Caveat…oh hell you know what I’m going to say

There’s something I haven’t yet addressed here that I probably should; the risk you take as a backer. When you fund a project, no matter what sort of checks are in place, you are taking a risk. Whether it’s a Kickstarter campaign, or any of the other platforms,they take no responsibility for the projects they host. They provide a service, connecting eager producers with willing backers and enabling the funding to take place. They do this for a fee. If a project is funded, and the project meets their goals and provides rewards on schedule, everyone is happy.

But on the wind there’s an expectation that the first big crowdfunding scandal or theft isn’t far off. There’s also a sense that the platform might benefit the haves more than the have nots, i.e. an established producer will fare better than an upstart and even take away funding from them. To this second concern I can only say that it’s a new platform, but the old advantages still exist. It’s the first that makes me nervous.

My worst fear isn’t some sort of massive fraud executed by people who have no intention of ever meeting their goals. I feel like that kind of campaign might be easy to spot, though I suspect there’s already been several little ones. My real fear is the huge project that the producers can’t pull off. It’s the project that has a slick, engaging campaign, by someone you might not have heard of but who seems to have good intentions. They don’t destroy their funding goal, but just barely meet it, and it turns out it’s not enough.

They scrap, and fight to get their product ready, but they just can’t make it happen. They had planned to work full time on it but the money ran out, and they aren’t done yet. They then have two choices; ship an incomplete project, or take much, much longer to finish and blow through their deadlines. Either way, backers lose. And I suppose there’s a third choice: they fail to ship at all. I would think as a show of good faith they would simply release whatever was done, if for no other reason than to try to avoid legal action. But maybe not.

What scares me about this is the macro impact. Obviously it’s lousy for the backers. But the bigger concern I have is for the impact on the notion of crowdfunding as a whole. We who have bought into the idea have faith in our producers, and they nearly always reward that faith. But the skeptics are just waiting for a big project to fail, and I worry if the failure is big enough, it could turn a lot of people off, and possibly even start hurting other campaigns and the idea as a whole. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, and stuff would get made and people would buy it, and something else new would come along. But we’ve got a good thing going, and I hope we don’t mess it up.

When you back a project, I think it’s to your benefit to be prepared for your reward to be delayed or even never delivered. You’re spending money months in advance of actually getting the thing you want, and a lot can happen during that time, and you probably don’t know much about the people you bought that thing from. I think crowdfunding is great, and a lot of people benefit from it on both sides of the transaction. But it is a transaction. Money can muddy things up quickly and can make smart people do stupid things. Let’s all be careful out there and try to be savvy about what we back or talk about.

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