Stop Funding Rich People's Kickstarters

It's frustrating to see celebrities and big companies taking advantage of the crowd-sourcing site.

Feb 24 2015, 7:40pm

​Image:​ Jenny Spadafora/Flickr

​Pebble, the popular smartwatch that originated on Kickstarter, retur​ned to the crowd funding platform today to announce its new design. The company met its goal of $500,000 within the first 20 m​inutes and at the time this story was published had raised more than $4.5 million.

This is all in spite of the fact that Pebble already has plenty of investors and is a bonafide, profitable company. CEO Eric Migicovsky told M​ashable the company only wanted to use Kickstarter to help get the word out about the new product, because apparently it's really, really hard for big tech companies to get any co​verage for their new devices.

There are certain advantages that come with running a Kickstarter campaign when you're already a well-known entity, like a popular tech company or a famous actor. You're naturally going to get more media coverage as well as built-in attention from fans and existing customers. When you take into account that these entities also have more than enough money to fund their projects on their own and contributors don't get a cut of the profits, it can cause some people to get a bit ticked off.

Zach Braff caused just such a stir when he used a Kickstarter campaign to raise $3.1 million towards making his film, Wish I Was Here. The film was was released last summer, bringing in $5.4 m​illion in worldwide box office earnings, and earned a coveted slot to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Despite being a rich and famous celebrity who is rumored to be worth $22 million, Braff defended his choice to ask fans to pay for his movie, telling the LA Ti​mes he doesn't "have Oprah Winfrey money." If you're not Oprah rich, then you're basically poor, right Zach?

A similar controversy swirled around the Veronica Mars Movie, which raised $5.7 million from supporters through Kickstarter and drew $3.4 million from the box office upon its release last spring. Backers of that project wouldn't even get a copy of the movie unless they contributed at least $35. The majority of the film's​ 91,585 backers contributed between $50 and $75 to receive a pdf of the script, a t-shirt, a digital copy of the film, and a DVD copy as their reward.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee faced the same ​criticism when he launched a Kickstarter to fund his film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, which has just been released. He fought back, pointing out that as an independent filmmaker he sought crowdfunding for his films long before the internet made it trendy to do so. Lee also argued his presence on the site would be beneficial to lesser-known artists.

"I'm bringing people to Kickstarter who have never heard of Kickstarter, who have never, ever, ever even pledged before," Lee told Bloomberg in a​n interview at the time, adding that he has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to support young filmmakers. "This narrative that I'm hurting the small, independent filmmaker is not true."

Kickstarter actually backed up Lee's claim that big names draw new funders to the site who might not have otherwise used it. In a blog post following the controversy surrounding Veronica Mars and Braff's film, Kickstarter's founders wro​te that supporters of those films who had never pledged before went on to contribute more than $400,000 to 2,200 other projects.

"The world we live in is hyper-competitive and often pits us against each other. If someone is winning, someone else must be losing, right? But that's not what we see happening on Kickstarter," they wrote. "We see everyone getting to decide what projects they want to see come to life. We see more opportunity for creative freedom for everyone."

Still, it can be a bit confusing to watch a well-known, successful c​hef raise $300,000 so he can open a fourth restaurant. It can be shocking to see a web comic writer who pulls in a half a million dol​lars each year receive $8 million for a​ card game that would probably cost about 30 cents to manufacture. And it's a little frustrating to see small, independent films like a documentary about a tsunami​ survivor struggle just to raise a few thousand dollars over the course of a month.

While high-profile Kickstarters can help the smaller ones, the argument against them relies on an underlying principle: if you can well afford to make a movie, game, or tech product yourself and stand to profit immensely from it, you shouldn't be asking the general public to fork over their limited disposable income. And we all need to stop encouraging them by forking over that money, especially when all we wind up with is a T-shirt.