Thursday, October 24, 2013

Crowdfunding has always existed?

Someone in another discussion posted the dismissive comment that "Crowdfunding has always existed" when discussing the use of crowdfunding to buy and sell shares in a company. I have used this "it has always existed" argument myself (we were mean before the Internet, the Internet did not shave off 2 I.Q. points from everyone, etc.) but in this case, I don't think that this current form of crowdfunding could exist without the Internet, nor without our belief that businesses and individuals will deliver the products that they promise.

Yes, you have probably crowdfunded in the past. You may have stopped at your bank and contributed to a local fund for a family that lost their house to a fire or you might have raised money for your trip to Uganda by holding a bake sale, but these were mainly localized efforts that relied business services and demonstrably prepared goods available in exchange for your cash.

Unlike online crowdfunding, you didn't solicit funds in advance from people on the promise of brownies. At least, I never went to a bake sale where I gave the money to buy all of the goods needed to put the products together with the hope that my half dozen oatmeal cookies would be waiting for me. Cookies were promised, they were there, I bought them. I did not have to trust that a stranger would use my cash advance to pay for ingredients. They took the chance that all of the product they created would be bought, so they could at least recover their costs, and counted on their cookies and brownies to make a yummy profit. In addition, as a consumer, I can also afford the luxury of cookies, not to mention cookies on spec.

The current online model of crowdfunding relies on trust in fulfillment and delivery and in globalization to get as many people buying in as possible, beyond geographic limits and time limitations, such as business hours.

For crowdfunding on the Kickstarter or Indiegogo model, you need the Internet:
  • To market your product outside of your location. You don't have to take international contributions, but you get a wider, national range.
  • To assemble your diverse contributors and collect their pledges. Since crowdfunding on these platforms is global, which is not possible with localized fundraising through bake sales or just passing a hat, gathering the funds on this scale is not possible without the Internet, as well as the Internet payment services that can translate and process a variety of currencies.
  • You need to have a reliable service that can process small payments from disparate contributors into a lump sum. In the past, you could go to the bank, one entity, and get your money. You could get a patron, perhaps two or three, whose entire contributions could pay for your effort. Unlike diverse pledges, patrons can interfere with or attempt to shape your art, or direct where your product is available. Through online crowdfunding, you can smother the patron and get more money than the bank may have been willing to give you. You also don't have to repay Kickstarter, while a bank gets pretty upset with you if you don't pay them back.
You also need access to consumers who can afford luxury goods or ephemera, as well as consumers who can buy on the promise of a return--they trust in manufacturing and in the creative process.
  • People who trust that if they give you money, they will get their goods. We need faith in manufacturing, a culture that believes that products can be made to order and delivered, for us to give our money. Many people do not believe a product or item will be made unless it is currently in a store or a theatre. 
  • We can afford to buy these goods, especially ephemera--or can use the Internet to get access to these people. You need consumers who can afford to buy experiences, such as attending a festival, or supporting a book, and these people are a particular type of first world consumer.
You could argue that a subscription system to a theatre is crowdfunding and those have been around for a while. Kickstarter has just allowed this model to penetrate more sectors of the arts and manufacturing. However, I still think you subscribed to a theatre because you lived in the region and you knew where the theatre was that you were going to attend. A local trust system was in place that you could participate in and you had money for this type of good.

Lotteries are also crowdfunding, but the reward system is different. There is also an element of chance in a lottery that you don't have in online crowdfunding--what reward I purchase is the reward I get. I will admit that the element of chance does come with the fulfillment process.

So, I think we have been primed for online crowdfunding but this iteration is fresh in the way that it relies on technology, consumer trust and globalization to fund products, services and experiences.

You can disagree with me on this, and I am happy to learn about more services that the Kickstarter/Indiegogo platforms have plagiarized, but I do think that online crowdfunding is a grandchild to bake sales, but unique in it's own way from its ancestors. An iterative innovation, but innovation nonetheless.

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