Hundreds of journalism startups got their feet on the ground by funding themselves on Kickstarter since May 2009, just one month after the website launched, but not all attempts are successful.
The Kickstarter process is simple. A person or group interested in starting a creative project – which can be anything from a publication to a clothing line – defines the project, offers donation rewards, sets a funding goal, makes a motivating video and then builds, campaigns and updates the project until it succeeds or fails to meet its fundraising goals.
According to Justin Kazmark of Kickstarter, backers have pledged about $2.8 million to 841 Publishing projects labeled as Journalism. Of those, 295 raised their goals, 455 did not and 18 were still live in mid-September.
But how do journalists reach their funding goals on Kickstarter? What’s wrong with the campaigns that don’t succeed?
Let’s compare two examples.
MATTER magazine, an online publication of longform science and technology journalism, launched its Kickstarter campaign in February 2012, pledging a $50,000 goal. It reached that goal just two days in, and 280 percent of that goal after a month. So, what did it do right?
First, MATTER’s fundraisers built a good case by stating a problem to which they were the solution. Second, they explained their mission and process in full detail, including tablet screenshots and a specific FAQ forum, in a simple, organized fashion. Third, their video was creative, attention-grabbing, clean and informative, featuring outsider journalists voicing their support for MATTER. Finally, they went as far as using some of the extra money they made to upgrade the backers’ awards before the campaign ended.
The MATTER website is still up, running and producing quality content.
On the other hand, UNCOOL, a magazine dedicated to longform music journalism, lived up to its name. In January 2013, its Kickstarter campaign only reached $9,229 of the stated $54,000 goal, and Kickstarter funding is “all-or-nothing,” so UNCOOL didn’t see any of that money. Where did it go wrong?
I don’t have a definitive answer for why they failed, but let’s start with the video. It consists of the two founders holding an odd coffee mug and a plastic flute while sitting on a couch, sarcastically talking about the need for their product. They then show what they’re “planning on covering,” which are scenes of them dressed in costume in different sarcastic “musical” scenarios before returning to the couch.
UNCOOL’s creator, David Greenwald said, “Our promotional video was meant to be silly and light-hearted to get people’s attention, but I understand why it may not have come across that way.”
Next, while they do give a detailed explanation of their case, mission and process, it is one lengthy description, which can be unattractive to online readers. Finally, their rewards for backers included hanging out with the writers at a music festival for $50 and a party in a co-founder’s backyard featuring some bands “TBA” for $5,000 or more.
“UNCOOL didn’t reach its campaign goal for a number of reasons, but I think the biggest was that we were trying to launch a brand from scratch,” said Greenwald. “Ultimately, we asked for a lot of money to launch a paid, experimental editorial project on a niche subject, music writing, without advertisers, professional investors or a brand history: it was just too ambitious. But I’m glad we tried.”
Although the magazine didn’t get its start on Kickstarter, UNCOOL’s founders were able to launch a 43-page digital magazine on Bandcamp.
Still, there are many other reasons why some of these projects fail, which can trace back to the hard fact that there just isn’t a market for what some of the journalists want to produce.
Regardless of the outcome, Kickstarter continues to give journalists the chance to test drive their innovations with the general public.