Amanda Palmer, Kickstarter, and Everything

Today’s question from the mailbag:

Any thoughts on the success of Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter drive?

Unsurprisingly, I have several.

First, as background: Musician, creative person and delightfully weird human being Amanda Palmer put up a Kickstarter page to fund/sell her upcoming musical album, her first full-length production in a few years. She had a goal of raising $100,000 in a month; she raised that sum in something like seven hours, and three days in, she’s at (checks, it’s 10:20am as I write this line) $439,481. That’s pretty excellent.

Needless to say this has people saying this is proof Kickstarter is the solution to everything/doing everything one’s self is the solution to everything/eliminate the middleman, preferably with a shotgun/and so on. On the flip side, Palmer herself has noted detractors, including people who seem to believe Kickstarter is nothing more than high tech begging or pan handling.

So, with that as the background, my thoughts, in no particular order.

1. I think it’s fantastic for Amanda Palmer. I say that as a fan of her work, solo and as part of Dresden Dolls, as an admirer of her creative drive and willingness to put in the actual work of maintaining a career, and as someone who has a friend married to her, who she makes ridiculously ridiculously happy as far as I can tell. As a creative person, it’s both gratifying and humbling when people step up and support you — with money! Of all things! — so the fact she’s received so much support from her fans is just wonderful. The fact that Kickstarter, as an entity, has made it easier for her and other creative people to fund their projects, is also great, and one of the true benefits of the Internet age.

2. This is a decade in the making. I went back through Whatever to find the first time I made note of something Palmer did; the answer was November 2004, when I put in a link to the song “Coin Operated Boy” by her former band Dresden Dolls. That’s seven and a half years ago; the band was active for a few years before then.

Between then and now most of what I know about Palmer is her working her ass off: Making music, playing that music, going off and making more, and building both awareness and a fan base. She left her music label a few years ago and has been putting out music independently since then; she’s presumably learned a thing or two about the mechanisms of DIY art during that time — and in that time she’s trained her fans in the fine art of supporting a truly indie musician (or at the very least, a truly indie Amanda Palmer). This is hugely important.

All of which is to say that like so many overnight successes, this isn’t. It’s the result of someone working for a very long time to get themselves into a position to make the most of this particular kind of opportunity. Complementary to this:

3. Palmer has an awesome network. She’s got hundreds of thousands of fans to whom she talks every day via Twitter and other social media, most of whom are rooting for her success. She has friends and loved ones with similar or greater fan reach (even accounting for overlap), who are happy to promote her and her works. Basically, when something happens in the world of Amanda Palmer, it’s entirely possible for more than a million people to become aware of it almost immediately.

Again, this doesn’t happen overnight. Those friends and loved ones are collected through a lifetime; those fans are created through work, music and touring. Is Palmer using them to promote herself? I suppose she is, but I think it’s probably more accurate to say that those people are willingly choosing to be part of her messaging system. I’ve retweeted stuff from her before, not because I felt obliged but because I like being a participant in her success. I retweet other news from friends and people whose work I admire for much the same reason.

You can buy Twitter followers (if you’re willing to spend money stupidly), but you can’t buy a living network of people who are invested in you as a person and/or a creator. You have to earn that through work, and by being a person worth friendship.

4. Palmer doesn’t get to keep all that money. Leaving aside taxes (duh), Palmer has to pay production costs, musician fees, tour and travel expenses and all other costs incurred in the rather elaborate tiers of stuff she’s offering to supporters. A fair amount of that money will go out of the door again. Which is, of course, what happens when one is running a small business, which is precisely what Palmer is doing here.

One of my major concerns about Kickstarter projects in a general sense is that I often wonder how many of the projects actually end up in the black for their creators. This is particularly the case when it comes to writers, artists and musicians, who are famously complete shit at working through their finances anyway, but who are also, through Kickstarter tiers and through encountering production costs that were previously handled by other people, wading into financial waters they often know next to nothing about. I wonder if people understand that Kickstarter isn’t a magical ATM but a storefront, and that they are committing to running this store — production and fulfillment both — for the duration. I expect a lot of Kickstarters ultimately end up in the red because the people running them haven’t built out a business plan, and have no idea what they’re getting into.

I expect that Palmer may be one of the exceptions — precisely because she went DIY a few years ago and has had time to learn the ropes and to have some real-world, practical experience with what everything she does (and has proposed doing) costs in a financial sense. That said, I would love to know what sort of margins she’s working with here, particularly with some of her more elaborate tiers. I have reasonable confidence she’ll end this adventure of hers in the black, but I think everyone boggled by the money she’s raised might eventually be surprised how much of it she won’t get to keep.

5. Palmer has made some big commitments. For example, she’s sold 25 house parties at $5,000 a pop, which she expects to be able to fulfill in the next 12 to 18 months. So, that’s essentially 25 other tour dates for her on top of everything else she has to do. Yes, I know, $5k for showing up with a ukulele and hanging out at someone’s house for four hours doesn’t strike most people as hard work (heck, pay me $5k, I’ll totally pop by with my ukulele!). But you know what? Spending four hours being on in front of strangers — and formally performing for one of those hours — is actually work. I know because that’s what I do when I tour for my books. Palmer has other events listed which require more than just her showing up with a winsome stringed instrument, which aside from the financial considerations is more time/energy/effort/planning for her. I get tired just looking at everything she’s promised to backers.

(This is why, incidentally, people accusing her of “online panhandling” are trolling jackasses. Palmer doesn’t have a hand out for charity — she’s offering specific goods and services when you set down your coin. You know exactly what you’re getting, and what she’s committing to. Again, this is a small business, and one with a detailed menu.)

In sum: It’s awesome that Palmer’s Kickstarter has done so well — but look at what it’s entailed. It’s entailed time, effort, planning and work both backward and forward in time. That currently $439,000 isn’t a windfall for her; it’s a marker of what all that commitment to the work has earned.

