Kickstarting A Revolution? (Part 3)

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The First Wave

The pay what you like and crowd-funded movements are two of the most obvious new ways of paying for content, but it's likely that they're just the tip of the iceberg. We already pay for so-called free content online by sacrificing some of our privacy, letting sites like Google share our profiles in order to use their services.

One thing the internet isn't afraid of is experimentation, finding newer and more diverse ways to part consumers from their cash. KickStarter and its ilk are part of a new wave of exciting commercial change.

Description: You may pay online by check or with any major credit card

You may pay online by check or with any major credit card

One thing crowd funding does better than any other style at the moment, though, is foster a connection between purchaser and creator, in a way that we've never really seen before. You're no longer just paying for a product, you're directly funding the creation of it.

This isn't just a financial investment; it's an emotional one as well. By choosing to pledge some money, you're making a statement about the sort of person you are, about the products you like, and how you want to be viewed by the rest of the world. It's adding a social aspect to commerce, making you feel like you're part of something from the ground up, rather than the final cog in a dour machine.

You only have to look at the personalised videos that accompany pitches on most crowd funding websites to realise that personality and character are just as important to success as an interesting and desirable product. Would Double Fine have raised as much money if Schafer wasn't such a charismatic, funny presence? Probably not, but it's all part of the same game. If a pitch is going to succeed, it needs to grab the attention of its potential pitchers. In a way, you're marketing a product that doesn't even exist yet, in order to raise the money to create it.

One thing that could hold back the march of crowd-funded content is the risk that's inherent in its purchase. In other words, you're throwing money at a project that might never see the light of day. Of course, there are safeguards in place to ensure that a pitch only receives its money if it makes enough to get made, but changes in the market, an unstable economy, and any number of personal factors, could well mean that your cash ends up wasted. There are pitfalls and traps littering every journey from nice idea to finished product, and while there hasn't been a KickStarter backlash yet, there will always be that danger in a system that asks for cash first.

Cash Before Delivery

Description: the dominant commercial paradigm online

In the end, it's unlikely that crowd funding is going to become the dominant commercial paradigm online. It's offering a lot of new, exciting opportunities, but the model is a little too narrow for it to work on a regular basis. The good thing is, the internet will keep on creating these new initiatives and surges forward, ruffling the feathers of the publishers, while placing more and more power in the hands of the consumer.

We live in a time of constant change and reinvention, where the free exchange of ideas is open to most, and the commercial landscape is changing beyond all recognition. At the moment, we're in control of that change, because we're the ones who have all the untapped income. It's going to be interesting to watch how the internet develops, and to see what new commercial avenues are created in the not too distant future.

Right now, one thing's for sure. While KickStarter isn't going to bring about an unfettered revolution, it's laying the foundations for one, creating a market where choice and popularity are as important as a publisher's say so, and where products that wouldn't have seen the light of day a few years ago are finding an excited audience willing to pay for them to happen.

Like they always say, 'If you build it, they will come', but how many will turn up, and how much money they're willing to spend, still remains to be seen. KickStarter has got things up and running, but it may well be up to someone else to push them on.

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