If you've been paying attention to the online comics community in the past year or so, you've no doubt come across someone looking for donations to help fund their comics project via Kickstarter. The website relies on ardent fans for these campaigns to work, in much the same way that smaller publishers have pushed hard the idea of pre-ordering your comics because direct market retailers might not stock the material otherwise.
When it first came into being, Kickstarter was pegged as a fad. However, it's bucked preconceptions after projects like Womanthology pulled together more than $100,000 (when organizers only asked for $25,000) in August 2011, and has become an increasingly vital part of comics publishing outside the well-funded major companies. And when Rich Burlew's webcomic The Order of the Stick raised $1.2 million when only asking for $57,750, it changed the thinking of many comics pros.
In effect, it's turning away from publishers as the primary source to fund a comic and instead taking advantage of the wills and pocketbooks of fans. What makes it even more powerful is the idea of prizes for pledge levels, becoming more than just a donation with no strings attached; in effect, you could pre-order editions of the book in different formats with different price levels. Take for example the recent Kickstarter drive for the Image graphic novel Queen Crab: It raised $10,000, and in the process pre-sold 278 print copies of the book and 47 PDFs. That's before it was even solicited in Previews.
With fans acting as angel investors of a sort, Kickstarter has given life to projects that might not have been published otherwise. Publishers like IDW and Image have picked up books like these where part of the money to fund the project is already paid for by fans. It's pre-pre-ordering, in a way -- showing support for a project so that it can get off the ground.
Let me leave you with one pure point of speculation: What if a company like Marvel or DC were to do a Kickstarter drive for a comic that wouldn't normally be able to survive in the marketplace? Either a lesser-known character or creators who don't yet stoke retailers to order big -- perhaps even a drive for a series near cancellation. If a title's sales reach into the 10,000- to 18,000-copy range, they're in that danger zone of cancellation -- but what if the publisher got the word out and a small percentage of that fanbase stepped up? It only took 2,001 backers for Womanthology to get $109,301 in funding -- that's an average of $54.62 per person. Think about if Marvel or DC could rely on hardcore fans to essentially pay more via Kickstarter for titles that might normally be canceled or never see the light of day. It's like Marvel's early '00s sales ploy U-Decide, borne out with modern technology.