GalleyCat has a piece about a Kickstarter campaign that originally came to my attention a week ago from my friend Eric A. Burns’s blog Websnark. This campaign, founded by Gabe and Tycho, the artists behind popular gaming culture comic strip Penny Arcade, aims to raise as much money as it can in order to allow the site to remove ads. The site has a number of graduated stretch goals, involving removal of some or all ads from the front page, or even (at $999,999) removal of all ads everywhere on the site for a year. There are a number of prizes for specific donation levels as well.
Burns is puzzled by the idea. Other Kickstarter campaigns have been for making or producing something—for example, the phenomenal outpouring of support for an Order of the Stick collection earlier this year. And while Gabe and Tycho note that, if they get this funding, it will give them more creative freedom to do side projects, the main thrust of it is nonetheless to do little except remove ads from a project that has already earned its creators a small fortune in merchandising.
While acknowledging that the people who fund this sort of campaign are probably not doing so directly at the expense of any other, Burns writes:
I will say this — and I will acknowledge before I do that this is unfair to Gabe, Tycho, and Penny Arcade. Every time I see a $6,000 labor of love being set up by someone who’s barely getting food on their table — a book that would otherwise go unpublished, an album unproduced, or what have you — that fails to fund, I’m going to remember the time Penny Arcade got people to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars essentially because they could, for an artistic project that was already way in the black, and I will think this is how the world works. The people who can most get the money are the ones who least need the money.
And maybe, in the end, that’s the lesson being funded here.
On the other hand, when I look back at the lesson taught by Readability’s controversial failed experiment in making people pay content-creators for removing ads (which has become an increasingly popular pastime these days), I have to wonder whether something like this could be the right way to go for at least some extremely popular sites.
Let’s face it, Penny Arcade is a very popular site. Alexa ranks it 4,617th globally and 1,776th in the US. It probably makes a small fortune in advertising—especially since it has a very specific demographic (who are prone to buy expensive video games) and a strong reputation among that demographic. By foregoing advertising, Penny Arcade could well be giving up hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And this is a way it can give up those ads but still make that money back. While Readability’s project failed because very few people who used it wanted to shell out for skipping ads, and very few of the publications it was meant to support expressed an interest in getting a share of the subscription fees, this Kickstarter is targeted like a laser—it’s self-selecting for people who would be willing to pay for removal of ads on that specific site, and it lets people tailor their commitment at a level relative to their ability. If some rich person wants to pay $10,000 for a lunch with Gabe and Tycho, he can do that, and has advanced the drive that much farther toward its goal. And Gabe and Tycho get this money whether people who don’t pay anything at all continue to skip ads or not.
This is a method of funding that only works for the most popular sites, of course—ones who aren’t as popular won’t have as many people willing to shell out and won’t be able to make as much. But on the other hand, it’s also kind of self-compensating, because they won’t be losing as much money from people skipping their ads, either. It’s also unclear that it will really work that well if everyone starts doing it. If all of our favorite sites start running donation drives all at once, how much money are we going to have to spread around?
Still, at least for Penny Arcade, this seems to be yet another lucrative move. It’s already made over $330,000, with 26 more days to go. It will be interesting to see if any other popular sites decide to follow suit.