Kickstarter history was made yesterday with Rob Thomas' Veronica Mars Movie Project. With the original goal set at $2 million (and at the time of this post it has been exceeded with $2.7 million pledged), Kickstarter history, too, has been made. Thomas broke the news early this morning saying in a project update, "We were the fastest Kickstarter project to hit $1M. We were the fastest Kickstarter project to hit $2M. We set the record for highest goal ever achieved ... We're also the largest film project in Kickstarter history."
The success of the project and of the Kickstarter model itself prompts an interesting conversation in the role a largely symbolic collective ownership can play in a society that generally prioritizes the individual over the collective. At the very least, this model seems to be one worth exploring and potentially advocating for as it seems to have power beyond the simple funding of films, limited as it may be by the necessity of a prior cult fandom to buy into the ownership.
Similar to Veronica Mars, another example of a symbolic collective ownership success can be found in the financial model of the NFL's Green Bay Packers. The Packers model is that the team is actually a nonprofit as of 1923, collectively owned by shareholders. Anyone can purchase a share for $250. The quite small population of Green Bay itself (just over 100,000) compared with the enormous financial success of the team would seem quixotic. Additionally, much like Veronica Mars, buying into the model doesn't get you much more than a T-shirt, certificate, or copy of the script. So what's going on?
The power of the model seems to lie in the pride and fandom of the cult-like following involved in both examples prior to the establishment of funding goals. Jeff Bercovici at Forbes touches on this writing that, "The advantage of the community ownership model isn't that it raises more money; it’s that it actually makes Green Bay fans love their team – our team — more than any other fans love theirs. We love it the way only owners can, so much that we’ll straight-up donate our money to it, just to be able to say we did it."
The Kickstarter backers of Veronica Mars have a largely unmeasurable say in the outcome of the movie or how it is filmed. Shareholders of the Green Bay Packers might go to annual meetings as part owners of the team but the power they hold is largely symbolic.
Speaking to the improbability of this sort of collective ownership success, Ben Pearson makes the astute observation that the funding of Veronica Mars won't hold true for all in the entertainment industry. He writes, "This could change everything, or it might only be used for tiny resurrection projects like this." Combining the case study of the Packers with Veronica Mars, it seems far more likely that those who already have a cult fan base to pull from (like Joss Whedon with Serenity, Firefly, and Dr. Horrible) will have the most success with collective ownership buy-in model.
It would seem these dual successes would lead to a revolution in the way projects get funded. But with the prescription of needing a dedicated fanbase before reaching out for money, those who would dive in new to the scene should not expect such fantastic success. As Dan Ryan (co-founder and CEO of ByteLight) found and describes in his article for Xconomy, it also takes certain types of projects to predict success. He found out the hard way through trying to work through Kickstarter that, "The fund-first-deliver-later model doesn't work as well for technology as it does for creative projects." That being said, the Packers can promise to work hard as a team but of course cannot promise success to their shareholders and funders.
Creative types should rejoice in this success and try to learn from it to use it to their advantage. Others should see how their ideas or projects could fit into and work with a collective ownership model as there is power in numbers. Collective ownership of a team, movie, and even social movements can prove to be powerful in funding capabilities and in creating social change. When everyone has a stake (even if mostly symbolic) in the success of a project, they will work harder to spread the word, get others involved, and promote the project however they can. It's a lesson worth remembering when you're working towards a seemingly impossible goal like $2 million in donations.
Congratulations to the Veronica Mars team in their success! Their project is still open to those who wish to support it, visit their Kickstarter page to become a backer. If you've got a hankering to buy a share of the Packers, you might have to wait a while but keep an eye out on their website!