In a recent post, I wrote about how Kickstarter might represent the beginning of an important new economic paradigm. Rather than selling a product directly, Kickstarter projects sell a promise to create a product in the future.
This is important because in a digitally abundant economy, monetizing individual copies can be difficult. As I explained:
“Once you release a product digitally, the genie is out of the bottle. You can’t control the sea of inevitable copies. You can still monetize the product after the fact, but not using traditional coercive means. You can only provide people a convenient way to support you and hope they will do so.
“So another strategy is to time shift the digital sale to before the product release. This is essentially what Kickstarter does. The creator has a promising idea in his head that the fans want. The creator then ransoms the idea, saying “If you want to see this idea come to fruition, you will need to pay up.”
So essentially when you fund a Kickstarter you are buying the existence of something that wouldn’t otherwise exist. On top of that you are buying karma, a good feeling that comes from supporting something or someone that you care about.
But a new site called Kickstumbler raises a third consideration:
“At some point, Kickstarter became more than just a way to fund art, music and other creative endeavors. It became entertaining content in itself. A new website called KickStumbler plays up the entertainment value of Kickstarter projects by applying a StumbleUpon concept to them. Users can hit a button on the site’s toolbar in order to see a new random project.” (link)
The idea of Kickstarter campaigns as entertainment has several interesting economic implications. For one, if enough people are interested in browsing Kickstarter campaigns, these people represent a monetizable audience who can be sold to advertisers. Second, and perhaps more importantly, members of this audience may very well turn from passive browsers into Kickstarter “shoppers.” Kickstarter could in some senses become a virtual store that helps you find projects worth paying for.
Put another way: Let’s say as a consumer you have some extra time and money to spend. By using a service like Kickstumbler you get essentially three products in one:
- Entertainment, in the form of project stories and campaign videos
- Opportunities to bring about the existence of a new product by purchasing a promise to create
- Opportunities to feel good about yourself by buying karma
Keep in mind that Kickstarter is just a particular brand. The same sorts of services could just as easily be provided by any number of other companies. What is interesting here is the business model. As technology marches forward, it is increasingly clear that our future economy cannot and will not be based upon either routine labor, or the discrete sale of mass market products. Kickstarter is an example of what looks like a reasonably future-proof ecosystem. One cannot easily imagine a robot formulating a compelling Kickstarter campaign. In many ways the requirement of humanness is baked into the system itself. Moreover, Kickstarter cannot be undermined by piracy or digital abundance for the reasons mentioned above. You cannot copy a product that doesn’t exist yet.
In my critique of the book Race Against the Machine, I challenged the authors on their idea that “new platforms” will create new economic opportunities for ordinary people. I felt that their listed examples—Mechanical Turk, Taskrabbit, eBay, Threadless—did not seem likely to offer a way out of our present and future unemployment concerns. However, I did not rule out the possibility that such platforms could exist.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Kickstarter or something similar is necessarily the answer we need, it is certainly a fairly compelling example of a platform that is both resistant to automation, and potentially inclusive of a wide swath of people.