Crowdfunding

I have decided that I love crowdfunding. As I write this, I’m wearing a t-shirt from the successful Kickstarter campaign for the upcoming Veronica Mars movie, the one the studios refused to back for years despite fan interest. When fan interest funded the film, the studios provided the rest and now we fans get the film we’ve been waiting for. 

That’s not the only project I’ve backed. I tend to back about two per month between Kickstarter, Indie-a-Go-Go, and the other crowdfunding venues. Most projects—particularly fiction anthologies—don’t fund because the editors putting the projects together don’t think of the reader; they approach Kickstarter as if the readers are New York editors. Here, the anthologists say. We have big names. Now give us money.

Unlike traditional publishers, who often guess at an audience’s interest in a project, crowdfunding actually measures the interest. My husband Dean Wesley Smith and I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in August of 2012 for our anthology-magazine, Fiction River. We wanted to kickstart—literally—the first year of Fiction River, with enough cash to get us off the ground.

But that wasn’t our main reason for trying crowdfunding. We stated our main reason in our Kickstarter video (which you can still see on the Kickstarter site if you go to Fiction River). We wanted to know if we had an audience for our project. We figured that if we didn’t get backers, then no one cared that two award-winning editors and publishers were jumping back into the publishing arena.

To our surprise and delight, we funded in less than 48 hours. (Thank you, everyone who supported us.) We’ve just published the fifth volume of seven scheduled for the first year, with the second year planned. And we’ll probably do another Kickstarter somewhere along the way.

But I haven’t just benefitted from crowdfunding as an artist. I’m benefitting as a fan. Not just for the Veronica Mars movie (t-shirts! Stickers! Posters! DVDs!) but also for neat-o things like an art calendar that Hugo and World Fantasy Award winning artist John Picacio has done for the last two years running. Sometime in the next year, I’ll get a nifty special edition of Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by artist David Delamare, plus some prints of his artwork, which I’ve always wanted.

Technology giveth and technology taketh away. Without crowdfunding, the changes in technology would have destroyed our local movie theater, the Bijou in Lincoln City, Oregon. But the Bijou did a Kickstarter campaign, with rewards for nonlocals as well as locals, and received enough funds to get the digital equipment needed to run films in the modern world—saving the theater, and a bit of our small town culture.

No one in the history of sf, all of it, from the beginning of sf to now, foresaw crowdfunding. I think we all knew what good a band of people and fans could do. We’d seen it at conventions, at the charity auctions and the support-literacy events. We’d watched write-in campaigns save TV shows like Star Trek. We knew the power of fandom and collective action.

But we never wrote about what could happen when people who had never met—and would never meet—got together online to help raise funds for projects that would never have made it through a convention gauntlet or a traditional marketing venue. We sf writers missed this one.

Not that I expect us to predict everything. That’s really not what sf is. But crowdfunding feels like an sf sort of thing—what with the write-in campaigns and the way that fandom often kept certain projects alive.

However, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post if it weren’t for an article I saw in the Los Angeles Times in December. The article was about one of my geeky things—the top tech of the year—and it listed something that surprised me.

Let me give you some context.

For the past several years, I’ve either run or walked for a half an hour every day. That’s well and good in the summer. I could go out and exercise from 6 am to 10 pm without worrying about darkness. But in the winter, I only had six or so good daylight hours for exercise. (I get up late.)

If I missed those hours, I had to either stay inside (ick!) or go out in the darkness. I generally go out—and I’m a sight to be seen. I wear a baseball cap with a built-in headlamp. I wear a safety vest. I wear reflecting athletic shoes. I wear glowing armbands and/or leg bands. I say “and/or” because the damn things break every fifth run. I’m constantly buying new ones.

I’ve seen cars slow down on a dark night just to figure out what I am. The driver sees a weird group of disconnected lights, and probably thinks some alien has come down from some strange UFO to take him away.

I’ve wanted something better, something sturdier, something easy to assemble for years now. Running gear manufacturers make reflective coats, but not coats with lights. Same with running pants. They reflect, but they don’t light up. And considering how dark some of the roads are around here, reflecting isn’t enough.

So that bit of tech in the LA Times? It was a jacket, with LED lights, and reflective material and its own lithium battery. The jacket is washable (theoretically) and tough, able to withstand the punishment that an athlete will put it through.

Mine’s on order. I don’t know if it’ll live up to its promises, but if it does, that jacket will be my first bit of clothing that needs a USB and eight hours of plug-in time to work properly.

Which, I must say, has the sf fan in me properly geeked-out.

As I was investigating this jacket to see if it was worth my hard-earned cash, I discovered something completely cool. The jacket is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign (if you want to see it, check out the Badger 360 on Kickstarter).

Someone else wanted a simple way to be safe while exercising outdoors at night, and got a handful of people to fund it. And now, something I’ve wanted for years is on its way to me—because of crowdfunding.

I’ve watched crowdfunding help families with medical emergencies, create nifty new  products, and satisfy my fannish cravings. I’ve backed things because I thought they were cool and some because I really wanted the item being produced. I’ve thrown in a few bucks to help friends, and I’ve spent way more than I should to get a fantastic reward. I’ve watched crowdfunding save businesses and (most likely) save a few lives.

That jacket made me realize, yet again, what a wonderful sf world we live in. We may not have our flying cars (yet), but we have ways of working in concert with people we’ll never know to help create marvelous visions and a whole lot of hope.

I like this present, even if we never quite imagined it. If someone had told me forty years ago that this was our future, I wouldn’t have believed it. But I certainly would have looked forward to it.

And I can’t wait to see what the next forty years will bring—especially now that we can fund it all, just a few dollars at a time.

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