Kickstarting Creativity

Last week, Rich Burlew broke all kinds of records when he launched a Kickstarter campaign to reprint his webcomic The Order Of The Stick; in the last twenty-four hours, Tim Schafer has raised over one million dollars to make an old-school graphic adventure game. Kickstarter has allowed these creators to reach out to their audience, and completely disintermediated not only their respective publishing industries, but the entire marketplace.

It should come as no surprise that the internet allows for this kind of individual patronage. Any number of creative individuals can thank the internet for their success, from Jonathan Coulton to Leo Laporte. It was inevitable that modern communication technology, when coupled with these new societies and communities, would allow us to return to one of the oldest ideas in the creative industries: personal patronage of the arts. Thanks to the internet, a writer or artist can reach out to individuals all across the world, and thus find their audience; it’s tough for a band to build a viable fan-base in their small town, but the internet gives them a potential audience of billions. Building that dedicated audience is easier than it has ever been, despite the fierce competition for attention. The great promise of disintermediation — which is now being fulfilled — is that fewer artists will earn billions of dollars, but many more will be able to make a decent living. Until recently, that has happened because customers have purchased art directly from the creators; now, we’re seeing internet citizens all over the world commission art.

This is not, of course, the answer for every struggling artist. Both Burlew and Schafer have large, devoted audiences; they bring proven track records and a wealth of existing content. Various Kickstarter projects have proved that new artists can attract the attention — and more importantly, the disposable income — of the public, but it isn’t easy, and it isn’t guaranteed. The great advantage of Kickstarter is that you can’t end up owing money after a failed artistic endeavor, as was so often the case in the bad old days of vanity publishing and the like; the great disadvantage is that directly-commissioned art reduces the chance of serendipitous discovery. The internet will adapt, of course: new platforms which facilitate discovery will rise, and the cost of entry for these various pursuits is dropping all the time, which will allow more people to enter the creative space and be reasonably rewarded for their time. It will work out, because the appetite of the public for new art is rapacious. That, even in the digital age, is a basic truth.

Right now, I’m simply grateful that Burlew and Schafer — two men for whom I have the utmost regard — are able to continue creating new things. It speaks well of our shared culture that we are willing to so generously support the things we love.


13 thoughts on “Kickstarting Creativity

  1. It is an interesting and encouraging trend. I’m still not always most aware of what people are trying, but it’s fun that creative things that wouldn’t have been possible a handful of years ago are taking off now.

  2. Alastair, I love Kickstarter’s slogan: “A New Way to Fund and Follow Creativity.” Every artist deserves a chance to succeed, whether they are creating novels, comics, films, games, or whatever…Kickstarter is totally cool! Excuse me while I go back over to explore the projects there…

  3. Oh, and I forgot to say how great the seamless click from the ‘Verse to your site and Lani’s is–works perfectly! I love it! Thanks!

  4. @Jenni: I’m with you — it can be difficult to keep up with these new developments, but we’re getting to the point where any creative endeavor can be funded somehow. It’s an interesting time!

    @Nan: Thanks so much! I’m glad the new system is so straightforward — and it encouraged me to reboot my blog, which can’t be bad. 🙂

  5. Hi Alastair! So glad to see you blogging again. After talking to children all day it’s good to get my brain kicking electronically again.

    I’ve been wondering if there was a way to use kickstart to fund the two books I’m working on. If I could figure out a way to make it attractive to people so that I could spend the bulk of my day on my art instead of at work. I’m still thinking!

    Welcome back to your blog!

  6. Thanks for this. So interesting. I’m from the dark ages and have difficulty keeping up with all of these new sites. Thanks for pointing me toward Kickstarter. Will go explore. Maybe learn something new. : )

  7. I loved that Tim Shafer managed to get the money for his game through Kickstarter. He’s a true game visionary (disclosure: my husband knows him) and it’s difficult to get games funded that are not immediately seen as commercial.

    My best friend’s husband used Kickstarter last year to fund a short film he wrote. The film’s script has gone on to final in a number of competitions. I was happy to be one of its supporters.

    What I love about Kickstarter and programs like that is that it does for the arts what the Obama campaign found worked in politics. It allows lots of people with just a little money to contribute to a greater cause (in this case, arts).

  8. I’m still working on figuring out all the bit about Kickstarter because a friend wants to use it to fund a couple of documentary projects he wants to do (he needs some more audio and video equipment and a bit of living expenses would help). I’m not sure how it works and what it funds, but I’ve been reading. I think it’s an awesome concept and platform.

    For those of you interested in using Kickstarter, there is a beginner’s guidelines document in there that offers help. It talks about projects being 30-60 days long, which doesn’t cover any of a lot of these projects, so I’d love to read how longer projects got funded. And there is the part where you include in the funding and in the afterward something tangible to give your funders, such as a signed copy of the book or a named character in your game or something, so it’s more than simply funding, it’s interactive.

  9. wow, disintermediation is a great word. Another great side benefit of the Internet age– new words. Or maybe this is an old one that was just brought forward. like webs, nice to see you blogging at your own site again.

  10. I think going into a kind of “grassroots” embrace of new things — self-published books, art, comics, et al. — is a wonderful idea. There are more niches than just the popular ones large companies aim for.

  11. Hey man, whatever it takes to get you blogging again. You are a great writer!

    Love Kickstarter! Thanks for the pointer to this project – I can get lost for days on Kickstarter as it is, just wish I could toss more money into the kitty.

  12. Thanks for all the kind words, everyone! It’s good to be back!

    Fokker, you’re absolutely right about niche art; it’s not the fault of large companies that they have to aim for the broadest possible segment of the market — that is, after all, their fiduciary responsibility — but it’s wonderful that artists can leverage this new technology to reach their audience, no matter how small that audience may be. It’s an exciting time to be a part of this world!

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