If you’re one of the people looking at her Kickstarter money with stars in your eyes and awesome plans of your own in your head, ask yourself first: Have you put in the time? Earned the credibility? Scoped out the financial balance sheet? Made the commitment to fulfill every single thing you have promised?

Palmer has. If you haven’t — on any of this — be aware that your results, shall we say, may vary.

81 Comments on “Amanda Palmer, Kickstarter, and Everything”

  1. I love her. Plain and simple. Met her last year at Readercon and I think I nerd gassed her worse than the chump limey she married. :)

  2. Spot-on, and exactly why she, Steve Jackson Games, and Jordan Weisman have all received Kickstarter money from me recently. These folks already have the necessary credibility and experience, through decades of hard work and fulfilled promises. I know that when I give them money, I’ll be getting something back.

  3. Her first experience with DIY selling art (that I’m aware of) was her Who Killed Amanda Palmer book about 4-5 years ago. That got *completely* screwed up. The design of it fell through, the publisher fell through, all sorts of stuff got messed up, so the books went out to the pre-order folks a YEAR after it was promised. She didn’t have the right staff. (Her personal assistant became an impromptu book designer and warehouse). She didn’t have enough staff. She didn’t know how to work a book deal. But she learned and she (finally) was able to deliver to her ever-so-patient fans. I’m sure she learned a great deal about making and delivering on promises during that time, and has been able to apply that to her much bigger roll-outs since.

  4. As a fan of hers for a number of years now, I can’t stress how important your point about training us is. Sure, I might do this for other artists, but for her I’d do it without a second thought. Why? Because I’m very used to her model of selling us albums or singles for some minimum price. I’m used to her encouraging us to make as many copies as we like for friends. I’m used to her offering extras for sale/donation. She’s been self-Kickstarting for a while now.

    And I think that she’s got the head to handle this. It may be a bit stressful at times, especially the concerts, but she’s used to doing things differently and she’s shown herself to be fairly organized. Whether that’s just her or all her advisers pitching in too, I don’t know. But she and her team seem to get things done. I’m impressed by the Kickstarter’s pace, but given that it’s her, I’m not surprised.

  5. i agree – to treat the success of her kickstarter as surprise news means missing what she does all the time, or just fundamentally not getting how much worth a bit of care, respect, and (well put, john!) being a person worthy of friendship is.

  6. Right on. If this were a non-arts business people would look at $500,000 in gross revenue and scoff – that’s ALL? But for some reason when normally sensible people see artists and money next to each other they forget how businesses work entirely. If you take this revenue, and spread it out over all the years spent developing the fanbase and the love and the excitement around her work that led to this, it’s not really the kind of salary we want someone at her level to be making in any way. Someone as important and talented and committed as she is should be making a hell of a lot more than that.

  7. Kickstarter concerns me a lot of times, perhaps most particularly in cases of unexpected levels of success. I’m curious about this Pebble thing and eventually decided to commit to one, but I still am concerned about the seller’s ability to cope with this sudden 100-fold increase in the number of items they’re going to have to fabricate and deliver.

    In that case I decided that (a) their proven experience in delivering a project was enough assurance to me that I’d eventually get what I ordered and (2) I could live with the financial risk when weighed against the reward. And overall that’s exactly the same thing I’m coping with anytime I commit to spending money on something.

    Honestly, kickstarter detractors, I get your apparent underlying issue. You don’t think something’s a good deal. You question that what you receive will be as-advertised. You don’t like what’s on offer, or don’t like the asking price. But why is this different than anything up for sale on Amazon? Don’t you have similar risks when you buy concert tickets for events that are months away? I’ve got more faith in Kickstarter than Ticketmaster.

    Yeah, delivery windows for physical products tend to be farther out. There’s different sorts of risks – maybe you never get something when in a more traditional order you’d just get something that turns out to be shitty. But so what? If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Don’t believe in the project? Don’t fund it. Personally I cannot understand why people buy 90% of the shit that’s out there in the world. Somehow I manage to avoid writing long screeds on every Amazon or Harbor Freight or Sharper Image website about them.

  8. I’m heavily involved in a film project that was funded through Kickstarter, and we are gonna be in the red by the time we’re through. Some of it is that thing they say about plans and first contact, and some of it is “plans, what plans?,” and some of it is Step 2: ???. But between Kickstarter fees and Amazon Payment fees, and then whatever the perks cost (plus shipping)… that adds a decent chunk off the top, too.

    As for Ms. Palmer’s Kickstarter, I’m happy to be hosting one of her parties, as organized by a friend of mine. I’ll finally find out if she’s that Amanda I think I remember from acting class freshman year!

  9. Scalzi, you are totally on point.

    I’m an independent filmmaker, with a Kickstarter campaign currently running (Five Points. Revenge of the Roadkill. Puppet zombie squirrels. You know you want to). I have previously run one successful Kickstarter for my short film and MFA thesis, “Pretty All the Time,” and that funding helped make that film soooo much better–it’s now on the festival circuit, and showed at Cleveland International Film Festival this past March. My part-time day job is grantwriting and fundraising. So I feel pretty qualified to talk about some aspects of Kickstarter and fundraising.

    One: Fundraising isn’t inherently evil. You are asking for money to support a project, yeah, but what does any non-profit institution do? They support themselves through a combination of grants from foundations and government entities, earned income like ticket sales, and individual giving. Those donors earn tax write-offs, but they also have the pleasure of helping an organization they believe in. And non-profits are places like theaters, museums, colleges. Sometimes they can be corrupt. Sometimes they’re on the side of the angels. It’s like anything else created by people.

