description of the Kickstarter, Pruden casts it as his attempt to show how authors can still make money without copyright. He explains content producers should “use the abundant to sell the scarce” by building a relationship with fans and using network effects of those fans to sell to other fans—then set the work free at the same time as he sells it.
The Kickstarter has cleared over $2,000 of its $1,000 goal, with two days to go, which makes it look highly successful at first glance. But when you look a little closer, you notice that only it only has 70 backers (at the time of this writing), and only 28 out of the 100 stories have actually been paid for. (There are actually 300 $10 donation slots available; there’s no explanation anywhere I can find of what the other two hundred people would get after the 100-story goal was reached—not that that is going to happen at this point.)
Furthermore, almost half of the total money the project has raised can be laid at the feet of only six backers—one $500 and five $100 donations. And eight more backers account for almost $400 more among them. I suppose from the point of view of earning Pruden the money he wants to earn without invoking copyright, the project could be called successful, but if he was aiming at democratizing content production by appealing to fans and getting them to spread the word to others, I’m not so sure he’s really succeeded—he didn’t even get enough people to fill a bus. Instead of taking in a little money each from a lot of people, he’s taking in the bulk of his money from just a few.
Is this the real future of copyright-free content—authors finding a few well-heeled angels willing to pay them for giving stuff away? The problem is, there aren’t all that many angels, and there are a lot more content creators who want to be paid than they’ll have the budget or the patience to fund.
On the other hand, Pruden did at least keep his goal modest—barely even four digits. Which means he had a better chance of success from the start than other would-be public-domain Kickstarter projects I’ve noticed. Perhaps that’s the real lesson for would-be public-domain start kickers: aim low and you’re more likely to succeed.