about me

Kickstarter and the NEA

In an interview last week with the website Talking Points Memo, I mentioned to reporter Carl Franzen that it was probable that more money would be pledged on Kickstarter in the coming year than would be distributed by the NEA. My reasoning was:

As the Talking Points Memo reporter noted on Twitter today, in our original conversation I was adamant that while we are proud of this growth, the fact that Kickstarter may soon be bigger than the NEA is something we have mixed feelings about.

Kickstarter does not see itself as or want to be a replacement for the NEA or any other grant-making organization. The lack of support for creative projects led us to start Kickstarter in the first place, and we’re committed to helping to grow the pie of available funding in whatever way that we can. We would happily be a distant second, third, fourth, or fiftieth in arts funding if it meant more of it was available.

I mention these things because today the writer Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet (a book I look forward to reading), took strong exception to this comparison in a blog post. However in his argument, much of it a spirited defense of the NEA that I fully endorse, he shared a number of inaccurate statistics and conclusions. I’d like to go through and correct these point-by-point. Let’s jump right into the meat of his argument.

Quoting the post:

"I took the top ten funded projects of each category on Kickstarter page, and added them up. Here’s a breakdown of the project sums in each category: 

The Design category represents the largest portion of highly-funded projects on Kickstarter.com. To give you a sense of what this category is: 6 out of the top ten projects are marketed as accessories for the iPhone or other apple related projects… The second largest category is technology at 17.3. While this category is less apple-centric (there is only one iPhone accessory item in this category), we’re still not close to finding anything close to the kind of “art” that the National Endowment for the Arts actually funds.”

None of these percentages are accurate. Looking at the top ten most-funded to determine overall funding is certainly a methodology but it is a distorted one. Clay writes that design and technology make up 50% of funds on Kickstarter. Let’s look at the percentages based on the actual numbers:

Film — 33%
Music — 21%
Design — 11%
Art — 6%
Publishing — 5%
Games — 5%
Technology — 5%
Theater — 4%
Food — 3%
Comics — 3%
Photography — 2%
Fashion — 1%
Dance — 1%

Combined, Design and Technology make up 16% of dollars pledged on Kickstarter. A far cry from 50%. And note that the Design category is much more than Apple accessories. It’s also print design, graphic design, open-source fonts, and many more design-related projects.

Here’s Clay again:

"Let’s be generous and say that 7 of Kickstarter’s categories actually overlap in some way with the NEA’s general mission: Art, Dance, Film Music, Photography, Publishing, and Theater. That total comes up to about 28% of the top funded projects on Kickstarter. Presuming that distributions are equal amongst all the categories (which they are likely not, but again, it’s already an unfair comparison), and you take Strickler’s 150 Million dollar projection for 2012, then you get ~$42 Million."

Again, these numbers are very wrong. Here are the lifetime dollar amounts pledged by category:

Film — $50.8m
Music — $32.5m
Design — $17.5m
Art — $8.8m
Publishing — $8.2m
Games — $8m
Technology — $7.9m
Theater — $6.5m
Food — $5m
Comics — $4m
Photography — $3.4m
Fashion — $2m
Dance — $1.6m

And here are dollars collected by category (meaning funds disbursed to project creators, a more accurate comparison for the NEA):

Film — $41.3m
Music — $28.3m
Design — $15m
Art — $7.5m
Technology — $6.5m
Publishing — $6.3m
Theater — $5.7m
Games — $4.6m
Food — $3.8m
Comics — $3.5m
Photography — $2.8m
Fashion — $1.5m
Dance — $1.4m

Those seven categories that Clay mentioned have seen a combined $93.3 million in successful pledges and account for more than 69% of all dollars pledged. Both of these totals are more than double what he states. 

This comparison is unfortunate because Kickstarter and the NEA are two very different things, and have two very different missions. Comparing what Kickstarter to the NEA is like saying Facebook has organized more working-class americans than the AFL-CIO: it only makes sense if you’re completely ignorant of the function of either.”

Completely agreed that the NEA and Kickstarter are two very different things. By design Kickstarter is very different from traditional funding channels like grants and investment. Our mission is simply to enable creativity to find funding and support, which I don’t believe is far from the NEA’s goals.

"[T]he NEA is not only worried about the production of art, but also about ensuring access to it both geographically and educationally.”

Clay highlights the ways in which the NEA provides access to arts funding and education, and I completely agree that these are valuable contributions to our society. I would assert that access is one of the key things that Kickstarter provides as well. Not everyone has the time or means to fill out a grant application or has an idea that will appeal to a record label or film studio. Kickstarter provides access for anyone in the United States to find funding for their creative project.

While different in approach than the NEA and others, Kickstarter shares the same goals of supporting the creation of art. It’s a mission we’re proud of and hope to continue in the future.