Tail Markets and Crowd-Funding

10Sep12

In Media Work, Deuze explains that “policymakers, industry observers, and scholars from around the world have sought to reconcile the emergence of increasingly individual and small-scale, project-based or collaborative notions of cultural production…with traditional notions of media work as it takes place within the cultural industries” (54). This is a particularly poignant statement in the video game industry, where critics and fans attempt to reconcile the notions of indie and large-scale development. Unfortunately, however significant many of these small-scale projects might be within the industry, as Deuze summarizes of Caves,

…a major problem in the creative industries is the huge failure rate: the vast majority of all cultural products fail to recover their costs” (108).

As a future small-scale developer, this is of course a distressing notion–the idea that most of my products will not even cover their own costs. Fortunately, as the media development culture has become more accepting of such indie projects, venues have opened up for developers to draw support for their projects before the development phase even begins. Kickstarter is a website based around the notion of crowd-funding, in which developers post ideas for projects on the website and individuals can contribute funds for development. Rob Walker of New York Times expounds on the movement:

So what kind of “creative projects” does Kickstarter enable? Well, a couple of artists raised $2,181 to send funny handwritten letters to every household in Pittsburgh’s Polish Hill neighborhood; someone pulled in $8,441 to help finance the creation of “a searchable ethnographic database built from the lyrics of over 40,000 hip-hop songs”; a couple of people got $30,030 to publish a version of “Huckleberry Finn” that replaces Mark Twain’s use of a notorious racial epithet with the word “robot.” At times the sums have been a good bit larger: $67,436 to build a statue of Robocop in Detroit; $161,744 to make a computer-animated adaptation of a Neil Gaiman story; and nearly $1 million in pledges to finance a band to wear iPod Nanos as wristwatches (August, 2011).

Kickstarter, it seems to me, is a tool developed specifically so the for the tail of the market that Chris Anderson highlights. Even if a developer has an idea that would draw from a small audience, Kickstarter allows them to cover their costs and publish to their fringe audiences. Given the amount of money that projects have pulled in through Kickstarter, the question becomes: to what extent do developers/producers need the funding of large companies anymore? If the masses are willing to fund their fringe interests, how many doors are opened?

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/magazine/the-trivialities-and-transcendence-of-kickstarter.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
-Ryan Persons

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