Is Kickstarter Still Viable For Small-Scale Independent Creatives?

Kickstarter seems to have changed dramatically in the couple of years since I successfully crowdfunded Janapar.

Back then it was the domain of creative eccentrics eager to launch passion projects that wouldn’t stand a chance of being funded in any other way. Through Kickstarter, they could reach out directly to like-minded people and ultimately create something that sidestepped the commercial world, often with no particular financial value at all, just because they could, and because enough other people wanted to help them do it.

Fast forward to today and Kickstarter seems to have transitioned into a full-on business model. Looking through the featured projects on the platform, I see more companies than individuals; countless projects which don’t even attempt to disguise the fact that they are nothing more than a pre-ordering channel for a commercial product.

Tim Ferriss’s ever-popular Four Hour Workweek blog hosts an article which explains, in detail, how to ‘hack Kickstarter’ and raise $100,000 in 10 days – from the perspective of a company insider, of course, not a starving artist. And I’ve lost track of the amount of spam I’ve received, both privately and through the platform itself, from companies offering PR and marketing services specifically to Kickstarter project owners. No doubt about it – crowdfunding has never been a bigger business.

Or maybe it’s always been like this. Before online crowdfunding platforms existed, weren’t companies raising seed capital this way anyway, making lots of noise about the next big thing and inviting individuals to chip in and help make it happen? Perhaps small-scale indies should keep doing what they’ve always done – reach out to their friends and followers and ignore the corporate world and its various bandwagons?

Our own project – the work of two idealistic blokes with no business sense but a lot of passion and drive – seems to fade into the background against the slew of highly manicured and cleverly marketed corporate Kickstarter campaigns, often casting commerce as collaboration in a way which doesn’t quite ring true.

We did exceed our fundraising target to make two new adventure films from Iran and Patagonia, despite the fact that our ‘product’ is not much use to anyone except those who share our beliefs. So it seems our own crowd is a strong and effective one, and we’re thankful for that.

But we’ll never make any actual money or launch a company off the back of these films – we just believe that the world would benefit, in a totally intangible and unmeasurable way, from these films existing.

In that sense, we’re following what for many was the original point of crowdfunding – that the profitability of the end result is less important than the community simply being able to rally around its principles and make something happen.

But it’s a shame that – with Kickstarter increasingly being leveraged for business ends – creative, idealistic fools like us no longer seem to have a platform to call our own.

Check out the trailer for Karun: Misadventures On Iran’s Longest River, out on Monday 16th November 2015.