Crowd-funding can be a great option for bands, filmmakers and other creatives, says Richard Fitzpatrick
PAT COLDRICK is doing it for himself. The latest record from the classical guitarist is entitled City Jam. What’s interesting about it – apart from its interpretations of some guitar masterpieces alongside five original compositions – is that the Dubliner collected €16,000 from the crowdfunding site, Fund It, to make it. It’s the same resource the band Fight Like Apes recently used to raise €20,000 for their third album.
The Galway-based writer Paul Kingsnorth, whose debut novel The Wake was long-listed for this year’s Man Booker Prize, is another guy who made hay with a crowdfunding initiative. He required approximately £14,000 in donations from the public to publish the book.
Kingsnorth’s publishing arm, Unbound, hit around 400 people to reach its target sum. Each donor pledged sums from £5 to £300.
In return, donors got their names listed in the book and varying “rewards”, including limited editions hand-stitched with goatskin as well as a guided tour and picnic with the author around the Battle of Hastings site where the novel’s action takes place.
Unbound has published over 40 novels by crowdfunding since its foundation in 2011. John Mitchinson, one of its co-founders, was inspired to start the crowdfunding operation out of exasperation with traditional book publishing’s obsession with celebrity biographies, genre fiction and TV tie-ins.
“We were compelled by necessity,” he says. “I’d left publishing 10 years earlier. I’d been living a very comfortable and happy life writing QI for BBC television, and books on the back of that – and the books were selling extremely well – but I was surrounded by good friends whose experience of publishing was becoming more and more negative and depressing.
“The three of us who started Unbound – Dan Kieran, myself and Justin Pollard – are all writers. Dan and Justin in particular were having ridiculous conversations with publishers over the kind of books you needed to write in order to sell. It just seemed to us that the whole thing had gone completely mad.
“We spend our lives going to literary festivals, full of enthusiastic and interested people who want to support great ideas and stories. In the UK, there’s an estimated 80,000 reading groups wanting to read interesting stuff. “ The group decided there had to be a better way than the traditional publishing model.
“That’s where we started – with a blank sheet of paper, sitting around a table in a pub, saying, ‘What would publishing look like if we started from a position that we know there is a base of enthusiastic readers? We know they’re prepared to support a much broader range of books than the traditional range is now able to offer them. How can we make that work?’”
FOUR STEP PROCESS
Unbound makes it work with four steps: first, authors post their book pitch. If enough donors support the pitch, it gets a green light. Second, different levels of pledges are made in return for ‘rewards’. They range from simply having a donor’s name listed on the book to creative rewards such as hot-air balloon rides or a cooked lunch by the author.
“We have a wonderful Anglesey Salt Company, Halen Môn, doing a book at the moment,” says Mitchinson. “One of their pledges is that for £2,000 they will guarantee you as much salt as you want for the rest of your life. It cheers me up to think you can do that – it extends what’s possible with books.”
The third step is ‘The Shed’, an area of Unbound’s website where donors can stay up to date with the author’s progress on the book. Finally, they get a copy of the book, either an e-book, a printed edition or specially bound edition, depending on the value of their pledge.
Contributoria is one of several crowdfunding projects that have sprung up to support freelance journalists. Others include Beacon Reader and the German Krautrereporter. Their model is similar to book publishing start-ups like Unbound – their subscribers pledge money to journalists to write one-off articles. Contributoria’s motto is “write a proposal, get backed, get paid”.
“We work a three-month cycle,” says co-founder Sarah Hartley. “In the first month, the journalist pitches their idea – what they want to write about, how much they’d like to receive for it, the writer sets the fee; what the article will entail – where they’ll have to travel or the particular person they will have to see. As the proposals are made other members of the community choose whether they get supported by attributing points; the points are Contibutoria’s conversion of real pounds and pence.”
Irish filmmaker Cathy Pearson used the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, to help finance her award-winning documentary Get the Picture about the legendary American picture editor John G Morris. She ran her 90-day fundraising campaign, which raised over $27,000, from January to April 2012. She believes, however, people are tiring of crowdfunding as a source of raising money for films and documentaries.
“I think I was one of four films on Indiegogo when I launched it, but by the time I finished it, there were hundreds of films crowdfunding. It was really new – that’s why it really worked for me. It’s a little bit exhausted now. In web terms, three years ago is historical.
“Back when I did my campaign, nobody really knew much about crowdfunding. When I was sharing emails with contacts on my network, especially with journalists, it was quite a novelty for people to look at, and find out what it was all about, but the following year, in August, I got about seven different people sending me invitations to their crowdfunding project in one month.”
Pearson cites several things that helped make her campaign a success: the promise of a chronicle of the life of John G Morris held huge appeal. He was a cohort of Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, and is still living in Paris, aged 97. She had a friend with experience of crowdfunding, Dave Hayes, who coached her through the project. She’d a plan with “a calendar of events”, like photos, production updates and video clips, which kept her pledgers’ interest piqued. Most campaigns run out of gas in the second week.
“It’s so much work. I was in the Warsaw Film Festival with Get the Picture. We actually won an audience award. There were a lot of big documentaries being screened, and I started to notice in the credits that they had ‘crowdfunded platform management teams’. With Get the Picture, I did 99% of the work on it. If I did it again, I’d have had a team to help manage the content. Even the distribution of the rewards – 169 packages with letters – was a huge undertaking. It was all trial and error.” Ultimately, however, the campaign paid off. Literally.
Cathy Pearson’s Get the Picture is available at www.viewster.com
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