The Kickstarter-kicking has begun: don’t let crowd-funding of pigs-in-pokes ruin the promise of micropayments

Looking for an image of a pig in a poke led to this preliminary sketch by Victor Juhasz, on his site showing visitors how he makes decisions about directing his delectable line.

This post-Gutenberg blog typically takes the giraffe-necked – that is, very long – view. It hardly expects instant gratification for recommendations about the future of publishing, or suggestions for its evolution. That made it both unsurprising and shocking to find the gist of these cautions about micropayments and crowd-funding prove justified in less than a month:

  • Could crowd-funding art with cash advances amassed from micropayments be less helpful than getting artists decent compensation from micropayments collected for finished work?
  • … [Artists] transferring the balance of cash-gathering sweat to work that has yet to be done is surely a bad idea …
  • There is some danger that disappointment with microfunding could lead to disenchantment with micropayments of every kind. That could delay the shift from conventional ways of selling art (through publishers, galleries and so on) to the liberating alternatives that new technological inventions have begun to bring us.

Only six months ago, Gizmodo, one of the most influential technology-watching sites on the web – it counted Steve Jobs among its avid readers – was raving about the prospects of online fundraising for new projects of every sort, from new-fangled gizmos like iPad stands to artistic schemes, inventions, and gigs. Its enthusiasm was concentrated on Kickstarter, the most prominent go-between for creators and the random collections of small-scale investors contributing to ‘crowd-funding’ creative toil:

10 November 2011

Kickstarter is full of awful, ill conceived, downright dumb ideas. So is the internet. So is the universe. But it’s also festooned with crazy-good thinking, ingenuity, and imagination. It’s fun and unfettered.


Kickstarter is the only viable place any average Jonny Internet can take a decent idea and stand a chance of making it real. No venture capital vampires, no hype …

The recommendations of old print media usually follow in Gizmodo’s wake, but in January, The Economist appeared to boast about leading the applause:

This newspaper has written about Kickstarter several times in the past two years, including an overview of how crowdfunding works after the firm had raised about $15m in its first year. At the time, it was unclear whether such crowdfunding (also called micropatronage) was a passing fad or a rising alternative to conventional starter financing for creative media.

Kickstarter’s performance in 2011 bolsters the latter case.

Though that ancient cosmopolite’s bible did mention the odd disappointment for both fund-seekers and micro-patrons, it has yet to regret its championship of crowd-funding. But for Gizmodo – far more closely in touch with thinking among the twentysomethings who dominate online innovation – it was time for sackcloth and ashes a fortnight ago. In a piece headed, ‘We’re done with Kickstarter,’ Gizmodo explained:

29 March 2012

We look at hundreds of products every week. Sometimes thousands. At first all of us were pretty stoked about Kickstarter, because it seemed like a genuine font of unfettered innovation—the hive mind coming up with products that we truly needed but had never even thought of before. And maybe it was. But it’s not anymore. It’s a sea of bad videos, bad renderings, and poorly made prototypes. Some might be good. Many are poorly made. And some are downright fraudulent, taking peoples’ money without delivering the promised rewards. This has happened to me.


Hopefully Kickstarter will evolve into something a little more trustworthy that we can feel comfortable sharing with you. Because in this game, a source you can’t trust is a source you can’t use.

In comments on its lamentation, readers railed at Gizmodo in posts like this one from @anamnet:

Giz introduced me to Kickstarter and now they are the first who’re sick of it. Makes them sound like a teenage girl who’s getting over a fad.

Actually, Gizmodo deserves to be congratulated for its forthright mea culpa. Next, it would be wonderful to find on that site a piece weighing all the reasons given here for preferring post-production micropayments – especially for artists and writers, starting with this one:

Seeking and accepting money in advance can constrain creativity. Anticipating prospective backers’ anxiety about squandering even small sums on inconsequential, pig-in-a-poke projects, artists are puffing up their planned works and divulging details of visions that have yet to meet the challenge of execution. How much room for creative manoeuvring and play – or simply changing their minds – will they have when, to reward their micro-investors’ trust, they feel that they must treat proposals as promises?

… Gizmodo’s helpful admission about reading the tea leaves incorrectly on crowd-funding is not just admirable in itself but made a salutary contrast, in my week’s reading, with an older publication’s delusion that it  comprehends what readers want in post-Gutenberg publishing. An extract from a mesmerising report in the latest Private Eye:

‘Last weekend we did something extraordinary.’ That was the verdict of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on his ‘Open Weekend’ … at which readers descended on the paper’s offices to gawp at [Guardian journalists].

Never mind that the newspaper is losing money galore. The bring-your-readers-to-work idea represented the way forward for ‘Open Journalism’ – apparently something to do with internet clouds, killer apps, crowd-sourcing and trouser-presses.

Many hacks in the building looked on the jamboree with jaundiced eyes […] but were assured that this is the way forward for Journalism 4.0 as the Guardian set off on its exciting transformation from newspaper to online events organiser.

Alas! The ‘new paradigm’ seems no more profitable than the old one. After totting up the figures, Grauniad beancounters have discovered that the self-styled ‘festival of readers and reasonableness’ – attended by 5,000 people paying between  £60 and £70 – made a net loss of £150,000.

Dear Grauniad, your ‘Open Weekend’ is surely the daftest idea anyone has heard for reshaping publishing. No, your sensible readers do not wish to crowd-fund your survival. Nor do they want to pay to peer at your writers, or throw peanuts through the bars of their cages. How about showing some glimmer of grasping what this post-Gutenberg revolution is really all about? See:

Wanted: a brave newspaper for an experiment in which readers become stakeholders … & … Why a keiretsu-cooperative is a gentle transition for old media — and how about saying, ‘an exaltation of bloggers’?