I love comics, and I love geek humor, so it should be no surprise that I’m a big fan of Penny Arcade – the web comic about two snarky video game nerds and their exploits. But now I’m going from fan to fanboy because the guys at PA are doing something that could be the future of digital independent publishing on the web – they’re ditching the ads, and asking their fans to donate to their cause on Kickstarter.
Crowdfunding is getting increasingly popular with tech startups and indie artists, but it’s nothing really new. As Penny Arcade’s Kickstarter page plainly says, “After the ‘dot com bubble’, we ran the site entirely on donations for over a year. The word crowdfunding hadn’t been invented yet; back then, people simply called it ‘begging'”. But with crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, RocketHub, Sponsume, and GoFundMe all doing big business, independent creators no longer need to feel like they’re going around with their palms up, looking for a handout. The idea behind all of this is simple: let the people who are most interested in your product fund you from the start.
For Penny Arcade, this means that instead of doing the traditional thing of sticking ads all over their site, they can go directly to their fans and say “Hey, if you’re tired of these dumb banners, just contribute whatever you want to help us take them down and still pay the bills.” If that weren’t motivation enough, the PA boys have additional incentives for your donation dollars. Contributors who drop $25 or more can get exclusive prints of some of PA’s spin-off comics sent right to their door, and the big spenders get even cooler gifts like passes to the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) or a visit to meet Penny Arcade founders Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik in person for lunch (and given their sense of humor, I’d imagine this would be the most epic lunch meeting of your life.). PA has already wildly exceeded their original funding goal of $250,000 and now have $460,000 from their adoring fans.
I’m excited that the “famous” indie artists are finally getting in on the Kickstarter bandwagon because it gives further validation to this model. Instead of giving more money to the corporate machines that indie artists and their fans historically loathe, you can go directly to your fanbase and say “just pay us whatever you want.” It reminds me of the time Radiohead went “pay what you want” with the release of their “In Rainbows” album. At the time it was a groundbreaking move for a major artist, but the recent trend of Kickstarter success stories (the Ouya video game console, Pebble e-ink watch, et al) is proving that this idea has legs. Perhaps in the future we’ll see more and more artists ditching the old models and offering their fans direct methods to support their favorite creatives while getting a little something extra too.