This year’s kickstarter fundraising campaign for Krita was more nerve-wracking than the previous two editions. Although we ended up 135% funded, we were almost afraid we wouldn’t make it, around the middle. Maybe only the release of Krita 3.0 turned the campaign around. Here’s my chaotic and off-the-cuff analysis of this campaign.
We were ambitious this year and once again decided upon two big goals: text and vector, because we felt both are real pain points in Krita that really need to be addressed. I think now that we probably should have made both into super-stretch goals one level above the 10,000 euro Python stretch goal and let our community decide.
Then we could have made the base level one stretch goal of 15,000 euros, and we’d have been “funded” on the second day and made the Kickstarter expectation that a succesful campaign is funded immediately. Then we could have opened the paypal pledges really early into the campaign and advertise the option properly.
We also hadn’t thought through some stretch goals in sufficient depth, so sometimes we weren’t totally sure ourselves what we’re offering people. This contrasts with last year, where the stretch goals were precisely defined. (But during development became gold-plated — a 1500 stretch goal should be two weeks of work, which sometimes became four or six weeks.)
We did have a good story, though, which is the central part of any fundraiser. Without a good story that can be summarized in one sentence, you’ll get nowhere. And text and vector have been painful for our users for years now, so that part was fine.
We’re also really well-oiled when it comes to preparation: Irina, me and Wolthera sat together for a couple of weekends to first select the goals, then figure out the reward levels and possible rewards, and then to write the story and other text. We have lists of people to approach, lists of things that need to be written in time to have them translated into Russian and Japanese — that’s all pretty well oiled.
Not that our list of rewards was perfect, so we had to do some in-campaign additions, and we made at least one mistake: we added a 25 euro level when the existing 25 euros rewards had sold out. But the existing rewards re-used overstock from last year, and for the new level we have to have new goodies made. And that means our cost for those rewards is higher than we thought. Not high enough that those 25 euros pledges don’t help towards development, but it’s still a mistake.
Our video was very good this year: about half of the plays were watched to the end, which is an amazing score!
Kickstarter is becoming a tired formula
Already after two days, people were saying on the various social media sites that we wouldn’t make it. The impression with Kickstarter these days is that if you’re not 100% funded in one or two days, you’re a failure. Kickstarter has also become that site where you go for games, gadgets and gags.
We also noticed less engagement: fewer messages and comments on the kickstarter site itself. That could have been a function of a less attractive campaign, of course.
That Kickstarter still hasn’t got a deal with Paypal is incredible. And Kickstarter’s campaign tools are unbelievably primitive: from story editor to update editor (both share the same wysiwyg editor which is stupidly limited, and you can only edit updates for 30 minutes) to the survey tools, which don’t allow copy and paste between reward levels or any free text except in the intro. Basically, Kickstarter isn’t spending any money on its platform any more, and it shows.
It is next to impossible to get news coverage for a fundraising campaign
You’d think that “independent free software project funds full-time development through community, not commercial, support” would make a great story, especially when the funding is a success and the results are visible for everyone. You’d think that especially the free software oriented media would be interested in a story like this. But, with some exceptions, no.
Last year, I was told by a journalist reporting on free and open source software that there are too many fundraising campaigns to cover. He didn’t want to drown his readers in them, and it would be unethical to ignore some and cover others.
But are there so many fundraisers for free software? I don’t know, since none get into the news. I know about a few, mostly in the graphics software category — synfig, blender, Jehan’s campaign for Zemarmot, the campaign by the Software Freedom Conversancy, KDE’s Randa campaign. But that’s really just a handful.
I think that the free and open source news media are doing their readers a disservice by not covering campaigns like ours; and they are doing the ecosystem a disservice. Healthy, independent projects that provide software in important categories, like Krita, are essential for free software to prosper.
Without the release, we might not have made it. But doing a Kickstarter is exhausting: it’s only a month, but feels like two or three. Doing a release and a Kickstarter is double exhausting. We did raise Krita’s profile and userbase to a whole other level, though! (Which also translates into a flood of bug reports, and bugzilla basically has become unmanageable for us: we need more triagers and testers, badly!)
Right now, I’d like to take a few days off, and Dmitry smartly is taking a few days off, but there’s still so much on my backlog that it’s not going to happen.
I also had a day job for three days a week during the campaign, during which I wasn’t available for social media work or promo, and I really felt that to be a problem. But I need that job to fund my own work on Krita…
Kickstarter lets one know where the backers are coming from. Kickstarter itself is a source of backers: about 4500 euros came from Kickstarter itself. Next up is Reddit with 3000 euros, twitter with 1700, facebook 1400, krita.org 1000 and blendernation with 900. After that, the long tail starts. So, in the absence of news coverage, social media is really important and the Blender community is once again proven to be much bigger than most people in the free software community realize.
The campaign was a success, and the result pretty much the right size, I think. If we had double the result, we would have had to find another freelancer to work on Krita full-time. I’m not sure we’re ready for that yet. We’ve also innovated this year, by deciding to offer artists in our communities commissions to create art for the rewards. That’s something we’ll be setting in motion soon.
Another innovation is that we decided to produce an art book with work by Krita artists. Calls for submissions will go out soon! That book will also go into the shop, and it’s kind of an exercise for the other thing we want to do this year: publish a proper Pepper and Carrot book.
If sales from books will help fund development further, we might skip one year of Kickstarter-like fund raising, in the hope that a new platform will spring up that will offer a fresh way of doing fund raising.