Hello all! Welcome back to WWAC’s crowdfunding roundup. When I started/took over this column, I chose the descriptors carefully—this is meant to round up crowdfunding from all around the internet, not just one website in particular. In practice, however, this is usually a comics Kickstarter spotlight, due in part to the fact that Kickstarter has historically simply been the best choice for independent comic projects. Unfortunately, this month Kickstarter put their whole foot in it.
On December 8, Kickstarter posted on their blog that they’ll be moving the backend of the website to a system that uses blockchain technology—essentially pivoting to crypto. The blog post, signed by Kickstarter bigwigs Perry Chen and Aziz Hassan, assured readers that this fundamental rebuilding of the website’s infrastructure is “an important and exciting way for us to serve our mission” of helping people bring their projects to life.
However, Chen and Hassan’s post and Kickstarter’s later communications left a lot out: most obviously how moving onto a system known for its unconscionable environmental impact would tangibly help creators. Despite consistently touting that creators would benefit, the most concrete assurance Kickstarter has offered is that “creators can continue to receive normal currency to fulfill their projects,” which is not a change or improvement, but rather a basic function of the platform. There have been no references to things creators have been desperately asking for, like a less frustratingly glitchy campaign editor, better add-on management, or any sort of post-campaign backer management tools.
Similarly, Kickstarter’s claims that this pivot will be “carbon negative” are only pretty buzzwords. To be able to call themselves “carbon negative” (or carbon neutral), an organization must essentially purchase sufficient carbon credits to “offset” the resources they drain; however, offsetting is not the same as not using the resource in the first place. Blockchain technologies are composed of “chains” of secure, immutable transactions. Each transaction (generating a new unit of cryptocurrency, recording an order in a storefront, tracking the movement of data or ideas, etc.) is validated by other computers on the blockchain network, then assigned a unique value and added to the chain. Validating the transactions and generating unique values requires significantly more processing power than traditional storefront workflows—an increase in energy that multiplies as more and more systems rely on blockchain technology.
Carbon credits are promises of future ecological healing: planting trees, investing in conservation projects, the works; unfortunately, the climate crisis is now, and the best thing to do for an environment already under strain is to simply stop hurting it, or at the very least not kick it harder. There is no way to truly undo the environmental damage that cryptocurrencies are causing, and there is evidence that engaging with carbon neutrality systems actually does more harm than good.
So if there are no obvious benefits to creators and even the most ecologically conscious blockchain is a thinly veiled environmental scourge, why is Kickstarter making this change? Chen and Hassan’s blog post claims that part of their goal is to (post-move) make the website’s code public so others can use it to build their own crowdfunding tools; while that would be great, there is no obvious reason the platform would have to move to the blockchain before publicizing their code. They claim the move will allow Kickstarter to work on a previously impossible scale, but transcending geographic boundaries isn’t the same as making a platform accessible to everybody, and the environmental impact of climate change will only serve to widen the gulch between those with internet access and spare cash and those without. Ultimately, this pivot seems like a lemming-esque pursual of the new hot status symbol in tech bro culture: the ability to say you pioneered a blockchain protocol, regardless of the environmental, social, or financial cost.
Kickstarter’s decision to pivot to crypto is a top-down decree that has had immediate effects on the people who use the platform. While it doesn’t take any strong positioning for or against the change, Kickstarter United’s statement makes it clear that the plans were not communicated internally before being publicly announced. Jamila Rowser, publisher of Black Josei Press and Kickstarter’s Comics Outreach Consultant, has resigned from her position in protest. Past creators, including Shing Yin Khor, Spike Trotman, and David Willis, have stated their disappointment and/or intention to move to different platforms. Future creators are having to make difficult decisions about how they’re going to fund their next projects: do they stick to the plan and allow themselves to be complicit in the social stratification and ecological harm inherent to blockchain-based technologies, or do they sacrifice financial security to figure something else out?
And this, ultimately, is what fucks me up the most: Kickstarter is currently the platform for independent crowdfunding, especially in comics communities. IndieGogo, while geographically more accessible, keeps hosting comicsgate bullshit; Unbound requires projects to be acquired by their team of editors and changes in their search functions make it almost impossible to identify comics projects; and iFundWomen just doesn’t have the same cultural clout as others (and is linguistically exclusive of nonbinary folks, regardless of their intentions). Topatoco may have internal crowdfunding next year, but they have a limited client list which means that $500 one-offs aren’t really their bag. Itch.io is great for small, mostly finished projects, but their current crowdfunding capabilities are rudimentary and obscure at best and upgrades are still a ways away. If creators—and backers—justifiably move away from Kickstarter, where will tiny, cool projects go? How will this affect independent creators, for whom quarterly or yearly Kickstarter projects provide a significant portion of their income? And if all these creators whose work I love and whose principles I respect move away from Kickstarter, leaving those more willing to compromise, what projects will rise to prominence in their place?
The bottom line is: this sucks. It sucks for creators, and it sucks for the planet. If you’ve ever backed a project or are thinking about backing them in the future, I encourage you to send Kickstarter your thoughts and criticisms via the email address they provided, email@example.com. For now, though, there are projects that were started and planned before the Kickstarter decided to blow up its own credibility, and I encourage you to give them a look—no one who hit the launch button before December 8 should have to endure the consequences of the platform’s actions.
As for next month, well, we’ll have to wait and see.
For your consideration:
A Frog in the Fall. Ends December 30.
Solitude: A Graphic Novel in Woodcuts. Ends December 30.
Jaydi’s Story #1: In the Beginning. Ends December 31.
Dream Vacation Zine. Ends January 7.
Highbrow: A Short Comics Anthology. Ends January 8.