It’s now an accepted fact that the internet has given us an incredible new opportunity to discover communities of like-minded people from all over the world.
It’s liberating to discover that you’re not the only person on Earth fascinated by your obscure hobby, and it’s even more thrilling to discover whole new iterations of, and variations on, the unique things that you’re passionate about. Pre- and post-mainstream internet culture has become a pop culture trope in and of itself.
It’s also accepted that global information exchange has fundamentally changed business, from computerised equities trading to mobile-phone based microloans in developing countries. I submit that there’s another trend rising out of this movement that isn’t getting much attention – a trend that’s already starting to warp how creative business is conducted: the direct funding of projects by fans, without the involvement of traditional production entities. This is a very good thing.
Here in the US, we’re a bit over the moon over crowdsourcing companies such as Kickstarter and PledgeMusic. Since I first learned about these outfits, I’ve backed
four books, two music albums, two sculpture projects, and a videogame. I’ve never been a “patron of the arts” before – not until I experienced this stress-free democratisation of the patronage process. By going straight to the artists and writers that I’m already aware of and whose works I enjoy, I’ve been able to do my part to help ensure that they’re fully funded for their next projects – in exchange for being one of the first consumers to receive a copy of said projects once they’re finished. Usually, this means receiving a digital download (PDF or MP3) of a product immediately upon finalisation, long before the physical book or album ships.
I appreciate that we’ve always been able to directly fund creative types – in fact, if you personally know a starving artist, you probably get hit up for cash on an annoyingly regular basis. But what the web’s cloud services infrastructure has done for us is
to fund those artists that we respect but who we don’t know and, let’s be realistic, could never meet. I can use an app on my smartphone to monitor my favourite writers and bands; once they announce a new project, I can donate to their cause immediately, safely, and painlessly. There’s no need for us to be introduced.
The disruptive nature of these services is that they shorten the distance from creator to consumer. Personally, I wasn’t interested in funding a Veronica Mars movie; that’s fine, since 91,585 other people were interested and raised $5.7million to see it happen. The majority of those contributors didn’t help to producing the first Savlonic album. That’s fine too, since 1,320 of us were able to handle it ourselves. Each micro-patron gets to focus their funds on only those projects that most appeal to them.
The crowdsourcing methodology is taking hold on an increasingly ambitious scale. What started with amateur arts and crafts projects is catching the attention of major manufacturers. When General Motors commits billions of dollars to develop a new car model, it has to forecast global sales on a staggering scale to make its investment worthwhile. With hyper-focused crowdsourcing, even manufacturing behemoths
like GM can accurately gauge the demand for a new, niche product before committing to production – thereby guaranteeing the minimum take-rate needed to cover their expenses and ensure a hit in the market. This bodes very well for small and medium businesses that have to operate with thin margins and in risky market segments. Crowdsourcing has the potential to greatly increase both producer profitability and consumer satisfaction.