I’m writing this from a coffee shop in downtown Round Rock. Four feet away from me, taped on the wall next to the front door, is a piece of paper asking people to help send a bowling team to a national competition. Instead of a labeled jar for cash donations below it, there’s a link to one of the many crowdfunding websites at the bottom of the paper.
Kickstarter and its multiplying competitors are omnipresent in today’s culture. And, as soon as the concept became popular, so too did the debates surrounding it.
Connection to this blog’s topic: A colleague and I are presenting this weekend at the Computers and Writing 2013 conference (Note to self: Never again with the proposals for papers that haven’t been written). Our topic is “Prosumer Backers and Self-marketing Projects: The Rhetoric of Crowdfunding.” Basically, I think crowdfunding is going to see an explosion of research and scholarly analysis in the next few years. Our panel aims to set the stage for that, specific to the rhetoric and composition fields. A smattering of relevant questions (which might be relevant for their answers, or for an analysis of the debate around them): Does financial support constitute participation/production of content? What constitutes a project that’s seen as “appropriate” for crowdfunding by the online community (looking at both the purpose/product and the people behind it)? How does a project’s “marketing” differ when it’s being crowdfunded versus privately funded? What are the expectations of someone who participates in this process?
Relevant news items:
Penny Arcade crowdfunds the removal of advertisement and the expected backlash.
Zach Braff crowdfunds a new movie project, Ken Levine’s criticism of it, and a response to that line of criticism from a techdirt blog.
Veronica Mars movie crowdfunded.
Kickstarter’s word on the above two.
Relevant academic reading:
Pretty much anything by Henry Jenkins (his site, Wikipedia), but specifically his work on Participatory Culture (this book – full text PDF courtesy MacArthur Foundation) and Convergence Culture (this book).
“Owning Up: Exploring the Kickstarter Restaurant” – Kaitlyn Goalen, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 11(4) – Currently the only academic publication focused on crowdfunding I could find. Sorry for the JSTOR paywall.
Personally, I find the whole scene very interesting, which is why I ended up on a panel about it. I’ve only crowdfunded two projects: an album by a friend’s band, and a card game based on the book Moby Dick. Despite my lack of participation, I see huge value in the process, no matter who is using it. There are so many ventures out there that just don’t work in the current system. I am going to be using the example of My So-Called Life in my presentation, and I think it fits well. The show was basically cancelled despite having a big audience and good reviews because advertisers didn’t want to touch it. The current system failed that content and its consumers. Crowdfunding gives a way for it to happen. Obviously, it requires consumers (or producing consumers, prosumers, if you swing that way) to do more investigation in order to ensure they’re making a sound investment, but the trade-off is that they’re cutting a middle-person out of the process. That middle-person could be a stifling gatekeeper keeping projects from seeing the light of day, or it could be an entity soaking up part of the revenue that the producers of content want to cut out. Does it matter which it is?
I don’t know the answer. It reminds me of the constant debate in /r/cinemagraphs over what exactly a cinemagraph is. I have a hard time finding the motivation for being so heavily invested in the debate. Is there some sort of intrinsic need to try to protect other people from a perceived “incorrect” consumption? I think the more intriguing debate is over how quickly producers are forking over 8-10% of their project to Kickstarter and Amazon for the privilege of using their site, as well as some of the legal/tax obligations of the whole process. But I suppose that’s a little less emotional.