KICKSTARTER: A valid business model for indie comics creators?

Three creators from the surrounding area celebrate their recent success with a signing event at Captain Blue Hen Comics in Newark, Delaware . . . . .

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How many of us know incredibly talented and creative artists who never follow up on their dreams, or get to bring their worthy projects to full fruition? 

In many cases it boils down to a lack of funds.  Sometimes its’ the fear of losing money or worry that they may only break even instead of making just a modest profit in exchange for their investment of time, money and effort. 

What if a creator could raise their financial needs in advance of their  project completion, simply by using a fund-raising campaign and giving value back to donors in exchange for their trust and faith? 

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, writes that Kickstarter is an “online threshold pledge system” for funding creative projects ranging from inde film and music to journalism, solar energy technology and food-related projects” - - - as well as comics and graphic novels.

Wikipedia  also provides some of the details, explaining that “people must apply to Kickstarter to have a project posted on the site, and Kickstarter provides guidelines on what types of projects will be accepted.”

“ Project owners choose a deadline and a target minimum of funds to raise.  IF the chosen target is not gathered by the deadline, no funds are collected.  Money pledged by donors is collected using Amazon Payments.”

Wikipedia further outlines some procedures:  “Kickstarter takes 5% of the funds raised; Amazon charges an additional 3-5%.  Unlike many forums for fundraising or investment, Kickstarter claims no ownership over the projects and the work they produce.”

Any method that allows creators to maintain ownership and creative control of their properties rather than turn their work over to second or third party interests is a method that should be applauded.  I’ve been curious about this for some time, and previously wrote about Kickstarter and this particular project on this blog site.  See  http://bcrefugees.blogspot.com/2011/06/unique-way-for-indie-creators-to-manage.html.   Recently WOMANTHOLOGY, a project to fund and print an anthology graphic novel with volunteer efforts from women creators (and excess monies raised being donated to charity) successfully raised over $100, 000.  See http://womanthology.blogspot.com/p/kickstarter-successful-what-does-it-all_10.html

The Kickstarter project initiated in the second quarter of 2011 by the creative talents behind COMIC BOOK DINER  ( http://comicbookdiner.com/ ) wasn’t as ambitious as WOMANTHOLOGY. Writer/artist/inker/letterers Jamar Nicholas, Rich Faber, and John Gallagher wanted to package their original graphic novels for younger readers in a Collector’s Box and make it available in time for Christmas 2011.  The availability of more copies of their works also would help to fuel their efforts to get their works into the children’s section of libraries. 

cropped-comicdiner_mast2Their first attempt through Kickstarter sought to raise $10,000 but fell short of that goal.  They revised their plans, scaled back the package offering (no Collector’s Box anymore), and reactivated their Kickstarter efforts  in July 2011, seeking to raise $6,000.  They succeeded this time and ended the Kickstarter  campaign with a little over $7,500 in pledges.

Through a partnership with Red Lion, they were able to print the first two books and also received help in getting them listed on Amazon.com  (BUZZBOY- SIDEKICKS RULE is offered there right now.)  The shipment of the BUZZBOY and ROBOY RED  books were recently received and Jamar, Rich and John decided to meet at a half-way point to begin working on distributing them to the Kickstarter customers.   The third book, LEON PROTECTOR OF THE PLAYGROUND, should be ready in a few months.  The Captain Blue Hen comic store in Newark, DE was a decent distance between their homes and offered to set up a signing session / meet-and-greet  to garnish the occasion.

I arrived there on Sunday, January 8 with the hope and intention of an interview and learning more details.  However,  many of their supporters were on hand to congratulate them, ask advice, show art samples - - enough to turn it into a mini-workshop on comics creation.  I couldn’t get my interview in, so I opted to correspond with John Gallagher via e-mail.  The high points of that e-mail interview are included here.

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BC REFUGEES BLOGSPOT:  John, it appeared to be a very busy day for you guys today at Captain Blue Hen.  Not a ton of traffic but always busy  - and a lot of quality time with visitors interested in what you are doing, getting help with their projects, etc. . . . . .

JOHN GALLAGHER:  It was great - - we sold maybe 5 additional books, but had four or five different Kickstarter folks come by.  It’s always great to meet folks face to face and say “Thank You.”

