Crowdfunding began as a way for creative artists to pool together money directly from the crowd to put toward their next film, album, or exhibit without having to bow low before investors and executives. But as crowdfunding becomes more viable a means for financing creative projects, the bigger boys and girls like Jon Heder and Whoopi Goldberg are encroaching on this territory, saturating the pool with their somewhat unfair advantage –– celebrity.
Article Contributed by John T. Trigonis Author of Crowdfunding for Film Makers
Take author Seth Godin, for instance, who launched a Kickstarter campaign on June 18 for his new book The Icarus Deception. After a mere three hours, he reached his $40,000 goal. Two days after that, that number climbed well above $200,000.
Naturally, he’s offering backers a digital preview of the book as a main perk, as well as a hardcover edition and multiple copies of the new read, all at discounted costs and limited to a certain number of copies. But what Seth is really offering his backers something much grander. He’s giving people the opportunity to change the way books are produced and marketed to an audience.
Godin mentions in one section of his Kickstarter campaign:
I love making and sharing books because of the power they give us to spread ideas and change minds. Maybe this will help authors like me continue to make books by hand, and maybe this Kickstarter will outline a way other authors can rally a tribe, connect them, engage the early adopters and then reward them with an artifact they helped bring to life.
Seth makes his campaign for The Icarus Deception not only about him as an author, but also his backers, thus bestowing upon them the power to enact the change he mentions. He caters to two kinds of contributor –– one that wants to be a part of something greater, and another that is in it for the limited edition perks. He succeeded in connecting with both breeds.
But, before we get too excited and jump on the “crowdfund your next book” bandwagon in the wake of Seth’s highly successful “experiment,” it helps to realize the chief reason why Seth is bringing in such staggering amounts of money.
Over the years, he’s amassed a tribe, people who have read his 15+ prior books and subscribe to his daily blog of insight and relevant tidbits, and he’s tapping into that tribe for the funds he needs to get his next book published, with the added incentive of proving to his publisher that, “it's possible to start a project with a show of support on Kickstarter.”
In short, Seth Godin has 'celebrity', a status which has taken serious amounts of hard work, years of rigorous self-promotion, and more rejection than acceptance to obtain. It paid off in the end, though. This is why Seth’s campaign has been able to soar so close to the sun without having its wings burnt away –– the wax that keeps those feathers in flight was made with the passion and respect of the thousands who support Seth’s strong commitment to bringing quality ideas to the world.
While Seth’s campaign has leveled out at an impressive $250,000 after only a dozen days, crowdfunding success for the rest of us is seldom this simple a task. Many artists don’t have such a solid network already in place, so they need to build a tribe while crowdfunding. Occasionally this works if they’re trying to raise between $5 and $10,000, but for those larger amounts, more often than not, it doesn’t work without substantial amounts of hard work and a serious drive to succeed.
Without celebrity status, a crowdfunder’s personality, or personal brand, has got to stand out in a sandbox where the pit-bulls are now at play with the poodles. If your name can’t grab the crowd’s attention, the innovation, creativity, and personalization of your campaign must. At the same time, it also needs to build and sustain your tribe for the duration of your campaign, and even far beyond it.
We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that crowdfunding is easy because our research has been based on campaigns started by celebrities like Amanda Palmer. When it comes to getting people to contribute to the everyday Joe or Jane’s campaign, crowdfunding is partially about the product and partially about the personality behind it. For those individuals who have come to rely on crowdfunding as a primary means to fund their creative or entrepreneurial goals, personality means going hard or going home, and this is especially true now that crowdfunders must essentially compete their larger-than-life counterparts dogpaddling in the pool, making success seem simple when the truth is you’ve got to swim like Michael Phelps before he became Michael Phelps.
Much like the myth of Icarus, we must look to the skies at the success stories that inspire us, but also understand the reasons for those victories before we launch out on our own crowdfunding endeavors, only to realize first hand that success is a lot harder than some others have made it out to be.
What do you think. Is celebrity crowdfunding legitamate? Or is it just a unfair flexing of power in a place that should be reserved for the little guys?