LearnThe game just completely changed

writes on February 2, 2011

Something insane is happening in the creative industry and all of you need to know about it. Two recent events have completely changed the career prospects for Web Designers and Developers: 1) Frank Chimero’s Kickstarter project and 2) Natasha Wescoat’s live painting sessions.

Let me explain …

Frank’s Story …

Frank Chimero is a talented designer who thought “You know, it’d be awesome to write a book.”

Instead of going the traditional publishing route, he decided to ask for funding to write the book before he’d even started. He used a site called Kickstarter which allows people to ‘back’ projects by pledging money and if the goal is hit, then the money is paid out and the project begins. He announced the project with this tweet:

Announcing The Shape of Design, the book. Back me on Kickstarter? kickstarter.com/projects/30453…

He decided to set the goal at $27,000 and insanely, he crushed that goal in less than a day, and now, two days later he’s up to $51,000. I’m not sure how he came up with the $27K figure, but I assume he added up the costs for his time, the printing and shipping.

Let me share one more interesting project, before I share my conclusions …

Natasha’s Story …

Natasha Wescoat is a very talented painter.

Natasha paints live on uStream and Justin.tv. As she works on a piece, viewers watch and by the end, there is often a bidding.

Here she is starting the painting …

and then finishing it about 3 hours later …

What’s the huge shift?

The power of crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter, and the entertainment draw of Ustream have created a brand new channel for designers (and developers, which I’ll cover in a minute) to get paid for doing something they love.

This model allows anyone with talent and a decent following (Twitter, Blog, Facebook, etc) to leave freelance and client work behind. They can simply move from  project to project, knowing that it will be a success before they even start, while also determining the subject matter of the work.

It’s similar to the patronage model, but you get to pick the creation. Wild.

Natasha has learned to combine her talent (painting) with live entertainment. There’s something very intriguing about watching someone live-paint, knowing you might be able to purchase the work at the end.

So how can you take part in this revolution?

  1. Put in a good 2-3 years of hard work, building your following on Twitter, Facebook and your blog. Frank has around 13,000 Twitter followers, which is a decent chunk, but isn’t impossible to attain. You can’t expect to just click your fingers and succeed like this. Gotta do the time.
  2. Be damn good at what you do. You’ll need to build a reputation and being kick ass and creative. Obviously no one is going to want to fund you if your work is sub-par.
  3. Have an idea that’s creative, original and valuable. Just because you’ve achieved #1 and #2 above doesn’t mean any project your throw up on Kickstarter will succeed. The project has to stand on its own two feet.

What about Developers?

I also believe there’s an exciting opportunity for Developers here as well. Imagine this scenario …

You spot a much needed tool or service. A new framework, iPhone app, plug-in, etc. You decide you can create an awesome solution and you can dedicate a couple months to building something awesome. You create the project on Kickstarter and everyone who funds you gets a copy of the app/software/etc and a few exclusive goodies.

I’m hugely excited by this new model and it’ll be interesting to see what other projects crop up.

I can’t help thinking that two folks who should’ve done this are Ethan Marcotte (a book on Responsive Design) and Elliot Jay Stocks (with 8faces). I know Ethan is publishing a RD book with A Book Apart soon, but he could’ve completely controlled the project on his own if he wished. Getting published by a respected source like Zeldman and Co is awesome but it would’ve been interesting to see him, Cederholm or Keith do their books via Kickstarter instead.

Love to hear your thoughts!

51 Responses to “The game just completely changed”

  1. I’m really conflicted by Frank Chimero’s decision to fund his book via Kickstarter and write a footnote that he’s going to be using some of the cash so he’s nice and safe. To me, that doesn’t feel like he’s putting his heart and sole into something, it sounds like he’s asking people to pay his man-hours for writing a book. Something which we all know he loves doing. At the moment he writes short articles, short stories and does illustrations on his site, presumably in his spare time.

    I agree with what Andy Rutledge has said in his article: http://www.andyrutledge.com/profit-lies-theft-and-idiocy.php – it seems like selling out.

    Frank Chimero is someone I really admire as a public speaker and creative, so this sort of misuse (in my opinion) of Kickstarter is upsetting and a pity. The traditional way of getting a project funded is so much more attractive.

    • Would you set aside all of your work for 3 months to write a book, with no income to feed yourself, pay rent, and buy more printer ink? If anything, I believe he should have stated that he was taking that money and stuffing it directly in his checking account.

      Next time you do any work, ask yourself if the money you made was selling out, never mind how traditional the method of you obtaining that money was.

      • No, I wouldn’t set aside three months work so I could write a book. As you say, that would mean I have no income so I couldn’t survive. However, I see websites like Kickstarter as a way to fund something people can’t afford. Now, Frank Chimero would’ve been snapped up by a hell of a lot of publishers if he would’ve pitched his idea to them. So I believe taking money from investors on Kickstarter to self-fund is a misuse, and I’m sticking to that ideology.

        I can understand the thought process, but I don’t condone it.

