No really, hear me out. I’ve waxed lyrical about Kickstarter projects before. I think it’s a great tool for the independent animator/producer who’s project is perhaps a bit too risky for a serious investor. Some great projects have found backing through it while others have stuttered to a halt despite 6-figures in backing; not naming any names. Yet Kickstarter could actually result in less animation being made. That sounds mad, right?
Well yes, it is. But it’s completely true and not for a readily apparent reason. Now that isn’t to say we should shut up shop and move on, but rather for all of us to be a bit more cognisant of its impact. It’s been huge so far, but what of the longer term changes it instigates?
A recent post by Chris Dorr highlights the rather large similarities between the Kickstarter model and that of cable TV. One has the audience fund projects directly, while the other spreads the cost of all projects among everyone. One sounds like the panacea of creators while the other one is that of the businessman.
The reason this is so is because Kickstarter plays to the desire of plenty of people for a la carte cable; basically you pay for the 5-6 channels you actually watch instead of the 100+ that you don’t. Except the cable companies and their pundits like to point out that if that were the case, that IFC channel that you like to watch now costs $150 a month because the audience is relatively small. In other words the most popular channels end up subsidising the the stragglers.
Now apply this to Kickstarter, where people only fund the projects they like. Popular ones get funded easily, like Bee & Puppycat and Baman Piderman. But it’s the ones that you don’t see that really struggle. The late, great Michael Sporn couldn’t get $20,000 together for his POE project (although he did launch a subsequent campaign on Indiegogo), and he’s considered one of the best independent animators that we were lucky to have.
So what you end up with is relatively few, large projects (Bee & Puppycat alone sucked up $600,000) leaving the riskier, less popular ones in the dirt. Fans contribute greater amounts but to fewer projects; the pot is only so big. The end result is that overall, less animation is actually produced.
There is always the argument that falling costs, etc. etc mean that animation continues to flourish, but the point here is that commercial animation which exploded thanks to YouTube and the internet in general will slowly crawl back into oblivion. The big boys will run the show and since there’s only so much money to go around, instead of fans funding stuff they likely won’t ever watch, instead they will only fund what they will watch, resulting in reduced choice, and less variety of animation for everyone to choose from.
The ideal solution is to have studios run on a subscription-type system, whereby fans fund a minimal amount and in return get a plethora of choices when it comes to content. That’s a hard sell in the internet age, but sites like Crunchyroll and Netflix prove that it is viable given the right conditions. Getting a few studios together and forming a syndicate of sorts is just one possible solution.