Economics of Making Comics: Kickstarter and Small Press Publishing

Kickstarter has been a boon for creative professionals. Launched on April 28, 2009, the site has alloted upwards of $228 million dollars to all manner of creator in a wide variety of categories. The site has been keen on keeping ongoing stats of the projects it hosts, updating them daily with a smattering of different statistics.

Having said that, the question becomes how viable is Kickstarter for getting a new comic going? Is it something that small publishers can reliably turn to for funding for that idea that's been percolating in their head for years?

In short yes, but it's not exactly super easy.

As of July 2, there were currently 62,046 launched projects on Kickstarter, of which 1,469 were categorized as Comics. That's a fairly paltry 2% of all projects launched. For comparison's sake, projects in the Film & Video crowd take the crown for most launched projects with 18,110 (29%).

In terms of Successful Dollars, Comics account for $5.86 million (2.5%) of the $228 million total across all Kickstarter projects. Only $461,550 have been deemed "Unsuccessful Dollars" in the Comics category, which means 7% of all projects in Comics didn't meet their established fundraising target.
Think about that. 93% of the funding tied to Comics projects launched on Kickstarter were deemed Successful and the desired funding level was reached. That's only the funding side of projects though.

Things start to get a little murkier when you look at Successfully vs. Unsuccessfully Funded projects. In the Comics category, of the 1,353 projects on Kickstarter that have reached completion (either funded or not), only 616 (45.5%) are successful. In all fairness, projects in the Comics category have the fifth best success rate overall, trailing behind Dance (69.5%), Theater (63.9%), Music (54.1%) and Arts (48.2%).
How can funding be reached in 93% of projects but only 45.5% be successfully funded? Looking at outliers is a great place to start.

According to the Kickstarter stats, one project in the Comics category raised more than $1 million. That project was for a reprint of The Order of the Stick, a webcomic that started in 2005.

The second most funded project is another reprint of a webcomic in TwoKinds. Womanthology, Sullivan's Sluggers and Fairy Quest round out the top 5 most funded comic projects on Kickstarter. What does that say? All five capitalized on name brand status to solicit such large funds.

The first two reprintings feature webcomics that have been around since the early 2000s, allowing them to leverage nearly a decade of readership. The latter three books feature top-notch talent from the industry, allowing them to capitalize on the status of their creators.

Does this mean you need to be a big name creator or have an established reader base to succeed on Kickstarter? Of course not. 411 (66.7%) of the Successfully Funded projects are in the $1,000 to $9,999 Raised category, which seems to be in line with what first time creators need to get their books off the ground.

While Kickstarter doesn't present data for the averages of projects, you can (unscientifically) presume that the average comic project is around $4,500 (taking the midpoint between $1,000 and $9,999 Raised). Since 66.7% of the Comics projects fall in this range, this seems like a safe number to use.

There's also the question of funding momentum. The vast majority of projects in the Comics category fail due to being only 1% to 20% funded; 456 of the 737 (61.9%) that were unsuccessfully funded failed to get out of this initial range. Nearly one in five Comics projects never even get off the ground.
The funding momentum trend pretty much holds up across all categories, with most projects falling into the 1% to 20% funded range. It does bear mentioning though that the 124 of the 737 Unsuccessfully Funded Projects (16.8%) receiving no funding at all is the third fewest across all categories.

What does all of this mean for aspiring indies looking to Kickstarter to fund their projects?

First off, the monetary goal is key. If you're new to the game and are looking to get your similarly new property off the ground, if you can do it for less than $10,000 you've got the best shot. This seems to be the sweet spot across all projects on Kickstarter, as 69.3% of all projects funded are in this range. Again, 67% of all Successfully Funded Projects in Comics fall in that range.

Like it or not, the end result does play a role in a possible pledger's decision to contribute to a project. If the goal is $100,000 and there's only $2,000 committed by day 20 of 30, chances are a pledger will simply move on. Obviously, the realization is there that they don't have to actually part with the money unless the goal is met, but why bother contributing in the first place if it's looking like the goal won't be met?

Second, maintaining momentum is key. It's not simple enough to launch the project and walk away. You've got to work every channel possible to get people to contribute. Judging by the fact that over $6 million have been contributed to Comics projects to date, there's clearly people that want to help.

There's usually an initial burst of enthusiasm for the project at the start, but from there it usually tapers off. It's not because of anything the creator did; rather, it's what they didnt' do. Making sure to keep awareness of the project and Kickstarter page is vital to ensuring that people don't commit their money elsewhere. Keep it in the front of their minds.

Third, incentives are a huge wildcard. These aren't captured in the official Kickstarter statistics, but what you offer pledgers plays a large part in what's invested. Offering a completed issue of the comic being backed seems to be the rule as opposed to the exception. It's the other stuff that wins people over.

Offering exclusive prints, T-shirts or other story/property related merchandise could go a long way in keeping your project front of mind. Fans like to see the creative process, so anything you can offer to nurture that curiosity will be seen as a gesture of goodwill on your part as a creator.

Kickstarter can definitely be a very powerful ally when it comes to launching an all new comic. You don't have to have the pedigree of industry talent, nor do you have to have an established property for pledgers to invest in with nostalgia.

These aren't--of course--hard and fast rules to using Kickstarter to make your greatest comic a success. What they are though are an interpretation of the current data, looking at the trends of projects as a whole and making actionable recommendations.

What you do need is an achievable financial target, continued persistence in spreading the message of your project and, admittedly, some luck. In comparing the success of Comics projects to that of all others on Kickstarter though, things are looking promising for indie creators.