Barriers to Entry: Is it too Easy to Start a Kickstarter project?
More than half of all Kickstarters fail. Both this subject and its associated statistics have been reviewed pretty exhaustively by anyone with the inclination to do so over the last year or so. I myself made a post earlier this month about failed Kickstarter projects, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I am interested in how many projects deserve to succeed.
Who am I to decide that? Who is anyone? Isn’t it about letting the market, the crowd, decide which products deserve to succeed or fail?
Let me clarify – I am not judging project based on whether or not I like it, if I think the world needs it, or even if I think their pitch is good. What I want to know is how serious developers are about their own projects. To some people, Kickstarter is nothing more than a source of free money, and they are just throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. This is the idea I would like to explore, how to separate passionate creators from the also-ran’s.
Browsing the isles of Kickstarter, as I discussed here, is difficult, for two reasons: there are so many projects and so few search tools; whether the second is intentional I leave to you to decide, but the first is definitely a problem. When I look at projects I have to sort through twenty before I find one I’d consider giving money to. The ratio is very poor, but with a good headline and a nice picture you often have to click on every link along the way. This is frustrating, disheartening, and likely a bar to further growth and expansion – not everyone has the time to wade through the swamp.
Kickstarter is hardly the first group to have this dilemma. Recently, Steam encountered a similar problem. Valve wanted to make video game publishing for indie developers more accessible. The result? A lot of really good submissions and a lot of really bad ones. The way it was supposed to work was that game proposals get voted on, and when a given project garners enough votes, it will be produced. Generally though, the volume of projects submitted to the system made it unusable, though.
What did they do about it? They started charging a fee for admission into the program. They did this to make money on the backs of impoverished developers and loyal fans right? Wrong – they donated the entire fee to charity. The point was to make people put their money where their mouth was, to make them seriously consider whether they want to go through with it. While it is true that $100 might break the bank for some people and crush their dreams, in the overwhelming majority of cases it is simply enough to discourage those that aren’t serious, and keep the clutter down.
I think a similar system for Kickstarter could be very effective, though I would add two changes. I would make the fee variable, and set it at 1% of the funding goal so that a small $500 project for a community or high school project is trivial but a million dollar tech start-up project will require serious thought on the part of the people pursuing this funding method. I would then take that money and use it to fund better project reviews (including a budget review to keep people from low balling their expenses to duck the new fee); hire a few people to go over the budgets and goals of the incoming project queue. These two changes, if properly executed would be cost Kickstarter nothing, but would substantially improve the projects listed on their site in a matter of months by increasing the overall quality of projects and reducing the volume.
I doubt this suggestion will be popular with everybody. Adding an extra $100 fee to the cost of our upcoming Kickstarter, on top of art costs and projected advertising costs would hurt, but it would not break the project. Try looking at it from another perspective instead: would you pay $100 dollars to make your $10,000 Kickstarter project twice as visible to possible backers in a system that was much easier to explore? I know I would, and count myself lucky at twice the price.