Internet culture is an endless source of fascination to me. The internet, even some 35 (ish?) years after its inception, is still very much the Wild West. New, game-changing hardware, software, websites, and apps seem to pop up daily. Facebook basically IS the internet, and that didn't exist until 10 years ago. Twitter didn't exist until what, 7 years ago? What about the iPhone, for that matter?
We're all kind of learning together as a society and individually what it's like to have virtual lives. My alma mater has the distinction of having the first person who was fired due to social media, based on a MySpace (!) pic back in, I think, 2006. Together we're all navigating the difference between personal, professional, and virtual (and the overlap between the same) in an environment that changes constantly. It's all quite a lot to take in, actually.
So I'll try to be ginger, or at least level-headed with this topic. Kickstarter is a relatively new trend. (And while I know there are several major sites with various modus operandi - Indiegogo, GoFundMe, Patreon, and so forth - for our purposes I'm just going to be referring to the crowdfunding movement as Kickstarter or Kickstarting, mmkay?) I have friends who despise the very concept of Kickstarter, think it ought to be illegal, even. I guess there's something to be said for that.
It's a little bit gross. It's a little bit gauche. I know I said I wasn't going to get into the vagaries of the various Kickstarting sites, but Patreon in particular seems like a rather grotesque money grab. "Pay me to do what I do!" Um...okay. Shouldn't you get paid on the back end if what you do is worth paying for?
There's also (obviously) value in what Kickstarter does. Kickstarter is (for 2015 at least) the apex of the democratization of art. It's the democratization of funding, at long last. For countless centuries we worked on a patronage system, where rich kings and nobles underwrote the efforts of their pet artists, and that evolved into the industrial studio/publisher model of the 19th and 20th century, which wasn't a whole lot better, except it was slightly more of a meritocracy. At least, in the sense, that if you could convince a studio head that what you were producing was going to make money, he might front you the money you needed to make the product.
Now the fans can prove directly their devotion to a movie, book, game, whatever by acting as the studio. It used to be that all a fan could do was plead their case with the studio. (Hey, it got us a third season of "Star Trek." And six episodes of "Jerico." So, you know, ups and downs.)
Like I said, and like some of my friends believe, this feels a bit exploitative. Okay, so you're a fan of Care Bears? Kickstart the Care Bears movie! We'll even send you a sticker if you donate a certain amount! And then after that you've won...the opportunity to buy a ticket to the Care Bears movie!
Well, it certainly flips the traditional speculative model on its head. But it does seem to place an undue burden on fans. Of course, no one's holding a damn gun to anybody's head. If you want to donate twenty bucks to have an opportunity to spend nine bucks on a movie ticket later, nobody's going to stop you. And I guess it does mean that you can put your money where your mouth is in terms of fandom.
What sometimes gets lost in the sauce here is all the vig Kickstarter is skimming off the top. Kickstarter, and to varying degrees its competitors, all take a slice of the pie. Every pie. So from the jackass who wanted $18 to make potato salad all the way up to Zach Braff trying to start a new studio-quality movie, Kickstarter is sitting in the background making a profit. It's not illegal - most scams aren't - but it certainly seems to be a bit of a grey area morally, if not ethically.
Hey, I'm not made of stone. And I'm not anti-Kickstarter, either. I had a very good friend's house burn down and I threw a few bucks to I think it was his GoFundMe campaign. And I've contributed to charity anthologies and a few other things I either thought were worthy or were being run by a friend. I can't deny the efficacies or the draw of Kickstarter.
What I really want to circle back around to, but I never can because of my ceaseless bloviating, is whether we're ushering in a new era of digital panhandling, and whether that should be considered socially acceptable. Like I said, there are valuable Kickastarter campaigns and there are total horseshit, and they run the gamut from respectable to detestable. And it's almost impossible to translate any online activity into a direct meatspace counterpart. But that being said, if I took my guitar and sat on a street corner asking for change to make my art, there's a certain level of scorn society would heap upon me. Not so much if I made a Kickstarter to put out a CD.
Actually, do people still put out CDs? Do people still buy one or two CDs a year? Let me know in the comments if you want two CDs.
I'm increasingly seeing authors using Kickstarter for a general sort of "pay for me to live" type service. I understand Kickstarter campaigns for individual projects, but this seems like a strange, relatively recent development in the crazy world that is online life. Hey, I'm a writer. I get that it sucks to write things on spec. You put in hundreds of hours of work on a novel, then hundreds of more hours trying to sell it, hoping that maybe somebody somewhere will want to publish it. And then even if you're lucky enough to get it published (or go through the additional hoops of self-publishing) odds are damn good it won't sell.
But now we're talking about flipping that paradigm. Instead of writing a book on spec, seeing if it sells, improving your craft, and trying to sell another book, some authors are now asking for money up front. Give me the money now, the concept seems to be, so that I can subsist as an artist, and produce my work.
Partially this raises my hackles because I have a day job, most writers have day jobs (and some a damn sight shittier than mine) and support themselves while doing the book thing, dreaming of a day when their work is good enough to quit the day job and subsist organically. Of course, that's all a very narrow-minded and, frankly, big-C conservative way of looking at life, so I don't necessarily want my gut reaction to be the final thought on the matter. We all know the things we say and do online aren't the same things we would say and do in the real world. But if what we would scorn as panhandling or a pyramid scheme in the real world gains respectability as crowdsourcing in the virtual world, why not a new paradigm for not being a starving artist?
As I said, the patronage system was pretty shitty. It led to a lot of shitty art that flattered the patron because of course it did. And the studio system led to a lot of shlock, calculated (in the coldest imaginable sense of the word) to make money. I imagine a system where artists are essentially free to do whatever they want, free fro the shackles of economic reality anyway, would be a whole new thing. It might be beautiful and transcendent and lead to art that otherwise would never make it past an editor or a test audience. Or, fuck, it could lead to a bunch of masturbatory bullshit because nobody's striving for anything anymore. I don't know.
What do you think?
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
Enter your e-mail address in the box below and click "Subscribe" to join Stephen Kozeniewski's Mailing List for Fun and Sexy People. (Why the hell would anyone ever want to join a mailing list?)