Use Kickstarter as a distribution model & a tool to gauge interest

As an artist, what are your challenges when getting your work to an interested audience?

What is the established distribution model for the types of work you are interested in making?

How can you use a crowdfunding platform to by-pass that distribution model to reach an audience that would be interested in your work?

This post is part of a series ‘7 Things Artists Could Learn From Board Game Kickstarters‘ where I highlight some of the lessons artists and arts organisations could learn from the world of crowd-funded boardgames…


<< INTRO: 7 Things Artists Could Learn From Board Game Kickstarters

Kickstarter as a distribution model

Boardgame producers are faced with a set of challenges – they want to produce a physical object that their audience need to have in their hands to engage with, face-to-face with a group of people they know. These people are likely to live somewhere else in the world (ie not in the direct locale of the boardgame producer) and the type of boardgame that indie publishers want to produce is not likely to be a mass-appeal product (ie not everyone is going to be interested). There is also a high up-front cost to producing a new boardgame (circa £15K minimum), the challenge of marketing the finished product to a widely geographically dispersed audience and the financial risk that no-one might be interested in buying your game in the end.

In traditional boardgame publishing, large companies would have taken on the financial risk, investing only in ‘safe bet’, mass-appeal games (think Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit) and use established distribution chains (retailers and the distributors that supply them) to get their products to its audience. Using Kickstarter allows indie publishers (and more recently quite established publishers too!) to by-pass this traditional distribution model, offer new / innovative / ‘risky’ / niche-appeal games and connect directly with their audience (the people who want to play new boardgames).

There are many parallels here for artists, so what can we learn from the way in which boardgame publishers approach Kickstarter as a mode for distribution?


Getting your work out into the world

As an artist, what are your challenges when getting your work to an interested audience? What is the established distribution model for the types of work you are interested in making? How can you use a crowdfunding platform to by-pass that distribution model to reach an audience that would be interested in your work?

You might not want to think about what you make as a ‘product’, but if you are going to make use of Kickstarter as a mode of distribution you really should re-consider your stance. You are asking strangers to give you money in exchange for something and you are creating something that you hope will hold value for other people – this is most definitely the world of products!

Here are some straightforward ways you could use Kickstarter to distribute your work:

  • Pre-sales of tickets to an event or show (if you’re attempting to fund a tour or event) – your chosen crowd funding platform replaces the box office
  • Pre-sales of a finished product that your project produces (unlimited or limited editions, publishing projects, batch or mass-produced objects, apps and digital artworks) – Kickstarter replaces the exhibition, the shop, gallery, ‘launch’ or an art dealer

Thinking about a crowdfunding campaign as the mode by which you distribute your work might also lead you to think about things that can be produced and distributed efficiently and/or cheaply – consider digital artefacts; ways that people could experience your project in their own home or locale; spaces (IRL and virtual) that you have easy or ready access to; distribution modes you may be overlooking in your practice at present (inc postal system, email, skype, text messages or other forms of communication).

By answering these questions in relation to your own work, approach and practice, you’ll start to work out more innovative and unique ways to distribute your work to the crowd (who have the potential to fund your project) – considering showing work in ways you haven’t shown work before, thinking differently about individual and collective experiences and the spaces in which a whole variety of audiences might experience your work.

When you are considering what you could distribute via Kickstarter, think about how you might deal with some of the structural considerations of the platform – backers have a choice of different pledge levels and you need to decide how each of these relates to:

  • Readily valued items – things that people can relate to and pin value on. Social activities can be a good gauge here – what are you giving backers in exchange for the price of a pint / a cinema ticket / a ticket to see their favourite band. Think about the potential for anonymous gifting here too – how much is the gesture of buying a ticket for someone else worth to a potential backer?
  • Ad-ons – these will allow backers to pledge larger amounts in exchange for ‘extras’. These might relate to this project, or previous projects you have worked on – maybe you’ve got a stack of publications / photos / prints left over from another project that people might be interested in? Prepare a ‘menu’ of add-ons so that people can pledge for more than one ‘product’ at once.

Using Kickstarter to gauge interest in your arts project

In business terms, what I’m talking about here is referred to as validating your idea. This idea covers ways that you will gauge interest (actual social and financial support, rather than friends or peers saying it sounds interesting) for your project before you spend a lot of time and effort to produce it.

Founder of Genius Games

If, at this point,  you don’t attract much interest for your project via your pre-crowdfunding campaign, it would be worth re-considering if it is worth the effort of following through with it. Take this opportunity to look hard at what you are offering and whether your idea will excite an audience. Open your project up for feedback and ask others for ways you could improve what you are offering.

SEE ALSO: Stonemaier Games & Emil Larsen’s advice on re-booting unsuccessful Kickstarter projects


PART 2: Stop thinking of Kickstarter as a platform for donations >>

New to crowdfunding?
Check out my quick start guide to crowdfunding!!

Quick start crowdfunding beginners guide

Are you an artist or arts organisation looking for some help in shaping a successful crowdfunding campaign? Get in touch to arrange an online Helpout! I also run workshops for students, arts practitioners and arts organisations in creative approaches to crowdfundingcontact me for more details.

Rachel Dobbs is one half of LOW PROFILE, an artist, educator, tinkerer & freelance boardgame art director with Grublin Games… currently based in Plymouth, UK.

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