Friday, May 10, 2013

When similar inputs produce radically different outputs -- more on Kickster

[Following up this]

Ken Levine has a follow-up to his widely-read post on the Kickstarter campaigns of Zach Braff and Rob Thomas (creator of Veronica Mars). Well worth checking out (as are most of Levine's posts) but this in particular caught my eye:
And finally, a lot of you agreed with me about Zach Braff but not VERONICA MARS. You pointed out that creator Rob Thomas did try for years to get Warner Brothers to make it and they flatly refused. This was a viable alternative. There would be no VERONICA MARS movie had it not been for Kickstarter. Fair enough and I’m looking forward to seeing it. I also give Rob Thomas points for ingenuity. He was the first to use Kickstarter in this regard.
First off, I think Rob Thomas is an extraordinary talent and I readily put him in the company of writer-producers like Joss Whedon and Matt Nix who not only have rediscovered the lost art (at least in America) of high-concept television, but have brought a new subtlety and dramatic range to the genres. I'd love to see a Veronica Mars movie.

That said, Mars strikes me as an even worse fit for Kickstarter than the Braff project. Consider a thought experiment: imagine you had never heard of any of the people involved in either project. If you read descriptions of the Veronica Mars Movie Project and Braff's Wish I Was Here, which one would sound like a Kickstarter project? Not which one is a better idea. Not which one you'd like to see. Which one sounds like a Kickstarter project.

I haven't followed Kickstarter that closely but Braff's indier-than-thou concept certainly seems more Kickstarter. Nonetheless Thomas seems to be getting less criticism and will probably end up getting more money.

The specific lesson I'd draw from this is that fans of high-concept television are disproportionately likely to be active online and to pledge money to a Kickstarter campaign. The general lesson is that, from a marketing and demographic perspective, the internet is different than the real world.

It's true that most people are online but some are on a lot more than others and those heavy users are not representative of the general public (if they were, Veronica Mars would have broken the top 100 -- or just the top 120 -- at some point in its three year run). Add to this the potential for fraud, the tendency to rack up deceptively large numbers, the susceptibility to trends, and the hopelessly complicated relationship between the internet and the rest of the media which further distorts an already muddled picture.

We constantly hear about some overnight internet sensation and are told it represents the future of retailing, the future of education, the future of philanthropy, the future of _____. The trouble is many of these successes don't stand up to scrutiny and those that do often prove not to be sustainable and /or scalable. The internet can be a great source of business ideas. Because of its fast turnaround time and low barriers to entry it can be a great place to try out something new.

But some of these lessons don't generalize very well.

p.s. It is also good to know that not every former sitcom star finds gold in the hills of Kickstarter.


  1. I applaud the purity of your Kickstarter dadaism! Support the Kickstarter projects which are most like projects on Kickstarter. Not because they are better projects or even better projects to be on Kickstarter. Instead support them because they are the most Kickstarter of Kickstarter projects, and this is important above all.

    1. Very Gertrude Stein but I didn't say (in this post, at least) that you shouldn't support a given project for this reason. I claimed that, of two projects criticized for deviating from the norms of an institution, the one that deviated more got less criticism which suggests that additional factors are present.

      I did previously say that you shouldn't support either Braff or Thomas for the reasons Levine gives: both men are Hollywood insiders with connections and access to traditional means of financing, but that's a different discussion.