Written on Tuesday,
February 8th, 2011
In the small club known as graphic design, there has been a rather bristled stink raised over, in the grand scheme of things, a small project on Kickstarter by Frank Chimero. Frank is a skilled, respected and articulate designer. If his work doesn’t speak for his abilities, then his numerous and mounting list of speaking engagements and articles should. Bottom-line, Frank knows what he’s doing and gets the proper respect for it. Frank, rightly so, wanted to write a book. And rather than go the traditional route of writing a manuscript, designing the pages and graphics, presenting it to a publisher and hoping they want to print the book – he thought differently.
To the vast majority of those who aren’t designers, it might be hard to understand why anyone would be upset — so what, he wants to write a book and asked people to fund it? Isn’t that what start-up companies do on a grand scale all the time? Obviously the basic premise is not new. Several years ago if you wanted to publish a book you either went the route of using a self-publishing service (Lulu, Blurb, etc) or appealed the “good graces” of a (fumbling) publishing industry. Both methods had drawbacks. The first relied on your own “sweat-equity” to produce and see profit. If you aren’t well know, well connected, then the chances of seeing a return on your effort was slim to none. The later method meant pleading to a publisher who not only has to understand your vision and product, but also has to determine if they deem it worthy of their investment (in terms of them seeing a return; and month by month I’d imagine publishers are frantic to understand how to profit in an increasing “free” focused industry that reads less overall and has overwhelming shifted toward online content — but that’s a different story for a different time). Over the last few years a new methodology of funding has emerged called “micro-funding” or “crowd-funding” — and in this case, we’re specifically talking about Kickstarter. Now one can appeal to their peers (those like-minded or pre-diposed to want the book) to help fund and create the book — if the money isn’t there, than obviously there’s no market. But when money comes (and in Frank’s case, it came large and quick — stop it, that’s not dirty) you not only can fund the costs of your effort, but also get a return on your time. So what’s the big deal?
Semantics. Sour-grapes. The fear of the non-traditional. These all seem to be players in the small dust-up that have been tossed about in the design realm; most notably by Andy Rutledge (who quite frankly — excuse the pun, or not, whatever — relishes in being the “bad boy”, the contrarian to what he sees as a mostly liberal, ill-informed, ill-prepared design community and using language as a weapon to illicit reaction). One would think a “convservative” or even “free-market” minded individual would champion the rights of individual responsibility in (this is where semantics will derail your perspective and make a reasonable discussion difficult) intimately and directly funding (or donating or financing) a product they believe in.
On the other hand, Frank has 1,236 (at the time of this writing) individuals who have given (in varying degrees) to an unknown product with the expectation of getting what was promised in return. Again, the onus of responsibility is shared by 1,236 people who willingly gave to the book — knowing there was nothing other than an idea and a promise (and Frank’s plethora of experience to reasonably and logically expect nothing other than what was promised). Frank also bears responsibility is setting reasonable expectations for: updates on progress, time till completion, contents and other formats such as perhaps dimensions or paper stock, binding, etc. This is not entirely unlike how people are willing to pay upwards of $150 to for a ticket to sporting event, or concert, based on the team (or individual or band) to deliver what they expect in return of entertainment or victory. We daily make risks with our money. At most the “risk” of “investing” in Frank’s book is that he doesn’t complete it (and you get your money back) or it’s perhaps not a long, or thick, print (on post-consumer waster recycle A4 paper) leather bound with a hologram of bacon on the cover. But logical evidence — just as with sporting events, concerts, etc — suggest that 80% of your expectations will be met. And in terms of what profit Frank will get, that harkens back to his responsibility for the project — researching the costs for production plus his time (which translates to being “paid” for the work).
The most exciting, and sadly lost in this small skirmish, is the potential of great ideas — that otherwise might die in the minds of the creators or flounder on the desks of executives or see limited exposure — have a profound and new method of becoming reality. And that’s good for everyone involved.