        • Why would relying on a publisher (who is most certainly interested in ‘selling out’) be better than directly involving the people who will use/appreciate your work?

          Why is the traditional way to get a project funded more ‘attractive’, when it implies many worthy potential efforts will never happen because they never found funding from a purse string holder?

          Why do we need these commercial intermediaries any longer, when the value they traditionally added is be made irrelevant in front of our eyes by these new tech convergences?

          • I can see this is something you’re really passionate and I’m not the least interested in arguing with you. In my honest opinion, I see what he did as exploiting his position to do something he wanted to do. He is in no way involving people who will appreciate his work, he has asked them for money and for that is giving them a gift back.

            The traditional way is far more attractive to me when it has a bit of a modern twist to it. There are so many independent publishing agencies out there who will fund and be as passionate about a book as the author. I am, of course, talking of companies like A Book Apart and Five Simple Steps. I’m not saying that’s the most attractive route to everyone, but it would be to me.

            Of course we don’t need commercial intermediaries, but asking people to donate so you can do something you enjoy is, in my opinion, selling out. The investors in the project are definitely not getting their money’s worth.

            As I said before, I understand but do not condone it.

  2. Alonso Lamas on February 3, 2011 at 1:59 am said:

    Im amazed by the articule Ryan, but a question. This kickstartee project suport great ideas form around the world or just some countries only?. anyway great way to support creative people, like a upside down form of business suporting talent, nice.

    Greetings from Venezuela

  3. Hi Ryan,

    To understand why I published through A Book Apart (aside from the fact that I didn’t have to think about raising money, fulfilling orders, or any other aspects of the publishing process that I’m personally not that interested in), I recommend watching this explanatory (and excellent) video from Craig Mod:


    • Hey Jeremy, just watched the video. Thanks for the link.

      I think you’re under-valuing you’re own influence and power. You could’ve done the same thing without publishing with someone else.

      However, if you weren’t interested in the fulfillment process, then that’s a different matter, which I understand.

      • @Ryan, @Jeremy: From what I have seen working with independent authors and my own small imprint in the US is that the fulfillment (and related distribution) problem is largely solved (a) by ebook distribution and (b) for print sales, through print-on-demand providers such as CreateSpace, with automated distribution through Amazon.com and their (excellent) fulfillment services.

        Having fulfillment and distribution channels like this solves the problem I often see for authors and small publishers of having thousands of copies of their books in storage (often their garage) and needing to hand mail copies to buyers or to Amazon. However, solving distribution is not the same as solving sales. It’s true that having POD titles available through Amazon and Ingram Distributors to bookstores does not equal having a sales team which gets physical books onto store shelves. In Souther California here, two big book chains, Borders and Barnes and Nobles are closing stores. I think things continue to swing in favor of independent authors, and people who are helping them with getting discovered on Amazon or online. And if you have a following online, as Ryan is pointing to, you start with a real advantage.

        (The history of publishing has been an increasing number of middlemen between reader and author. That chain is collapsing, because of the internet, in favor of the author I think.)

  4. This movement and emancipation reminds me of how music talents decided to produce their own work — and handle distribution as well.

    Funny how the devs took so long…

  5. Hey there, Ryan. First of all, I’m flattered you’re as excited about responsive design as I am. But from my end, there was never any thought in my mind to publish this book anywhere _but_ with A Book Apart.

    That’s not to take away from Frank’s fantastic, well-deserved success. But speaking as an author, A Book Apart _is_ “changing the game” in their own way; I’ve never had a more positive publishing experience than this, and the book’s better for it.

    • Hey Ethan, thanks for stopping by 🙂 As I mentioned, I think publishing with ABA is a great idea. I was just ruminating about what would’ve happened if you went the Kickstarter route.

    • I completely agree and prefer the route of a specialised publishing company rather than self-funded approach. I think the future isn’t in providing your own funding for a book (something like that just feels different to other stuff) but in specialist publishers like A Book Apart and Five Simple Steps.

  6. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm said:

    Amazing! This cuts out the ‘business’ of business which just leaves creativity. 🙂

  7. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 at 4:19 pm said:

    Great article Ryan! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  8. Why on earth do you need $27000 to write a book?! It can be done for peanuts these days.

  9. A while back I became a backer for Hadean Lands on Kickstarter, which was successfully funded. Hadean Lands is a text adventure game being developed for iPhone (backers get a version for mac/pc/linux). I’ve enjoyed the periodic project updates from the developer, Andrew Plotkin, and can definitely see Kickstarter being a success for other motivated developers.


  10. I think the Kickstarter route has huge potential and agree entirely with what you’re saying here, Ryan. The great thing about the web is that people back people. It’s not always enough to have a great idea and put in the hard work, sometimes you need to make people believe in you. That’s what I think Frank has done perfectly. He’s got an audience that not only loves his work, they appreciate the person behind it and his ethos.

    As a novelist currently in the middle of the agonising wait for his agent to get back to him with news from publishers, I can’t help wondering if Kickstarter et al isn’t a possible option for publishing in general. All very, very interesting.