    Two: Fundraising is a LOT of work, and some serendipity. Be aware that you will probably have a 10% return on whatever number of people see your project. Many individual artists have been working on their craft or skill set or whatever for years–I’m no different. Amanda Palmer was an early adaptor of Twitter, she’s wildly talented and eye-catching, and her personality is tremendously sparkling. (I’ve met her dad. She comes by it honestly.) She gives a lot to her fans, and they give back. But like you said, it’s a years long process to build that trust. And that’s how it is for any project–people have to trust that you know what you’re doing. Quite obviously, she does. On my project, I’m a little hobbled by the fact that I can’t put my film online for all to see because we’re on the festival circuit, and festivals want to have the first crack at showing the film to people. (If you want to see it, email me and ask me for a password!) I’ve been trying to marshall my facebook friends, my in-person friends, my family, my family’s family, my dad’s business contacts, and Twitter. It takes a good deal of commitment to say that you trust your own work enough to ask other people to support it. Or blind arrogance. There’s that too.

    Three: Kickstarter takes a cut off the top. Amazon takes a cut as well. No artist or project maker is going to get the whole amount of what you see. But since Kickstarter provides a framework for folks to funnel money to individual artists, I’m happy to take that as a reality.

    Four: Individual artists were cut loose by the NEA a long time ago. The institutional network is sparse and cutthroat, and you have to prove yourself, over and over and over again. You have to prove that people want to see your stuff. That they care. Does this create better art? I dunno. Is it the reality now? Hell yes. Amanda Palmer has more freedom to say what she wants and to have belly fat and whatever else. I have the freedom to try and make a three part web series about hilarious ambulatory roadkill. On the whole, it might be a net good.

  10. I made a pretty good messy botch out of my first Kickstarter. Definitely am not close to being in the black for it and won’t be, though in the end it was definitely successful enough to have been worth it. Lot of that comes down to stupid mistakes that I should have known and done better going in, and overall I am still quite high on things *like* Kickstarter; though losing 10% right off the top (5% to Kickstarter, 5% to Amazon payments) is something that can come down I think. Between Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Peerbackers, newer outfits like RocketHub and InvestedIn, EU-focused Ulele and Sponsume, there’s definitely something taking shape out there, though we’ll have to see how the adoption rate and enthusiasm graph for these things shakes out over time. There *is* definitely a model that works for both superstar (Neil Gaiman) and midlist (Tobias S. Buckell, Tim Pratt, Mur Lafferty, lots and lots more) authors with followings; I’m not sold yet as to how it might fit with first novels other than those being heavily promoted by the rainmakers. Interesting times!

  11. Oh also:

    It’s probably best to think about Kickstarter as a PORTION of your budget rather than the whole thing. As a built in marketing tool to help people to connect with your product.

    Which is ALSO what Amanda Palmer has done–the creative interest loan thing she has going on is really interesting, and it’s totally apart from Kickstarter.

  12. Kickstarter is an interesting idea for funding creative efforts, but you’re quite right that projects need to think through their finances – especially the perks. The folks developing Star Command, an iOS game that got Kickstarter funding, posted a very honest evaluation of where their funding ended up. It was not where they expected and their cost breakdowns will hopefully help others. A sizable portion went to prize fulfillment and postage. They ended up in the black, but it wasn’t some huge windfall. (Full Disclosure: I’m in no way related to this project. I just found their honesty and openness refreshing.)

  13. I have high hopes for the Kickstarter project I’ve recently helped fund (, but there’s no way I would have put down the money without blurb on it from Cherie Priest. What we’re seeing (with Palmer, Steve Jackson, and similar recent successes), is that Kickstarter dramatically increases the payoff of good personal branding. What’s less obvious is that good personal branding is still an incredibly labor-intensive and risky business proposition, taking years at a minimum. It’s also something that normally requires quite a bit of actual _quality_, at list in some restricted realm. It’s rare to become even moderately internet famous if you actually are mediocre.

  14. How many $5k uke house show offers do you have so far? I’m only sorry I don’t have a spare five large to tempt you with!

  15. I *really love* kickstarter (I’m supporting half a dozen things, and just due to get my first tangible return any day now). I think it’s stupendous, it’s great, it’s fantastic. Every single project I’ve supported there has blown the doors off its initial goals.

    But everything you say (well, in this article) is exactly and totally correct. There is *nothing* “overnight” about Amanda Palmer’s success in kickstarter funding. She is clearly VERY good at social networking, AND she works at it constantly. And she certainly has a tremendous network (I first became aware of her when Kyle Cassidy was blogging about shooting for Dresden Dolls).

    And I’m sure some people get badly burned in their Kickstarter experiences (almost entirely due to their own expectations and errors).

    Some people just can’t stand to see anybody else succeed, or to see an unconventional transaction succeed. *Those* people can go…well, anyway, I think their attitude is all in their heads, and I’m kind of looking forward to seeing all sorts of things succeed around them.

    I’m actually kind of surprised we haven’t had our first big “kickstarter fraud” scandal. It’s got to happen eventually; it’s all humans on both sides of the web site, we can’t possibly all go on getting things right forever.

  16. Kevin Marks:

    Yeah, Kickstarter is like a working manifestation of “1,000 true fans,” in which getting those one thousand is substantially easier if you started off with 50,000 to 100,000 fans already.

  17. Something else that Gaiman more or less said on Twitter is that no one’s talking about the MUSIC. In this case the amazing success and long list of “perks” seems to have greatly overshadowed the core content. Music simply isn’t enough for many people. And this isn’t just a Kickstarter thing but across the board. People aren’t interested in paying for music so more and more people are having to add content in some form. It’s a little disturbing but perhaps inevitable in this intangible age.

  18. Just a minor quibble with your excellent post: you wrote:

    4. Palmer doesn’t get to keep all that money. Leaving aside taxes (duh), Palmer has to pay production costs, musician fees, tour and travel expenses and all other costs incurred in the rather elaborate tiers of stuff she’s offering to supporters.

