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Is Crowdfunding Changing How We Buy – And Why We Care?

Is Crowdfunding Changing How We Buy – And Why We Care?

By April 3, 2015 Uncategorized No Comments

For a certain kind of person of a certain age, the twin spires of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Super Troopers stood as the pinnacle of hilarity; the endlessly quotable totems of dorm room DVD collections, bong hits and pure dumbass insanity.

In the last while, we’ve had a taste of what it’s like to try and recreate that time and place, with the middling Anchorman 2 and now the recently announced, long-gestating Super Troopers 2. The big difference? Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are pure Hollywood, putting out a number of successful projects after their first, beloved cult classic. The Broken Lizard guys?

RIP Michael Clarke Duncan – and comedy – in general.

The other big difference is that Broken Lizard is raising money for their sequel via crowdfunding – and it’s been wildly successful. At the time of posting, their Indiegogo page had more than 33,000 backers, to the tune of over $3 million raised.

They claim this will be enough money to get the film made (though definitely not distributed) and as much as I am worried we’ll get another lukewarm sequel a-la Anchorman 2, I supported this if only because of the fond memories of syrup chugging and the Meow Game from the original film.

A little more than two months ago, Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) and a couple of game designers Kickstarted Exploding Kittens, a card game that combines Cards Against Humanity-levels of ridiculousness with Uno. They asked for $10,000. They got $8.8 million. That is banana pancakes. Of course, I’m getting a copy of the game, too.

Are we truly connected with the creator, or with the brand?

So what does this do to us as consumers? I know that the line for most of these sites – the Kickstarters, GoFundMes, the Indiegogos – is that they are connecting creators and individuals directly with their potential audience without THE MAN getting in the way. That sounds good! Yaaay! Cat-themed games for everyone!

The weird part is that it’s not that simple, because it turns out that the ability for these campaigns to hit their targets is at least partly due to their pitch, not the product itself, and that in many cases people aren’t so much buying a product as they are buying its marketing.

So many organizations (The Oatmeal included) are using their pre-existing brand to essentially hype products into existence via crowdfunding. This is not automatically bad – De La Soul is making a new record on this model, and De La Soul is awesome. But they are De La Soul! They’re one of the most important acts in hip-hop history! If they got a nickel every time Kanye alone cited them as an influence on College Dropout they could afford to make this album.

Pebble watches may be cool – I dunno, don’t have one – but they were the most popular Kickstarter ever. They got so much free media attention by virtue of their success, can you blame them for going back to the well for the Pebble Time (where they raised another $20 million)?

Have we turned crowdfunding into social pre-ordering?

For so many of these projects, the contributions an individual makes is less supporting a specific goal but more of an elaborate pre-order system. No one likes pre-order systems! They are the worst!

No one has ever thought “you know, I know I can get this product the day it comes out, but instead I’m going to pay for it in advance and be forced to talk to someone who is going to ask me to buy scratch protection.” No one. Also, scratch protection is the worst. Fuck GameStop.

This doesn’t even mention the sheer amount of vaporware that has plagued the technology and gaming community on Kickstarter. This is the real challenge with investing without information or agency – people don’t know what a supply chain is, never mind if they are going to get their copy of Star Citizen, never mind if it’s any good or not.

There’s no shareholder meeting for a consumer product, and so many of these projects fall into a strange void between company investment and retail purchase without satisfying the expectations of either. Read any one of the majorly successful Kickstarter campaign comment sections and you’ll see a lot of unhappy people who don’t seem to understand what they’ve gotten into.

Tesla > Edison.

Tesla > Edison.

How can we use our wallets to do good, instead of just buy more stuff?

All that being said, there’s no question that crowdfunding for a cause can be an amazing thing to watch. If you look at Inman’s other major campaign to Build a Goddamn Nikola Tesla Museum on the site of his old lab, he made it happen! They are building the Goddamn Tesla Science Centre! More than half of the funding to do so just came from one geek reaching out to his geek army, asking if they could help remember the greatest geek who ever lived (and piss off Thomas Edison).

So that’s what I think we need to do – we need to think less about crowdfunding as a product, and more as an expression of our collective will (or wallets). For folks who’ve invested their time and money into politics, the sensation of supporting someone who represents something you truly believe in can feel amazing, but you aren’t buying that person and you aren’t buying direct access (that’s more of a Koch Brothers move).

When we do something not because we get something, but because we think it is the right thing to do, we demonstrate that the world is not purely transactional. As much as many people claim that the market is the most efficient model for everything, constructing a civil society based on consumerism doesn’t just hurt the people that can’t buy in; it makes the people who can complicit in keeping people out.

As geeks, we care too much about stuff – that’s what makes us us. The reason why we surround ourselves with people like that is because that energy – that desire to connect and experience mutual appreciation – is something that sustains us in a world that can be so full of apathy and willful ignorance. I’m as super-excited about the Firefly reunion as the next browncoat, but that shouldn’t be mutually exclusive with helping to find actual coats for people that need them out in the ‘Verse.

So, the next time you want to double down for a game or a piece of tech that may or may not exist one day, help somebody get the funds for his malignant melanoma treatment (or – seriously America – just publicly fund your health care already, it’s embarrassing), help support your local animal shelter or – even better – get off the laptop and see where you can help in your own community.

Do it right meow.

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