It’s obvious to anybody who has worked with Kickstarter: they really do walk the walk. To their core, they believe in the ethos of creation, and that their platform is a good way to empower creative people to fund their projects. Or, as the case often is, to test their idea in a very functional way and see if it has any legs.
But if you think of Kickstarter as a place where people make ridiculous coolers, tech gadgets, or million-selling games, you probably missed this part of their mission. Or, perhaps, that part of the mission seems like marketing fluff overlaid on an aggressively capitalist idea. Their announcement Sunday that they are reforming as a public benefit corporation underlines their ethos in a strong way.
That means, instead of going public and cashing out, Kickstarter is staying privately held. Being a public benefit corporation doesn’t change the ability to go private, but they are committing themselves to reporting and corporate responsibility in somewhat difficult and stringent ways. For example, they will report every year on their environmental and social performance, instead of every two, as is expected for a benefit corp. They also donate 5%, after taxes, to arts and equality causes, and have agreed to forgo loopholes or other means to circumvent taxes.
Why does this matter for publishing? At the XOXO festival last week, C. Spike Trotman talked about starting a comics publishing house when no distributor would touch her work. Using Kickstarter, she was able to find a following of dedicated fans and buyers that lead to her building Iron Circus Comics. Kickstarter allows creators, authors, and publishers to go direct to the consumers, circumventing any traditional gatekeepers.
It’s this independent ethos that lead me to run my own Kickstarter to publish my first novel instead of going through traditional channels. It allowed the scale of publishing to be smaller, where I could make a book run of 500 copies or so instead of thousands, and at the very least, break even doing it. Even after paying artists and editors for their help.
I asked Maris Kreizman, publishing outreach for Kickstarter (herself a creator! The amazing Slaughterhouse 90210 is hers, soon to be a book from Macmillian) if she had a comment on the change, and how it would affect indie creators:
“It’s more important than ever to create new opportunities for lesser-heard voices in publishing. Reincorporating as a Benefit Corporation renews our longstanding commitment to arts and culture, and part of that includes an explicit commitment to support creators from all walks of life and to signal boost marginalized voices.”
Exactly. Go Kickstarter. Let’s see more corporations putting their money where their mouths are.