    I’ve seen this before in a couple of places: the listing of taxes first, with the explicit or implicit notion that the taxes are taken off the top. If these artists and entrepreneurs are organizing their enterprise properly, the enterprise for which they’re soliciting pre-orders and donations through Kickstarter, they will pay taxes only on the net income, not on the gross haul from Kickstarter after the fees levied by Amazon. I hope Ms. Palmer and indeed all people with funded Kickstarter projects are so lucky as to face big tax bills: if they’ve organized their projects properly, the big tax bills will only exist because after the money they raised paid all the costs of the project a big chunk of money was left over in their pocket as taxable profit.

  19. Warren Terra:

    I didn’t list it first because I wished to imply she was paying taxes off her gross; I Iisted it first in order to put it aside for the rest of the conversation. I assume either Palmer (or, rather more hopefully, her accountant, as her tax situation is probably complex enough at this point to warrant one) is aware of when taxes come out of what she brings in.

  20. Is it right to evaluate the Kickstarter offer only in terms of how well it does on its own terms? I assume that part of the point is to promote her brand in a way that will improve revenue from other channels. I’m not really familiar with Palmer but I assume that she also has tour dates for which she is paid. The Kickstarter spiel implies that she will be selling the album for download through more conventional channels.

    Though it clearly has limitations, Kickstarter does strike me as a thoroughly cool idea.

    When Richard Hatch (the Battlestar Galactica one) came to Windycon some years ago, he expressed frustration with TV distribution channels and pointed out that at a couple million an episode, the recent Galactica series was potentially within reach of being fundable by selling DVD subscriptions in advance. I think he glossed over the part where he only knew that the show had that kind of fan base in hindsight. No one actually had to convince a couple million fans to buy a whole TV season sight unseen. It does make me wonder what would happen if the producers of Jericho tried to raise millions to make another season using the Kickstarter approach and offered the season DVD as a premium.

    It also seems to me like Kickstarter is only one step away from being IPOs for corporations with very limited charters. If I’m not mistaken, when corporations were first started, they had charters outlining a specific project, rather than just having the general goal of making money. Imagine that a popular film director set up a film project where he needed to raise X dollars by offering to sell a Y% share of the enterprise for Z dollars as common stock shares. The corporation would only exist to produce, market and distribute the film as well as collect on derivative works, and merchandising revenues. Actually I imagine that what would happen is that he would learn that the SEC rules, regulations, reporting requirements, etc. would make this an intractable enterprise to legally achieve, but it does strike me as an interesting idea.

  21. I tossed a few bucks toward Chuck Wendig’s upcoming YA novel because I’d read and enjoyed the initial novella in the series. The idea of funding something that might not have quite the financial oomph to make it out, but otherwise has all the pieces in place, really appeals to me. All of the “make this great nebulous idea come to fruition” sorts of things floating on Kickstarter seem like a bad deal for the funders and fundraisers both.

    It seems like Kickstarter is a better platform for authors and other non-performance artists since any tiers are unlikely to intrude so much into a busy schedule– Wendig’s tiers included such things as committing to further books, helpfully obviating the need for more fundraising to finish the series. If offered a personal appearance by one of my favorite authors, there would likely be me providing snacks, a comfy chair, and a desk to get on with doing that thing that authors do… totally not in a Misery kinda way… probably

  22. Re: Star Command, I don’t think anyone should expect that Kickstarter is a place to earn profit for most projects. Kickstarter makes a project financially feasible. You still have to sell your stuff to make some money after that’s said and done. They include PAX East as one of the expenses, which goes directly to the sales after the Kickstarter’s done. And given they only had ~1200 backers, there’s plenty of audience left to try to get things done.

  23. amanda _has_ done a lot of ground-work…
    so everything you have said here is spot-on.

    yet i can’t help but think you missed the point.

    first, many of the astounding success stories
    coming out of kickstarter are _not_ cases of
    someone having had a pre-existing following.

    but even that ignores the most important thing.

    which is that — if you _do_ have a following,
    kickstarter provides a great infrastructure for
    collecting money from them to front a project.

    to the extent that, if you _ask_ for $100,000,
    you might end up with _ten_times_ that much.

    this is far preferable to amanda running some
    twitter auction out of her bedroom, n’est pas?

    so it is clear that artists are infinitely better off
    now that that infrastructure is firmly ensconced.

    as amanda’s sign says, “this is the future of music”.


  24. It’s not like Amanda doesn’t already have some Kickstarter experience, having used Kickstarter to fund some aspects of a tour late last year with that writer guy she’s married to. No one seems to have mentioned that she’s already funded one project successfully via the system, although more low key than this one.

    And the recordings made on that tour will make some additional money for them once they are made available to the non-kickstarter people (which I am one of, since at the time of that Kickstarter, my incoming income was pretty mucn nonexistant.)

  25. bowerbird:

    “many of the astounding success stories
    coming out of kickstarter are _not_ cases of
    someone having had a pre-existing following.”

    Two things here:

    1. It’s entirely possible for a great idea to sell itself (or to get the attention of others).

    2. Success isn’t the funding; success is the execution of the project. A Kickstarter project can be very well-funded but if it doesn’t deliver on what’s promised, then it will be a failure.

    I expect Palmer to be successful not only because of the funding but because I strongly suspect she can execute.

  26. Amanda palmer, y u no marry me over Neil Gaimen? Oh wait, I just read my sentence, nevermind.

  27. If she can raise that kind of money by pitching an idea and promising some benefits to those who contribute, and then people decide to contribute, who are “we” to complain?

    I’m more concerned about the inevitable wave of scammers just across the horizon, who when hearing about the success of someone like Amanda Palmer on kickstarter, create disingenuous “projects” that no one actually intends to see through. Something like kickstarter is an amazing resource, and one built on trust. As I see it, someone like Amanda Palmer is honoring that trust. But I’m concerned about what happens to the system when said scammers arrive in force.

