Kickstarter Diary: The Postmortem
A successful Kickstarter campaign for his book completed, the author reflects on lessons learned.After 30 days of chasing around publicity and retweets, my Kickstarter campaign was officially funded at 734% of the $500 original goal. That's to say, the campaign was over. It doesn’t mean that everything is over except for writing the book and shipping out the pledge premiums. No, there’s still the small matter of getting the money out of Amazon Payments and into your bank account. It’s also proper to take a deep breath before starting the book to reflect on how the project went.
Before you can collect your money, the credit cards for your pledgers have to be rung up by Amazon. The way it works, if the card doesn’t go through, the pledger has a week to fix whatever the problem was. I started out with 244 pledges and 10 broken credit cards. Over the course of a week, that dropped to only 3 broken credit cards and only $35 worth of the pledge money disappearing off my radar. That’s not bad at all.
That grossed $3636.17 in pledged funds. After the Amazon processing fee and Kickstarter’s fee, that left me with $3280.82, meaning 9.8% went to fees, right inline with the 10% I budgeted for. Actually getting the money into the bank account was a bit more difficult. I was expecting to wait 2 weeks for the money, but I got an e-mail from Amazon the next day telling me I had funds in the payment account. If you’re like me, you want to move your money out of the payment system and into your bank account right away. I set up a transfer using the Amazon Payments website. There were no errors displayed on the site, I got a confirmation email that the withdrawal had been initiated and it appeared my money was on its way.
Wrong. A few hours later, I received a letter from Amazon saying that the request to withdraw $3192.41 to your bank account was not successful. This usually happens if the bank is unable to accept electronic transactions.”
The letter suggested I either withdraw the money to another bank account or purchase an Amazon.com Gift Certificate.” The latter option was not so palatable to me. It turned out that that Amazon enforces a two-week hold on all Kickstarter funds, although sometimes the funds are sent early. It turned out to be Amazon’s error, and my banker was none too amused to have the problem blamed on her.The credit cards that had to be fixed and rung up later in the week were not immediately available and everything seemed to have a two-week delay from when the transaction goes through. Keep that in mind while you’re looking to take possession of your money.
Stepping back and looking at the project as a whole, I was quite surprised by the amount of foreign pledges I received. Going by combination of the overseas shipping orders for print and people who listed a foreign address on the digital rewards, I had 50 out of 244 pledges from a different country, roughly 20.5%. A lot of the digital rewards pledgers didn’t list an address on their profile, so I’m guessing the real percentage is probably at least 25%. This wasn’t something I could accurately track, but it seemed like a lot of the foreign pledges came out of the referrals internal to Kickstarter. However they showed up, let there be no doubt in your mind that Kickstarter is a global marketplace and be very sure you’ve put in different pricing to ship to other countries.
Where did the pledges come from, traffic-wise?
- $906/25% came from Kickstarter internal refers, people who were already coming to the Kickstarter site who found my project and pledged to it. I’m told that’s a fairly high number and I attribute that to a lot of cartoonists and especially digital cartoonists using Kickstarter. It’s a niche product, but the niche players were likely to discover it there.
- $725.10/19.75% came from “Direct Traffic.” That can mean a lot of different things: the URL of my Kickstarter page was emailed to the person making the pledge; the URL was cut and pasted into the browser instead of clicked on, the link was clicked on from inside a social media app (as opposed to a social media website) and the refer data didn’t come through. Probably that’s a combination of all those things, but I’ll never know the splits. That’s just part of business on the web. You’re always going to have this category.
- $465/12.67% came from Twitter
- $417/11.36% came from io9, which ran an article about me.
- $186/5.07% came from Comics Alliance, which ran an article about me.
By Number of Pledges
(Note: Due to the limitations of the Kickstarter Dashboard, I don’t have an exact count on how may pledges came from where..)
