I have found myself thinking, more than once lately, about the fact that I wish I could give more money to more Patreon campaigns. I already contribute to a bunch via the shared Patreon for the Wait, What? podcast — Jeff and I agreed when we launched that, that a percentage of what we made would be passed on to other campaigns — but there are more people I find myself wanting to support. The problem is, affording that.
In the wee small hours of the morning recently, I found myself imagining setting up another Patreon, just for me, not the podcast. It would be something where I could support personal writing and have more time and space to write the World That’s Coming, I told myself in a sleepy haze, but I was actually imagining a system with which to raise funds that I could then turn around and give to others.
Maybe I should simply set up a crowdfunding campaign explicitly targeted at funding other Patreons. Call it the Help Me To Help Others campaign. Just be blunt about it.
Actually raising money is only part of the challenge with Kickstarter, which has to approve a project in the first place. The Amicos’ first Kickstarter campaign pitch last winter was rejected because the rewards they proposed — the special add-on that donors gets based on the amount they donate — weren’t good enough. (Update: Kickstarter’s Justin Kazmark emailed me after this article went up to say that the first proposal wasn’t rejected per se. “Someone from our team suggested they just give more thought to their rewards before launching,” he said.) This time around, awards varied from donors names being published in a “thank you” post ($10 or more) to getting the Homicide Watch team to guest-teach a class or lecture ($5,000 or more).
“Kickstarter is an odd fit for journalism in many ways,” Laura said. “The symptom of that to me is that rewards are so problematic. Public media does tote bags. Tote bags even have nothing to do with what you’re actually producing, which is the point of Kickstarter. It doesn’t have anything to do with the product we’re offering, necessarily.”
I have a weird fascination with crowdfunding, and especially the idea of crowdfunding what I do, which is journalism, I guess. Discovering that people have successfully done it already is oddly comforting, to be honest.
Under increasing financial pressure from the Web and the decline of print advertising, newspapers and other traditional media outlets have been laying off staff and trying to fill the gap with services such as Journatic—the hyper-local aggregator that uses offshore workers— or simply doing without such things as copy editing. Are there further solutions to that reporting gap? Crowdsourcing journalism through sites like Reddit could be one, but crowdfunding could be another: One journalist in Michigan has raised funding through a Kickstarter campaign so he can travel around the U.S. interviewing people about the upcoming election. Could crowdfunding allow other journalists to do investigative or in-depth projects as well?
I have, no joke, been thinking about this on and off pretty much since I first discovered Kickstarter, as much from a selfish point-of-view as the high-minded theoretical sense. I have done internal math in my head about how much it would take for me to be an independent comics journalist for a year, writing for myself and my own site – whatever that site might be – and whether or not I thought I could raise enough money to do it, leaving the writing gigs for Newsarama, Comics Alliance and Robot 6 (and SpinoffOnline, which isn’t a comic site but does take enough of my time each month that I’d need to drop it if I was to do this properly) without just crippling myself financially in the process. For me, I don’t think the money’s there; I’m not enough of a name, without enough of a readerbase with the kind of disposable income to fund what I’d really need for that period of time, especially because they get enough of me for free online as is (Whether or not my online ubiquity has damaged my “brand” is something else I think about, a lot; that’s something for another day, though). But in the wider, theoretical sense…? I think crowdfunding is definitely a future for journalism, if not the future.
We’re moving away from crowdfunding being some kind of novelty and spectacle to just a fact of the modern Internet, and as soon as that happens, then we’re likely to see crowdfunding for all manner of projects, both creative and otherwise. Whatever you can manage to sell to the Internet at large, in fact.