  28. To bowerbird’s point… I think that works best for products and the like. I contributed to a nice iPad keyboard project ( which got press, which contributed to it going way over goal, which got press…. But note that even though these guys are experienced product designers… it’s still not shipped as they run into the inevitable manufacturing issues.

    It’s best for backers of Kickstarter to think of themselves as investors in a project and not customers. People will be able to buy the keyboard product I linked and I’m sure Palmer will sell the album to everyone at some point… but it’s a cool idea to be someone who supported getting the project off the ground.

  29. It also seems to me like Kickstarter is only one step away from being IPOs for corporations with very limited charters. If I’m not mistaken, when corporations were first started, they had charters outlining a specific project, rather than just having the general goal of making money. Imagine that a popular film director set up a film project where he needed to raise X dollars by offering to sell a Y% share of the enterprise for Z dollars as common stock shares. The corporation would only exist to produce, market and distribute the film as well as collect on derivative works, and merchandising revenues. Actually I imagine that what would happen is that he would learn that the SEC rules, regulations, reporting requirements, etc. would make this an intractable enterprise to legally achieve, but it does strike me as an interesting idea.

    A version of Kickstarter selling investment shares to the general public was indeed illegal – up to just under a month ago, when the law was changed; previously, you needed to be an accredited investor – now, given certain limitations, companies can solicit investments from the general public. (Mind you, the new law had a lot of other, rather questionable changes in other areas, but that’s a separate discussion).

    I don’t expect Kickstarter to start allowing people to sell investment shares – there are still a bunch of reporting requirements and other things they’d need to do – but I’m sure other companies will.

  30. scalzi said:
    > 1. It’s entirely possible for a great idea to sell itself
    > (or to get the attention of others).

    right. that’s what i said. and — as i also said —
    that’s not really the most important point here.

    > 2. Success isn’t the funding;

    i never said it was. but, to that particular end,
    not getting funding isn’t really “success” either.

    funding is merely necessary. it’s not sufficient.
    but again, that’s still beside the important point.

    > success is the execution of the project.
    > A Kickstarter project can be very well-funded
    > but if it doesn’t deliver on what’s promised,
    > then it will be a failure.

    of course, john, but that’s a failure of _execution_.

    and i agree with you that it’s extremely important to
    factor the _execution_stage_ into the full equation,
    because far too many artists are ill-prepared there…

    but again, the thing that i personally find to be
    the most compelling part of the kickstarter vibe
    is that it’s possible to go to your fan-base to get
    the critical mass of funding to up-front a project.

    and that’s a step that — up to this point in time —
    was _not_ easy at all, even if an artist already
    had a fan-base, and was capable of execution.
    the handing-over-the-money part was still hard,
    especially since it was a chicken-egg problem…

    so one of the key obstacles has been removed.

    and thus one major pro-middlemen talking-point
    — up-front funding — has now dissolved into dust.


    p.s. i also agree with rickg that many backers
    think of themselves not as “customers” per se,
    but rather as “investors”, and even as “angels”,
    in which case the “execution” is less important.
    especially with a well-established fan-base, like
    the one amanda has, the payments are as much
    for stuff delivered in the _past_ as in the _future_.

  31. Went over there to see what all the fuss was about, ended up kicking in my big $1 for the digital album… having never heard any of her music.

  32. bowerbird:

    “of course, john, but that’s a failure of _execution_.”

    Or, put shorter: “failure.” Because the point of Kickstarter is to fund creative projects — it’s right there in the site description — most of which have deliverables.

    That Kickstarter makes the funding easier is generally a very good thing; I don’t think you and I have any disagreement there. But underselling the execution part to focus on the funding part is actually much of the problem I have with Kickstarter. Funding isn’t the victory condition, although it can be a confirmation of a very cool idea or the discovery of one’s fan base (or, alternately, the discovery of a lack thereof for either, which is sad for the creative person in question).

    I don’t we are actually having any sort of substantive disagreement here; we differ in where we put the emphasis of what’s best about this situation.

    Also, bowerbird: The line-breaking on your posts makes them more difficult to read.

  33. Do your research a little more indepthly (is that a word?) because what you fail to realize is that EVERY project see’s its audience wether it become the next big thing or not. Thats also the beauty….the people who support her WANT her project so THE MIDDLE MEN are out of business and the artist retains THEIR GOD GIVEN RIGHTS the whole time. Its a revolution. Not a fad. Bravo to this artist and LONG LIVE @KICKSTARTER!!

  34. One hazard of Kickstarter that people should keep in mind is that more and more people are setting up projects on it, so the pool of random people who could stumble on your project and say “Hey, that looks pretty cool! I think I’ll send them some money!” (which, funnily enough, does happen, even if it’s just from seeing a project in the weekly Kickstarter newsletter) is getting spread thinner and thinner. Even at five bucks a pop, there are only so many projects I can send my fundage to, especially with my income as unstable as it’s been for the past . . . oh, three years or so.

  35. @w1selabs – You might want to improve your skills in both reading comprehension and writing if you want to last here without being mocked and/or malleted. Just sayin’.

  36. My first KickStarter was to bring Mary Robinette Kowal’s puppet company to last year’s Worldcon. I’ve done a few since- including the Gaiman/Palmer tour.

  37. The other thing you left out was the ‘amalgamated fan base’ factor – the other thing that happened since Dresden Dolls was Palmer marrying Neil Gaiman, who presumably needs no introduction, and the reeady-made interest of his legion of fans, worldwide.

    I am not for a moment suggesting their romance or subsequent union was cynical or anything less than the truest love (they certainly seem entirely besotted with each other!) but you simply cannot underestimate the impact that some of his existing fame might have had on new, outside interest in her work, from people who might not have been aware of her before.

    This is not a ‘she married a great man’ anti-feminist backlash; I love Palmer’s work and ethos and it stands on its merits pre and post Gaiman. But the ommission is glaring in the context of this piece which purports to analyse the popularity/commitment dynamic of Kickstarter pitchers in relation to their supporters.

