Free market research
Steven Spielberg was rejected TWICE by the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Walt Disney’s newspaper editor told him that he ‘lacked imagination and had no good ideas’. A perceived failure often tends to be the gateway to a bigger success. That’s why I think we spend too much time worrying about what happens if our Kickstarter fails.
As creators, we tend to take market success very personally. After all, it’s our personal vision that’s ultimately being accepted (or rejected) by our audience. As a result, we look at a Kickstarter as a thumbs-up/thumbs-down vote on the quality of our comic. After all, successful creators don’t launch failed Kickstarters, right?
Wrong. The fact is that several successful creators have launched failed Kickstarters. Hot Lunch, by British manga creators, mayamada, failed its 2018 Kickstarter by just over a thousand dollars. Eight months later, the campaign was relaunched. This time around, the campaign was funded in 9 days and became a Kickstarter staff pick along the way.
What happened in those eight months? Looking at the two campaigns, it’s pretty easy to see that the creative team took the lessons they learned to heart and retooled their approach based on that information. In other words, they used their “failed” Kickstarter as free market research.
Free market research
Before a corporation brings a product to market, it typically spends large amounts of money doing market research. What they want to know is simple: Is this product a good fit for customers? Sometimes they may find that their product is not ready for the marketplace. In other case, they might actually find out that the market itself simply isn’t ready for the product. (The Apple Newton and WebTV — a precursor to the digital tablet and an early streaming-media service, respectively — were both failures to consumers who just weren’t ready yet.) The money spent on market research can save an exponentially larger sum that comes with a failed launch.
A Kickstarter is free market research.
When you use Kickstarter to present your product to your readers, you’ll find out in 30 days if its ready for the market (or if the market is ready for it.) If it’s ready — congratulations! You’ve got your work cut out for you, and it’s time to get busy. But if it’s not, it’s not the end of the world. Heck, it’s not even the end of this project!
Your readers just gave you for free what most corporations pay through the nose for. It’s up to you, however, to take the time to understand what your readers were trying to tell you. Was there a lack of support for the item itself? Maybe the price was too high. Can you downscale? Maybe use a different paper. Maybe start with a softcover and hold the hardcover back as a stretch goal.
Likewise, maybe you tried to do too much with your Kickstarter — adding in enamel pins and prints and posters and other tchotchkes. Perhaps it’s time to focus on the basics and keep it simple. Is the lack of support on Kickstarter paired with a general lack of enthusiasm for your comic in general? Maybe it’s time to take an objective assessment of your skills as a cartoonist. Or maybe it’s a good time to consider launching a new project.
In the same way that Walt Disney didn’t let his newspaper editor define his success, you’re not going to let this Kickstarter define yours. Instead, you’re going to embrace this as an opportunity to grow as a creator. Part of that requires you to process this event properly.
So, your Kickstarter didn’t reach its goal. You’ve been pushing it for a solid month, and now you have to make that awkward post in wish you thank everyone for their support. “We came darned close,” you’ll tweet, “but it just didn’t happen this time. But thank you to everyone who pledged anyway.” It feels as is this failure now defines you. You’re The Cartoonist Who Crashed and Burned. It’s probably a little hard to work on that next update. After all… your readers are probably just going to roll their eyes.
At least, that’s how it feels to you.
Meanwhile — for better or worse — the truth is much simpler. After a couple weeks, nobody even remembers that you had a Kickstarter. Your average social-media follower has been bombarded with thousands — thousands — of messages over the past fourteen days. Let’s face it, they’re lucky they remember their own names at this point. In that same span of time, they’ve had their own successes and their own failures. And — to them — these are exponentially more important. They have their heads — and their hands — full. Keeping track of you and your little ups and downs isn’t really realistic, is it?
So, while you’re huddled under the covers, digging into another pint of Ben & Jerry’s, nursing your heartache and bandaging your ego*, your readers have moved on. (And they have the right idea.)
Get back out there
All kidding aside… take some time for self care, but then get off your butt and get back to work! Give that Kickstarter some objective scrutiny. Ask a few friends for their input. Run it past some fellow creators who have handled successful Kickstarters to get their thoughts. Reassess. Retool. Rethink.
And then relaunch.
*I can only assume you process grief the same way I do.