BCR:  I couldn’t get near you but I did get to talk with Rich and Jamal.  However, they both defer to you as the “stats guy” for some of my questions.  I’d like to confirm how the Kickstarter program worked out for you on the second go around, without specific details or complicating things by trying to explain every single step.

JG:  Kickstarter did just what it was designed to do - - get things started.  Our costs were anticipated to be between $10,000 – $12,000 if we did things right.  And each book is costing in the $4,000 range, including printing, shipping and customs.  And this is with a very economical printer!  So the money raised has essentially paid for the first two books - - and we are pooling convention, appearance, and Diamond pre-orders towards book  three.  Some Kickstarter projects have gone 1000% beyond the requested budget ! - - But, we weren’t so fortunate.  It just shows we need to keep spreading the word.

BCR:  What I think is significant is that three local indie comics creators tried out a new business model for funding their projects, one that also involved social networking.  What were the expectations?

JG:  I really though we would make our full budget in the first try.  As you know, that wasn’t the case.  We came to realize that the audience we cater to for these books, at least, wasn’t really a Kickstarter crowd.  So we adjusted expectations, and honed our message to the people that were out there.

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BCR:  What worked the best?

JGReally, it was sell , sell,  sell - - - you need to keep pushing, reminding people that you need their help - - and that you are offering a product of high quality.  We played up the reviews we have received, the awards we have won or been nominated for, in order to show we were the real deal.

BCR:  Did it involve less or more effort than initially considered?

JG:  Definitely more shilling than anyone was comfortable with - - it was like a comic-con every day.  “Have you heard of Buzzboy?” . . . “Want to support kid’s comics?” . . . etc., twice a day on Twitter, twice a day on Facebook.  My wife is still mad at me for hijacking her Facebook account one night to reach out to her friends.

BCR:  Upsides?  Downsides?

JG:  There are some folks who respected the hard sell, and that we didn’t give up.  Others were completely turned off.  But we saw this as a Pre-Sale Mechanism.  It’s not really different from Diamond Books.  But, instead of orders, printing, wait for money - - we are getting it in advance, then printing more.  The Internet lets us reach an active versus passive sales model, and I dig that scene! Smile

BCR:  What is the next step?

JG:  Well, we are in comics shops, on Amazon, and available through Baker & Taylor for libraries and bookstores - - so we need to market to those folks now.  Jamar is busy on LEON, and we’re setting up a plan for promoting through the year - - together and apart.

BCR:  Would you use this business/fundraising method again?

JG:  Definitely, as a pre-order tool, again.  We reached more people through Kickstarter than we would advertising in comics shops.

BCR:  In terms of print runs on your works, is this the most ever done?

JG:  Yes and No.  This is the first time we have all printed a personal project and had such high quality printing and production.  We have hardcover and softcover editions, a matching trade dress, etc.  But in work for hire - - Jamar, Rich and I have all worked on high print run products.  Rich worked for DC Comics and had books selling half a million copies.  I did a custom Christmas comic for a shopping mall that outsold BATMAN that month.  Maybe not the most - - but definitely the most satisfying as creators.

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BCR:  Will there be any profit / paycheck in this project - - or is it just a business expense to get more exposure for your works?

JG:  As the great web cartoonist Dave Kellet once said = “People die from exposure.”  (Dave Kellet of  http://www.sheldoncomics.com/)  No, we have set up a project that will break even within three months of the final book shipping – and make a profit.  You should always aim to make money as a creator, if only to keep score.  More money means we are reaching more people, and so on . . .

BCR:  Were most of the Kickstarter supporters already familiar with your works, or did you pick up a significant number of new supporters?

JG:  I would say it was 50/50, ranging from folks who just love to be on the ground floor - - to friends, fans, and uncles, aunts, and cousins.  (Hi, Billy!)

BCR:  Any advice for a comics creator considering using Kickstarter?

JG:  Look at what has been done before - - and what is successful.  Be realistic in your expectations; and don’t expect everyone to come to you.  Have fun with it - - but also know that you owe it to your supporters to deliver the best product that you can - - this is the real deal !!

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