  38. w1selabs:

    “what you fail to realize is that EVERY project see’s its audience wether it become the next big thing or not.”

    I fail to realize what you’re actually trying to say here because you’ve made this sentence unfathomable, and the rest of your post does not improve much upon it. I’m guessing you may have written it on a phone; if so, with your next comment aim for readability rather than speed. Thank you.

    Also, of course, some of us like middle men just fine (they do work we don’t want to do), and we keep our rights (given in this case by the Constitution of the United States) where they should be.


    “This is an advertisement not an article”

    And that was a stupid comment rather than something that added anything substantive to the conversation. Who between us is offering the greater misservice?


    “The other thing you left out was the ‘amalgamated fan base’ factor”

    No, I didn’t; it’s covered in the point about networks.

    That said, I think it’s a mistake to assume Palmer’s network is overly dependent on who she’s married to; it undervalues her work over the years. I strongly suspect that even if she remained single, her wanderings through the creative world (and the further development of her fan base) would have put her in close to the same position she is now.

  39. @wonderbink: One hazard of Kickstarter that people should keep in mind is that more and more people are setting up projects on it….

    It’s a little like abandoning the traditional publishing route and deciding that you can go on-line and sell your book about a Roman vampire who fights crime (working title: Veni, Vidi, Vampire). Every other mope with a word processor can do the same thing and it’s very hard to get attention.

  40. “The other thing you left out was the ‘amalgamated fan base’ factor”
    I found Neil because of Amanda. I first read one his books AFTER they were married. I am now a huge fan. But I have been following her for years. Amanda has been giving us stuff free for years. Including support, ninja gigs, love and hugs.
    If there is a show at an 18+ venue in a town, she makes SURE she has a ninja gig or two so people younger can see her perform and meet her, and it is much more personal. Again for free and love. And she does these on the days of her shows (which sell out down here in Aus) for hours before she performs. Im surprised she gets time to eat and prepare between each gig.
    She worked hard for this. Thats how she built her fan base. We love her because we know she loves us.

  41. I’ve backed several successful Kickstarter projects, but nearly all of them had their ‘overnight success’ generated over several years. Order of the Stick reprint drive is a good one – Mr. Burlew had been posting his web comic for free over the years, and wanted to reprint one of the dead tree compilations he sells. He had some money set aside to help in this endeavor, but did a Kickstater to raise the rest. He was more successful than he imagined, mainly due to the fact that he’d underestimated the fan base he’d generated over the years, and was able to get funds to reprint them all (and cover Amazon/Kickstarter fees, shipping, taxes, etc.) He is still working his butt off post-kickstarter getting swag to customers, handling the printing of the books, posting updates to backers, and – oh yeah – creating new episodes of his web comic.

    So the formula I see for successful kickstarter projects goes like this:

    1 Work you butt off
    2 Kickstarter
    3 Work even harder

  42. Nice post there Mr John, I heartily concur – this is no overnight success, AFP works astonishingly hard at her art and also selling her art and herself to her fans.

    I attended of of those house parties when she first trialled them in Australia in 2011 and she was absolutely wonderful. Having said that, she was there for a good 6+ hours and she worked her arse off for at least 3 of those, this was on top of having a gig the previous night (I think) in another state. I’m attending another one early next year when she’s back in Australia again for the official tour and I am more than happy to hand over the dosh.

    (BTW for those that think she just turns up, plays a few tunes on the uke then buggers off, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. She sings, she plays, she reads, she talks and chats and laughs with the attendees and genuinely gives of herself to us for as long as she is able. There’re not middle-men guarding her, her tour manager is awesome, and it’s just a great freakin’ time.)

    I also saw her at a few cheap gigs a couple months back in Melbourne where she was trying out the new songs with her new band and she slayed it every single night. AND every single night she was talking to and signing stuff for her fans after every gig – this woman understands that it’s a symbiotic relationship, especially with the forum and method she uses to get her art out there, and she never forgets it not takes it for granted.

    She’s put in the hard yards and now is reaping the rewards; the telling point being that those “rewards” are more hard work, a shit-tonne of touring and a lot of time spent away from her loved ones but also seeing her art out there in the public domain and appreciated by her fans and newcomers alike.

    Certainly examine Kickstarter and how successful this campaign is, but – as Mr John says – don’t anyone ever say it’s a surprise, an overnight success or begging for dosh – it’s the exact opposite.

    P.S. See you at Worldcon Scalzi!

  43. Like Vanessa, I also “found” Neil after Amanda, rather than the other way around (I knew of him previously, as “the Sandman guy”, but I hadn’t actually read his work). So it’s certainly not a one-way street. I’ve now been to one of Neil’s shows, and bought and read 4 of his books that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

  44. I became fans of Neil and Amanda quite independently. Neil, I’ve been a fan of since the mid-90s through Sandman and the great (and greatly missed) Canadian genre fiction/comic book show Prisoners of Gravity. With Amanda, I discovered the Dresden Dolls sometime in 2007 or 2008, around the time I was getting into the nascent steampunk movement (there’s a bit of a fanbase overlap there). A year or so after that, I saw that Neil and Amanda were doing projects together and thought, “how cool, two people whose work I love are working together” (but I felt the same way about Neil and Tori Amos showing up in each other’s work back in the 90s too). Shortly after that, I found out they were a couple. Fancy that.

    I’ve seen Amanda live–that woman works hard. I can easily say the greatest shows I’ve ever been too were Amanda Palmer, Emilie Autumn, Jonathan Coulton and Voltaire–four indie artists who play small clubs, maintain huge devoted followings on social networks, and entertain you like nobody’s business. And these were all in the last 5 years! Well into my 30s! They entertained me better than the favourite bands of my youth!

