Story of the week: Kickstarter’s stats reveal the limits of crowd-funding

The crowdfunding website's new Stats page shows that while it's making an incredible difference to struggling musicians, it's not making a huge difference to the overall shape of the industry.


Words by: Charlie Jones

Crowdfunding phenomenon Kickstarter presents an opportunity to artists and entrepreneurs looking to break into the music business. Ideally, the platform it creates, to persuade an online community to pledge money to your cause, is one designed around giving unknown, talented people the financial boost they need to achieve their creative goals. With such an exciting premise, it’s no surprise that there’s been overwhelming public interest in seeing the figures behind the success stories of the site, with a common belief being that the site is going to revolutionise the traditional trajectory of a music career, and even eradicate the entire record label system as we know it.

Co-founder Yancey Strickler took to the crowd-sourced funding website’s official blog on Thursday to respond to this interest by announcing that the company from now on would be laying their statistics out in the open for the world to see on their Stats page . Set to be updated daily, the new page gives a breakdown, arranged by category, of how many projects are pitched, how many are successful, and how much money is raised in each case.

A look at the Music section reveals that it has the largest number of successes, with 7,400 projects banking the money they were pledged; it also has the third highest success rate, following Theatre and Dance, with 54.2% of pitches achieving their target amount. With the majority of these successes falling under $10,000, this reveals that the site’s influence has been huge in the area of independent, small-scale projects.

This new transparency, however, by showing that 87.3% of musicians funded by the website take less than $10,000, shows that many are falling short of making much real, record label-level impact. Instead, the largest individual sums given out from the $44.67 million raised for music projects so far are accounted for mostly by behemoth projects attempted by those who have already succeeded in a more mainstream environment. Kickstarter isn’t really kickstarting anyone from the bottom to the top, then; if anything, the figures show that the amount of money raised usually reflects the official, established status of the person asking for the money.

Take Amanda Palmer , who earlier this month overshot her Kickstarter target when she raised $1, 192, 793 to embark on the creation of a new album and tour. Hers is the only music project to tip the scales over $1 million so far, but she’s one of seven who have raised more than $100,000, and one of 238 who have raised over $20,000. This achievement signals a rising trend for the website; perhaps the most successful pitches in the not-too-distant future will be from those who have already grown through the traditional record label route (Palmer and her band the Dresden Dolls achieved their initial success with Roadrunner Records), or in other words, those who can use their already-established fanbase to raise a lot more money than the risky projects of newcomers.

Rather than a replacement or a revolution, then, Kickstarter has confirmed, by releasing these statistics, that its place in the music world is one that sits snugly beside the record label system. Real progress still isn’t made without the interest of labels, and the world at large; and vice versa, real money isn’t made without the investors’ knowledge that progress is possible. Kickstarter does present an amazing opportunity, to see creative projects come to fruition; the scope of these dreams, though, is still ultimately decided by achievements in the music industry, and generally the world beyond your internet browser, as we know it.

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