Before 2013, the most funded film or video project on Kickstarter was a film adaptation of zombie graphic novel The Goon that raised over $440,000. By the end of the year, ten other projects have surpassed that figure, with several crowdfunded budgets stretching into the millions and raising the question of who Kickstarter is for, one of the year’s most contentious topics.
The biggest lightning rod for crowdfunding controversy was Zach Braff, who emerged as a punching bag among independent creators after he came off as stubborn and self-absorbed in his Wish I Was Here pitch video. Many claimed that Braff didn’t need Kickstarter the way the average indie creator did, but the heart of the matter is that Braff’s detractors are worried about ceding control over what is currently their best chance at making money.
It is now incredibly hard to turn a significant profit on YouTube, in large part due to increased catering to advertisers, which has in turn driven down CPMs and hurt creators. Kickstarter and its ilk emerged as a simple way to turn a profit that does not rely on the whims of YouTube or advertising trends, but when Braff and his brethren started using the platform for multi-million dollar projects, they ran the risk of once again helping out the big dogs at the expense of cash-strapped creators. For what it’s worth, Kickstarter claims that projects like Braff’s actually benefit everyone, though the platform obviously has a horse in this race.
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There are still many smaller projects thriving on Kickstarter, and Spike Lee’s relatively unsuccessful campaign (he reportedly had to be bailed out by his rich Hollywood friends) gave credence to the idea that the little guy might reclaim Kickstarter. But many of the big projects we’ve seen on the platform catered to traditional media in some way, no matter who launched them. Freddie Wong’s big VGHS campaign was buttressed by a deal with Dodge. Bee and Puppycat comes from Frederator, a studio best known for its TV work.
So perhaps Kickstarter, at least in its biggest, boldest form, is indeed ‘for’ big media in some regard. That’s not a bad thing, because as debate over the biggest crowdfunding platform has gone on, smaller ones catered to the online video community–such as Patreon and Subbable have thrived. Moderately popular YouTubers are now pulling in thousands of dollars for each video through pay-what-you-want systems that give fans the flexibility they want and creators the cash they need.
This is how we can expect crowdfunding to look going forward. Fans will always pay for the projects they enjoy, and while that may still enable some Kickstarter projects that don’t ‘need’ the money, there are now enough options that creators only need to worry about their top priority: appealing to fans.