Nov 26

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A Remembrance of the Future by John Klima

Not that long ago—in August and September of 2012—I ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund Electric Velocipede in 2013. Not only were we successful in achieving our goal, but we also were able to hit a stretch goal to fund converting our back issues into digital format. While it was nice to think that there were plenty of people in the field who appreciate Electric Velocipede and what we do, it was very gratifying and humbling to have that proven true.

With one notable exception, running a Kickstarter campaign is no different than a fundraising drive. That exception is that if you don’t hit your Kickstarter goal, you receive no money and none of your supporters are out any money. In a traditional fundraising drive you keep any and all money pledged to you. That was a very real concern while running the Kickstarter: if we didn’t hit our goal, we’d likely have to close up shop and stop publishing Electric Velocipede. Thankfully we didn’t have to worry about that.

But will we be able to do it again next year? And the year after that? And after that?

Kickstarter has been a huge boon for a wide range of projects. From anthologies to graphic novels to watches to gaming consoles, Kickstarter has helped them all find their way to reality. Projects that would never be able to get a bank loan or would have difficulty finding financial backers are able to reach out to the public and get funding.

In my opinion, it works great for one-off projects, but it’s an inadequate solution for an ongoing project. Brian White has discovered this for his fantastic Fireside Magazine. Brian used Kickstarter to fund all three issues of Fireside. However, it was hit or miss for issue #3 for a time. Brian admitted during the funding for issue #3 that using Kickstarter was not a long-term solution.

How many times can you keep going back to the same well for the same thing?

On one hand, getting a year’s worth of funding for Electric Velocipede is no different than doing an annual subscription drive. In that respect, there’s no reason why I couldn’t run a new campaign every year to get ready for the next one. It’s the sort of thing we did when we were a print magazine and we could do as an electronic magazine, sort of.

There are two main differences between the print and electronic versions of the magazine (as we’re running them today). First, with the print version, the only way to read it was to buy it. Second, the best way to get a copy was to buy a subscription because the chances of finding a physical copy in a specialty store or at a convention were slim.

Should we think of the print magazine as analogous to the electronic version?

With the electronic version, the content is free online; anyone who has an internet connection can read it. For those who are interested, they can buy digital editions to read in the e-reader of their choice. Again, anyone with an internet connection can buy copies at places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Weightless.

Recently we began selling subscriptions to our digital editions via Weightless. I had hoped to offer subscriptions through Amazon, but that program has been suspended. It makes it much tougher to do a subscription drive and a renewal drive, but it’s not impossible—by the way, have you picked up a subscription at Weightless? They’re online $6.50 for one year/four issues!

Are there ways of generating revenue for the electronic version which didn’t exist for the print version? Print periodical publishing lives on three pillars: advertising, subscriptions, and editorial. All three need to be successful for your periodical to survive.

Advertising and subscriptions provide your income and editorial brings them both to the door.

Since we’re a small magazine—as opposed to a huge entertainment site like BoingBoing or Go Fug Yourself—online advertising is a crap shoot, and I can’t reconcile Kickstarter to a subscription drive. There’s nothing preventing me from running a Kickstarter in 2013 to get funding for 2014. Fireside Magazine struggled by going back to Kickstarter multiple times in one year. Would going back annually eradicate some of the problems they ran into, or would we have the same problem?

A magazine subscription and renewal works on the premise that you’re building an audience. You provide something people want, they want to keep getting it, so they renew. The more often someone renews, the easier it is to retain that subscriber.

Kickstarter is geared for finding new people for new things, not retaining the same people for the same thing. Unlike a subscription, people who pledged to Fireside via Kickstarter aren’t as likely to pledge to them again and again over time. It becomes more difficult to retain customers via a crowdfunding resource like Kickstarter over time.

We’re back to: will we be able to do it again next year? And the year after that? And after that?

I think the answer is no. For our purposes, funding Electric Velocipede a year at a time might actually work fine in Kickstarter. You could think of Kickstarter as my subscription agency. Except that unlike a straightforward subscription drive, Kickstarter wants you to have prizes and giveaways which negate your funding benefit in the long term. Eventually I’ll run out of back issues and have to make something (i.e., spend money making something) that can be a pledge level.

Designing your campaign properly will give you the funds to pay for your rewards, but if the point of the campaign is funding for the magazine for the next year, and the money you’re raising is going towards making pins or calendars or coffee mugs, instead of money for authors, then you’re dead in the water. A lot of Kickstarter campaigns find the money they raised doesn’t quite cover their expenses.

The long and short of it is: we’re funded for next year, we hit our stretch goal to digitize our back issues, and we need to come up with something to fund us in the future. Maybe the editorial content (not just this column, but the entire issue) will bring more interested parties to the party. My strength lies in editorial, and I think this issue proves it in spades.

John Klima
Waukesha, WI
November 2012

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