  11. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 at 1:55 pm said:

    Been doing this with flowers at our shop for years, They see the design before they buy. 🙂

  12. From a developers point of view I do not using open platforms such as Kickstarter is such a good idea from an intellectual property perspective.

    Imagine the scenario… you have a great idea for a Web/iPhone app that you are sure would take off and so you ask the crowd/following for funding via Kickstarter.
    The problem with this is there is nothing to stop others taking the idea and getting to market before you.
    So as a developer, this would not be a route I would imagine other developers would take for funding a project for this reason alone.

    Having said that, I do believe in this type of model is perfect for other endevours.
    I have backed a project or two on the site and have been more than happy with the final result!
    Long may it live.

    • “The problem with this is there is nothing to stop others taking the idea and getting to market before you.”

      Yes there is. Lots of people probably had the same idea as you, but turning the idea into a product takes time, money and motivation. Kickstarter can provide these things; that’s your advantage over other developers.

  13. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm said:

    I’m currently writing a book on this subject based on my experience as a Developer successfully crowdfunding openindie.com and partly based on this article for I wrote for ThinkVitamin: http://thinkvitamin.com/web-industry/how-to-crowdfund-your-startup/

  14. It is a lovely trend: design evolving towards being a performance art, and starting to involve the audience.

  15. I’ve seen musicians use Kickstarter for their projects but never designers and the like. It seems like an exciting new outlet. Thanks for the post Ryan. Never thought about this as an avenue for developers. Now it’s off to creating a large following and being more creative. Very inspiring.

  16. Great stuff – it makes me want to sit down and get my fingers ready to explode with ideas!!

  17. I agree that this is massive. On the other hand, I’m not really sure the kickstarter model is extensible (buzzword alert!) to non-physical products. I may be wrong, but I suspect that a significant part of the value of Kickstarter for prospective backers is that it kicks back against the virtualisation of consumption… If you look at the really successful projects on there, most of them involve something physical, something tangible, something ‘artisan’ (I hate that word).

    So, I think that Kickstarter’s – and by extension, the projects that get funding – success exists in tension to the world we live in today. People *want* craft, they *want* effort, they *want* limited edition. And I’m not sure that these values are successfully conveyed in non-physical products that are non-rival, like apps.

    • Interesting point of view Fred. I agree that physical, limited edition items have a powerful attraction factor. However, I genuinely believe this could be applied to digital goods. Just look at things like WordPress/Tumblr themes, Photography, Icons, Typefaces, etc. You’d pay for these things anyway, so why not back a project and see them created?

  18. I don’t want to be too cynical, but this strategy is only going to work for a small number of projects – it has similarities to me to the million dollar pixel thing from a few years ago, where people bought a pixel for one dollar. A number of copycat sites sprang up straight after, but didn’t get anywhere near the same amount of interest. Ok, the examples you’ve shown are offering more than a novelty pixel, but I imagine most projects will struggle to find the critical mass to make it worthwhile – not everyone has 13,000 twitter followers even if they do “put in the time”

    • I agree that copy-cat projects won’t succeed, but there is a huge amount of possibilities for different projects. And more powerfully, each person will be asking their following to back the project, and they already have a strong connection with them. So it’s really small pockets of people backing certain projects.

  19. “anyone with talent and a decent following” – you make it sound easy… it’s not.

    Something tells me if you’re “damn good at what you do”, you’ll already have this all sussed.

  20. Justaguest on February 2, 2011 at 11:47 am said:

    I think Mr. Frank Chimero should have just used lulu.com to self publish.
    No need for funding.

    • Completely disagree. There’s huge value to the buzz that Frank has built
      with the Kickstarter project. It creates a sense of ownership and excitement
      among the backers. They’re not just buying a book, they’re backing a
      project. It’s powerful.

    • I think there are two big reasons why that isn’t the route he went:
      1. Production value – he’s hoping to make a beautiful artifact with this book. Not sure if his design is possible with Lulu.
      2. One of his main concerns is the ability to concentrate on the book for a few months – and not do it while moonlighting. He is respected enough that others out there want to give him that chance by funding the project.

  21. The ability to call out to a mass instead of a few selected individuals (who may or may not know or care about who you are and what you’re aiming for), is a seriously game-breaking shift indeed, and an exciting possibility for anyone who regularly finds him/herself thinking “if only I could support myself for X time, I could kick some serious ass”.
    Now to build up my street cred… =)

    • Agreed – seriously exciting times 🙂

      • The other area that is seriously exciting, and something that I’m obsessing about right now is the personal desktop factories with the likes of Makerbot. Physical products you can download and then “print” to make real objects. No packaging, no fulfillment, no transport costs. It won’t be right for everything but this could change a lot of stuff once these machines are consumer friendly and common place. Right now with my makerbot on my desk I can make anything I can design; playing around with shapes and forms to make a product for me which I can then offer to others via a download. Living in the future is bloody awesome…

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