  45. We can bail out Wall Street with amounts in the billions of dollars, but God forbid we fund and support some independent artists by giving them small donations if we want something they offer. To me, it is not all that different than pre-ordering a book, Blu-ray, or PS3 game from a retailer.

    Something is wrong with this picture.

  46. scalzi said:
    > I don’t we are actually having
    > any sort of substantive disagreement

    um, we’re not having _any_ kind of disagreement! :+)
    as i said at the outset, everything you said here is spot-on.

    i just thought you left something out — namely, the blessing
    which kickstarter has bestowed on the community of artists.

    is it “free money”? of course not. but it _is_ up-front money.
    and in the hands of a savvy artist, that’s a huge advantage…


  47. I guess I’m confused. I didn’t realize Kickstarter was a way to make money. I assumed it was used as a means to fund a project: cover creation, manufacturing, etc. so, you may not end up in the black, but you then have all this PRODUCT to sell afterwards. Thats where the profit comes from. Am I misunderstanding?

  48. Anthony: Kickstarter is a website that facilitates crowd-funded projects. The nature of those projects vary wildly. What you describe is one scenario, but not the only scenario available.

    Kickstarter has three major categories of projects, IMHO:
    1) Patron Arts – I’m gonna do this thing, but I need money to actually make it happen. If you’d like it to happen, help me fund the effort. Alternately, I’ve nearly completed this thing and need some money to finish it. Example: Wollstonecraft, an SF young girls series that a writer hopes to write and publish or The United States of Autism documentary.

    2) Niche Product – This would be a cool thing, but a large company would never fund it because the margins and/or audience are small. But I, as an individual or small team, can produce it economically…if I get enough backers, I can afford to create this awesome thing (and maybe turn a profit while doing so). If you would enjoy this thing, contribute and we’ll all have them and I’ll be able to produce them from now on. Examples: Trigger Happy Camera Cable, OGRE designer’s edition board game.

    3) Non-standard commercial production: I would like to produce this thing, but I can’t get funding for it. I’m going to Kickstarter to try and raise funding for this thing and anyone who helps will get it when it’s done. We’ve done this stuff for pay before, but through conventional distribution channels. They aren’t interested because the margins are small, but we think we could make it work…if we get customers upfront. Example: Double Fine Adventure, Fallout, many others.

    4) Charity / Community Enrichment: I would love to do this thing or make this thing, but it takes money. I’m not trying to make a profit, but I don’t have the money to do this or support myself while doing it or whatever. If you help me, I can do it. Example: Southern Fried Poetry Slam

  49. Our Three….FOUR! FOUR ways of using Kickstarter!


    I’ll come in again.

    NO ONE EXPECTS….[episode ends]

  50. Within my small professional world (classical music composition), the criticism I am most often seeing from my colleagues of Kickstarter projects like Palmer’s is that they feel Kickstarter should really only be used for those who don’t already have their own successful resources and networks to draw upon for funding projects. In other words, it’s easy to make a project successful when you’re already considered a “big name” with a wide fan base and are doing quite well financially already in your work and career. There is a sense (quasi moral imperative) that Kickstarter should be used in the sort of “grassroots” sense for those who don’t have already financial resources to draw upon without doing crowdsourcing founding/microfunding. (I don’t really share this view myself — I think one might as well use whatever tool one can for funding projects.)

  51. I respect Amanda Palmer’s drive to fund her musical activities independently. Having found the traditional route of signing to a label meant that she had to either compromise her creative principles or accept that the label was content to let her niche market moulder away, she fought to be released from the label and strike out independently. I suspect she knew it was going to be hard, but she took a risk (I also suspect that risk-taking Is one of her key strenghts) and worked her butt off to make her independence financially viable. Palmer has worked, made mistakes (some huge), worked again and eventually found a music business model that works for her: one founded in openess and freeness. Accessibility to fans. Free ninja concerts. Openess to new left-of-field musical projects with all sorts of creative collaborators. Making her music available for a small donation (you choose the amount) and proving added value incentives to encourage fans to pay full album price. Being directly involved on a daily basis with her fan base is her marketing model, and THAT is no doubt both fun, inspiring and bloody hard! I respect that her mix of chaotic creativity, hard work, business nous and principles have gotten her to the point where she can Kickstart her project tonup to the point of nearly $500m in a few hours. That’s a huge achievement, and bears no relationship to “panhandling” or “begging” or even “exploiting being married to a famous author”.

  52. I admire Amanda Palmer, her music and her professionalism very much. I was very pleased for the opportunity to interview her for issue 8 of Dark Matter fanzine a few months ago. What she’s done is clever and collaborative.

    I, on the other hand, have been producing an online SFF zine since October 2010, making it as professional as I can with my limited resources, offering it for free and asking for donations in return. I am very grateful for the donations that I’ve received to date, but frankly I haven’t received enough to pay the postage bill to get review books to reviewers and mail out prizes. You’re right, Amanda’s ‘overnight success’ has been many years in the making, and I’m sure her project will have many hidden costs. You’re also right in saying that a new project may not get off the ground; mine isn’t that new and I can’t get the support I need.

    I am looking at some kind of reward system for donations but my fear is that the rewards would consume all the donations, not allowing me the opportunity to upgrade software so out of date I can’t import formatting or links, and I can’t save in ePub or Mobi formats. And that is just one expense I’m looking down the barrel at, I won’t go into how much setting up the website has cost, or how I keep getting emails telling me I need to do a podcast and put video on my website to meet a minimum standard. For a podcast I need decent sound recording equipment and a quiet location for recording: I often interview people in coffee shops. For video I need a video camera and editing software, and so on. The people who keep telling me I need to do more and better have never given a donation, not even the cost of a cup of coffee.

    Kickstarter rocks but only for a select few.

