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PD Content Creation Kickstarter Technically Succeeds, But Maybe Not How It Was Meant To

kickstarter-logoHere’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.

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Jon Jermey September 12, 2012 um 5:29 pm

I don’t see any problem with niche books being written specifically for well-heeled patrons; after all, it worked for several thousand years. Maybe mass marketing of media, with all the incredible waste of time and money that goes with it, will turn out to be merely a temporary aberration after all.

Luqman September 13, 2012 um 10:49 am

I see nothing wrong with a patronage system for artists. Better than the horrors of intellectual property.

Ross Pruden September 13, 2012 um 11:01 am

Hey, thanks for the write-up! I have a few details that were overlooked…

There are now only 33 $10 backers (probably 28 when you first wrote this piece), but every donor above $10 *also* pays for a $10 story, or a $20 story if they pledge at $20 or higher. As of today, there are 82 backers, less 23 $1 and $5 backers, which leaves 59 backers pledging 59 stories. By my own standard of getting 100 backers of $10, that’s still well short of where I need to be by the finish line tomorrow, but I haven’t done my massive email blast yet, so I expect a lot of people will hop on in the 11th hour.

Last night I also put the finishing touches on a piece for of "10 Lessons That Made Dimeword A Success". Under lesson #3, "Make fans, not money", I say:

"This is mainly my fault because I haven’t been as active as I need to be to reach out and let ALL my friends and followers know about Dimeword. On the other hand, I found 5 $100 backers and 1 $500 backer, so I suppose it balances out. My hope is that I get another 100 $1 donors by the end of the campaign. If I’d worked harder at this, I might have gotten 1,000 $1 backers. Still, it’s not bad for a first campaign. Critically, my next campaign will have this campaign as part of its backstory—word of mouth about the quality of my perks should get exponentially greater as I do more Kickstarters." (The full Techdirt piece should go live on Friday at 12PM.)

For a first venture out of the gate, I’d say this isn’t too bad an experiment. The next Kickstarter may be slightly more ambitious, maybe not. Besides, we all know the magic happens in the final few hours, right? 🙂

Almost forgot—there’s another future revenue stream I barely mentioned on the campaign page. When the campaign’s over, I’ll be selling a $15 trade paperback, too. One might argue that giving my content away to the public domain means cannibalizing my own sales, but the stories will include an introduction that explains fans may purchase a physical book to support the artist. I’m quite certain that will end up being a small revenue stream in perpetuity that relies on no copyright enforcement or royalty payments. To keep Dimeword in the public consciousness, I may run a contest to see who can do the first movie based on a Dimeword story, the first song, the first game, etc. I may do a survey where fans tell me which of the 100 stories they’d like to see expanded, and then run a Kickstarter to turn that 1 story into a short story. Because there are no licensing issues anymore, there’s more emphasis on where things should be to begin with—the creativity.

In any event, thanks so much for writing up Dimeword! It’s been a blast to run and one of my deepest pleasures has been meeting others in the press, like you. Thank you, Google Alerts!

FYI, I’m doing a 10 hour telecast on Friday from 12PM until the deadline expires at 10PM. Check the campaign page for details.

spoxx September 13, 2012 um 12:54 pm

That shure looks like the beginning of an interesting discussion!
Like it happens so often to me: I can well understand both "sides" of the pros and cons,
but as a backer of Dimeword, I’d like to contribute an additional aspect (without worrying about which side it may serve more).

When I opened my wallet, it didn’t occur to me that I was paying for story content. I was simply fascinated by the idea that someone was actually playing around, and experimenting, with new thoughts on copyright, distribution, concepts of authorship or collaboration, and so forth.
That was, what I wanted to support.
And, although the perks haven’t been sent out yet, I feel that I have already received my ROI: It’s the learning effect, new contacts and friends, inspiration for own projects, interesting discussions (like this one)… – all of this was so much harder and more costly to acquire in those old days!

I firmly believe: the effect of a crowdfunding campaign doesn’t end with the stream or trickle of incoming money, nor can it be calculated on a merchant’s spreadsheet. Rather, I like to look at it as a catalyst for community, and development. We don’t know how copyright, distribution, or an author’s business model will look like, say, ten years from now. But we do know that it will have to be completely different from today’s. It’s this change, I want to invest into.

I’m not a native speaker of English, so, please, excuse my clumpsy expression ;-))

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