Crowd-sourcing, and Giving the Power to the Fans

Reading my friend Rob Kelly’s blogpost on the ‘Everything is a Remix‘ film by Kirby Furguson, one point he made particularly struck me, that the director had asked for money in order to make the films. Whether or not you think that the film was a deserving cause for people’s donations it does highlight one important part of internet culture, so-called ‘Crowd-sourced funding.’

Basically, the director had the idea for the documentary, but did not have the resources or money to make it. Usually when making a film, the production team might approach a big production company or sponsors for the money. This a whole different idea, he has approached ‘the people’ (the internet) with his pitch and said to them, “Do you want this film made?” And evidently, people did.

Online creators asking for money to do what they do is not a new idea – one example that springs to mind is the webcomic Penny Arcade. In 2001, struggling to pay for their bandwidth, the comic strip’s writers decided to try an experiment – they asked their fans to donate to the website, an idea the comic’s writer, Jerry Holkins, said he did not think would work. In the end, Holkins and his co-creator Mike Krahulik were able to run their site and pay their living costs for several years. Then, as now, people didn’t give large amounts, perhaps ten pounds every so often, but a thousand or more people donating ten pounds each soon adds up to a lot of money.

Crowd-sourced funding for creative projects is a wonderful thing, because it puts the decisions in the hands of the consumers. Twenty, thirty years ago, the decisions on what got made and what didn’t rested in the hands of big corporations. Someone like Warner Bros. would decide to promote a certain pop band. They would fund their recordings, videos and marketing campaign, and make sure that their product got noticed, potentially smothering publicity for other artists in the process. But the system worked, and people would buy the music because they were told that it was good, and because the companies made sure there wasn’t much else. If you think about it, Hollywood still functions this way. Summer Blockbusters don’t have to be good or original, just well marketed and without too much competition. Crowd-sourcing gives a more level playing field to the artists, and more choice to the fans. And it would not have been possible before the internet. Before the internet, there was no platform which wasn’t controlled by the media corporations, it would have been too hard to get the information out there.

The whole concept has really taken off and become accepted in the past one or two years through sites such as Kickstarter, PledgeMusic and IndieGoGo, which have introduced a more formalised system of donations, timescales of accepting money, and incentives/rewards for people who donate larger amounts. This has led to suggestions by some people that people will become overloaded with the amount of choice, number of projects begging for attention, or that some high-profile project might fail to deliver – after all, you only have the creator’s word that they can complete their idea, and will tarnish the whole concept. However I broached this to digital creative and producer Hugh Garry at a talk on Friday, and he told me that while this may happen, on the internet the successes will always outweigh the failures. Which is a nice thought to end this on, isn’t it?

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