  53. I didn’t even know who Amanda Palmer was until I read this post. I knew about kickstarter, though. I love what I have learned and intend to find her, listen and see if I really give a hoot. However, what she has done is more than noteworthy, it’s phenomenal. Who does that? It’s awesome. That being said, rock on. #newsubscriber

  54. One of the best assessment of this event that i have read. Yes, she’s successful. But also, yes she works her ass off. If anyone has EARNED this kind of success, it’s her.

  55. I have no idea who actually has a problem with Kickstarter. You either think it’s great or you don’t care — I don’t understand for a second why anyone could object to the model.

    Congratulations to Amanda for making what she’s done, and doing. I’ve known about her and the Dresden Dolls since their early stuff, at least 04-05, and they’ve always been independent minded. It’s clear that it takes an enormous amount of work to get where she is, and even then it’s a particular kind of niche where she does have to do nearly all the work herself, but it still looks like a good life.

    I do agree that Kickstarter is not a fanbase builder for the most part — nothing wrong with that. It’s an outstanding tool to leverage the following you have and have built — it’s a financial tool for someone just like Amanda. Of course there will be some out-of-nowhere successes, but for the most part you have to do the hard yards building your audience first, and then Kickstarter can help.

    Here’s wishing for more tools like Kickstarter for all kinds of independent artists…

  56. I love Kickstarter. I have used it once, on a scale that was tiny compared to other projects but HUGE for my group. (Common in the arts, I think.) We made our funding goal, which was about 30% of the entire project budget, but didn’t exceed it on any grand scale. We put the anticipated cost of the rewards into our budget projection, and we also did a lot of almost-free “extras” for our backers — a project blog, videos of the rehearsals, that sort of thing. It allowed us to do our project, and (I think) it was fun for the backers as well, most of whom kicked in between $5 and $20.

  57. You are 100% spot on with every point in this article. I think a lot of people vastly underestimate how hard Amanda works (I have first hand knowledge – the woman works her ass off). Also – and she just broke $1,000,000 – she probably will not keep that much of this in the end. $K for a concert sounds like a lot, but add in airfare, tour manager, backline rental, and paying the band, and any work permits/taxes, and you aren’t actually left with a lot of money considering how much effort and work she puts in. The wonderful thing about Amanda is she has built a global community of people mainly via her generosity. She is incredible supportive of other artists and she has absolutely earned her success. That said, you are also spot on with the concerns raised about people’s perceptions of kickstarter, or fundraising and project management in general. Amanda runs a business, including employing other people, and she has practiced this for several years now. Just goes to show you: There’s still no free lunch!

  58. I need to ask everyone this: Should the wife of a millionaire be using kickstarter? And mostly for only idealistic reasons? I loathe the recording industry as I’ve seen what it ha done to my friends. But should something that was meant to fund people who had no other option really be funding someone who could easily get a record deal OR asking her husband for the few grand it would take to go on tour and record? “A few grand??”, you scream? “How could she possibly do that?”. speaking as someone who has toured on almost nothing…. yeah. You can do it. One million dollars for a record and a short tour is ridiculous. Someone who wants to tear down the idea of rock stars who still thinks they need that kind of money to tour and record? WHILE being married to a millionaire? Insulting.

  59. Pisscubes:

    “Should the wife of a millionaire be using kickstarter?”


    Next appallingly stupid (not to mention appallingly sexist) question?

  60. [Deleted because in addition to positing stupid and sexist questions, this dude’s also rude — JS]

  61. Stupid me thought that these kinds of forums for replies were meant for discuss. Lesson learned. If Martha Stewart’s husband started a Kickstarter, I’d say it was bullshit too. Palmer has access to other means of funds– be it a loan or something else– and asks people to chip in so she can record and go on tour. I see people every day who record and go on tour with almost nothing in their pocket. Why not discuss that instead of getting your back up the moment someone challenges what Amanda Palmer might have done?

  62. Amazing. You called me stupid. I didn’t say anything that was a personal attack in the least. But you did after I posted. And you delete me for being sexist and rude? For a comment that was in no way sexist or rude. How do you expect any kind of open dialogue here? Obviously the answer is you don’t.

  63. Pisscubes:

    “If Martha Stewart’s husband started a Kickstarter, I’d say it was bullshit too.”

    And you would be positing something as appallingly stupid as you did with Ms. Palmer, namely, that someone who is married to someone with money should not independently seek funds from those willing to provide them.

    When you ask stupid questions, you run the risk of having the stupidity of your question pointed out to you. If you don’t like that, don’t ask such appallingly stupid questions.

    Likewise, if you don’t want to be accused of appalling sexism, don’t phrase your question in a manner such that you emphasize the gender of the spouses. Otherwise you run the risk of people assuming you’re being intentionally sexist. Especially when it is coupled with a stupid question.

    “Amazing. You called me stupid.”

    Actually, I said your question was appallingly stupid. I did not call you stupid, although it does seem that you have poor reading comprehension.

  64. I have no idea who actually has a problem with Kickstarter.

    Well, as we’ve just seen, apparently somebody who thinks Kickstarter is the band-funding equivalent of a soup kitchen.

  65. Kickstarter was not developed as “something that was meant to fund people who had no other option,” Mr Cubes. It was developed so creative people – even established ones who were not starving in garrets – could exercise control over their projects, and build links with the people who gave them patronage without being obliged to resort to consort with record company (or other corporate) bureaucrats.

    The last two projects I’ve supported are from people with well-established video-game and Tabletop RPG making careers. They could jump through the hoops and compromise themselves into the ground for cash if they had to, and make a watery commercial version of the bargain basement version of what they want. Or they could self fund, I suppose, with the obvious limitations and risks which come with that. Or they could call upon their many fans to help them develop an independent product with a strong idea behind it. Guess which path is most likely to produce a good piece of art at the end?

  66. I DID NOT GIVE Amanda money, I preordered her new album from her through KS at a price that was so cheap I can’t even call it fair. I’m not a huge fan of hers, some songs I like some I don’t but I have nothing but respect for the way she runs her business/career.

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