February 14, 2019

Kickstarter: The New Brooklyn Bridge Builder

By Vera Lovici, NYU MS in Publishing: Digital & Print Media student

This is a story about how Kickstarter has become a rising power in publishing and a force large enough to promote a renaissance in micro-publishing. For a few hours recently, NYU MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students became a part of this story as they visited Kickstarter’s Brooklyn headquarters.

Since 2009 when Kickstarter was founded, the Public Benefit Corporation has helped nearly 157,000 projects get funded; More than $4 billion has been pledged from supporters all over the world who want to help get those projects off the ground. Simply, Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform where any person or company can share and gather attention (and funds) for a specific project they’d like to launch.

Some of the most successful projects recently launched on Kickstarter include Bragi: The Wireless Intelligent Earphones and The Elevation Lab, which makes docks and other products for Apple. In publishing, Kickstarter doesn’t get involved in the business of producing books – it’s a platform that brings together people who want to produce books with supporters who want to back their projects. Other publishing projects include supporting literary spaces and communities and underrepresented and marginalized voices.

Margot Atwell, Senior Publishing Director at Kickstarter, and Oriana Leckert, the recently appointed Journalism Outreach Lead and self-described cultural ‘hipstorian,’ welcomed our group of students and told us all about their unique role in the publishing world. We had many questions about how Kick starter fits into this new media universe.

So far over 50,000 projects in publishing and journalism have been launched with $169 million dollars pledged. “You probably can’t permanently fund a whole newspaper with a Kickstarter campaign, but you could use it to fund a month-long, deeply reported story, or a commemorative print compendium, or a set of podcasting equipment, such as microphone, a pop filter and a recording and editing software,” said Leckert. While there are other crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo or GoFundMe, Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects and the way many publishing ventures are monetized through crowd-sourced donations.

Students sitting at various desks with computers and other accessories at a library

When asked what is the difference between Kickstarter and its competitors, Leckert and Atwell said that the main thing that sets them apart is the all-or-nothing funding; for every project, the creators have to raise 100% of the amount asked or they won’t get anything. "If you are doing an honest assessment of the project, then less than that would be a broken promise to their backers, which doesn’t reflect the Kickstarter philosophy," said Leckert.

Last year brought some of the most successful journalism Kickstarter campaigns ever, including the revival of Gothamist, a highly regarded website about New York, and the birth of Tortoise, a new membership-based “slow journalism” enterprise which wants to inform people without overwhelming them. Tortoise creators have decades of experience between them in news businesses and were supported by over 2,500 backers and received more than $550,000.

8 students standing and posing in front of a white wall

When asked what makes a project successful, Leckert and Atwell said that having an idea worth selling is key. While this might seem like an obvious tip, ask yourself if anyone cares about your project and before launching it, make sure to test and refine your messaging.

Kickstarter has many projects dedicated to digital media in the future. On May 11th they will be streaming for free the first Kickstarter Digital Conference covering four main subjects: community, publishing, technology, and money. (You can sign up for their Kickstarter Publishing newsletter or keep an eye on their social media and blog for further information.)

While it was great to hear all about Kickstarter and their publishing and journalism projects, we also loved the chance to tour their landmark building in Brooklyn. The culture and the office space of the company are intertwined with a free-wheeling, dog-loving ethos and an eye to preserving the environment with compostable cups and a rooftop food garden where they grow herbs and other edibles.

Even during our brief visit, Kickstarter clearly projected the impression of a company that wants to make a difference in the world, a difference on their own terms and in their own space, and supported by a vision that advances publication options for the future for all.

Interested in learning more about the NYU MS in Publishing: Digital & Print Media program? Visit our website for more details. Applications for Fall 2019 are due July 1, 2019.

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