- 70/28.7% from Kickstarter internal refers
- 51/20.9% from Direct Traffic
- 27/11.1% from io9
- 20/8.2% from Twitter
- 12/4.9% from ComicsBeat.com, across a few different mentions on my semi-regular blogging home (more pledges than any other comics-specific site)
Again, it’s probably unusual to have Kickstarter in the #1 slot and Twitter all the way down at #3 as the top social media draw. I have a smaller social media presence than I’d normally recommend somebody have if they’re going to try crowdfunding. My Facebook traffic wasn’t top 5 by either metric, too. Social did OK for me, but my driving forces were aggregating pledges across several news sites covering my project and those Kickstarter internal refers. That’s a function of having to build a campaign without a large social base as your starting point.
The best part of the process?
Hearing from a pledger in Norway, who’d used the previous edition of the book as a key component of his Master’s Thesis. If they got through a thesis and still want more, that’s a good sign.
Would I Do Anything Differently?
I might have started asking for retweets a little earlier and then again, I might not. I’m not sure how much waiting for the io9 article to come out helped the retweet campaign. By putting it in a smaller time window, I was hoping to get a bit of repetition with the shared Twitter audience, in theory, seeing 2-3 times in a couple days. I could have widened the circle of retweet requests and perhaps gotten a little wider audience, but I was getting progressively lower retweets as I widened the circle of requests, so I’m not so sure I wasn’t close to tapped out there. That’s a toss-up in my mind. I don’t think it would have hurt anything, though.
The other thing I might have done differently was written a few more posts on The Beat with a link to Kickstarter page at the end. There was a lull while I was waiting on some things to run, where I could have reassigned myself to generate a little more content and that might have moved a few more books. Still, that’s not something that’s likely to have caused a huge jump in pledges. Without knowing the exact distribution of “Direct Traffic,” the pledges were fairly evenly distributed across the major comics news websites. The difference was more in the size of the average pledge than anything else.
For what it was, the campaign went relatively smoothly. I didn’t have any retailers biting on the discounted bulk purchases, but that’s never really been the lifeblood of crowdfunding.
Was It Worth It?
We’ll see how well I estimated my costs, but I’m comfortable, I should come out of this with around $2200 after I’ve shipped the pledges. That gives me what I’d consider a small advance for a book that isn’t likely to get a large one. I’ll also have the book available in commercial channels soon enough and one of the benefits of going out and getting publicity for the Kickstarter is I’ve started raising awareness for the commercial release. I’ve already done one interview for the commercial release and had one high profile mainstream news figure request a copy of the finished product. There’s some value to that.
If I wasn’t releasing this commercially, the amount of time spent on the Kickstarter would not have been worth it. Then again, I’d also have structured things a lot differently and had a much higher goal if I needed to completely compensate myself for 2 months’ worth of time. Books have a shelf life. (Pun intended.) I’ll be seeing royalties off this until I need to do another update and that money adds up. I’m looking at this from the long tail perspective.
Would I Use Kickstarter Again?
Make no mistake about it; I think there are a lot of clunky bits to the platform. Substandard documentation. Don’t get me started on the limitations on their dashboard for tracking your marketing efforts. If I’d had a real technical issue with Amazon Payments and not just a poor customer service experience, I wouldn’t even consider a return to Kickstarter. Amazon Payments does seem to work well enough, but Kickstarter is large enough to have their own dedicated payment system.
On the other hand, Kickstarter brought me 25% of the money. Kickstarter has a fair amount of mainstream recognition that most of the other crowdfunding operations don’t have yet, so you no longer have to explain what a Kickstarter is. That means you’re going to have an easier time bringing somebody into your pledge circle that hasn’t already used Kickstarter.
Now, if I were writing a detective novel, would I be getting 25% of my pledge money from those Kickstarter refers? I’m not sure I could realistically expect that, but I do know that people really do browse the site looking for things to pledge. And money talks. I’d probably grit my teeth over the more frustrating parts of the experience and use Kickstarter again.
[Todd Allen has spent more than 15 years around digital publishing and comics. He’s covered the business side of comics for Publishers Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Comic Book Resources. As a contributing editor to comicsbeat.com he’s been nominated for an Eisner Award and named to TIME magazine’s 25 Best Blogs of 2012 list.]