I’m currently involved in a discussion on the Empyre mailing list with Tiziana Terranova, Adam Hyde and others. The topic of Kickstarter and simular sites came up, as I’ve been meaning to address these sorts of projects, both for their potential and their limitations, I though I’d repost an excerpt of my response here:
I love Kickstarter and similar sites, like Flattr, Goteo, etc. If you are a cultural worker or free software producer I highly recommend using these, as they are generating a fantastic community of cultural production, which is great to be part of, if you can.
Yet, it’s a very small community. So the vast majority of production can not be funded by these sites. It’s exactly the kind of token or fringe alternatives that we must not mistake as a genuine embodiment of social change, as cool as it is for the few it can support.
Kickstarter, for example, has raised $125 million dollars in it’s history. In total. This seems like a rather impressive sum until you remember that it’s just over half the budget of “Spiderman 2,” which is one movie, and not an especially high-budget one.
Visit the video store and walk down the aisles, imagine that each of the titles you see on the shelf had budgets more similar to Spiderman 2 than to anything funding by Kickstarter. Now imagine the total number of workers employed by the budgets of the movies you see in the video store, compared to the number of workers employed by projects funded by Kickstarter and you can see what I mean.
Does Kickstarter work? Sure! Does it fund amazing projects? Yes! Should you use it? Absolutely! Will it change the way culture is produced? No. It wont. And even imaging it could assumes a massive descaling of cultural employment. Would we even want that?
Now, you might believe that this is merely a temporary situation, that Kickstarter and similar sites can grow and grow until they can reach a similar scale to capital funded culture, but that is not possible. Why? Because “Spiderman 2″ is funded from accumulated capital, while Kickstarter is funded from the retained earnings of workers. This is a rather important difference.
What it means is that the limits of the amounts of funding available for each model are a function of the structure of wealth in society. The total pool of accumulated capital vs the total amount of retained earnings workers are able to consistently divert from consumption. The former is orders of magnitude larger than the later. In fact, the workings of the labour market will tend to push the later towards 0.
For projects like Kickstarter to scale they can not depend on the limited funds workers are able to divert from consumption, and must tap into the real source of accumulation: Surplus Value. In other words, only when money available for Kickstarter investment can be reproduced from the captured profits of the works they fund. To achieve that, Kickstarter would need to become not much different than the industry as it exists today.
Sorry if this breaks your heart. It breaks mine. But as much as I love our hacker and free culture community, let’s not mistake our subculture with a new mode of production, doing so will only make us complacent, content with our lack of complicity in evil proprietary culture, instead of standing with the great majority of cultural producers and consumers and demanding nothing less that the complete transformation of cultural production, which means the abolition of capitalism.
For the rest of this ongoing discussion, see the Empyre archives: