I was browsing KickStarter (as I’m prone to doing lately) looking for interesting things, and I saw the listing for “Penny Arcade Sells Out“. This is rather fascinating, and something I had never thought of. The basic premise is that they want to reduce the advertising and other activities that are purely for financial sustainability, so they can focus on just making content people want.
It’s like taking content back from advertisers. No longer will content be a vehicle for advertising, but rather people will pay to get their content without advertising. Not a wholly new concept, but a new way of applying it to blogs and similar content people want to consume.
It also allows users to actually direct the content in some cases. Penny Arcade, at certain pledge levels, are offering users the chance to have some influence over the content they create. Another recent KickStarter listing by @ChrisCoyier was to screencast the complete re-design of his site, CSS-Tricks. His project was 2,562% funded! Now that’s a resounding “Yes please, we want that content” from his users, and also money that allows him to really go to town making it awesome.
Penny Arcade are asking considerably more initially than Chris, but with 35 days to go, they’re already 60% funded (at the time of writing this post). They’ve made it clear they’re testing to see if this is something that might work dependant on the reaction they get… looks like it’s another resounding yes so far!
@JasonImms, a friend of mine and excellent writer himself, also wrote a blog post about a conversation he had with colleagues. The conversation was on starting a site that would be completely crowd-funded and community-driven, so I wanted to put down some thoughts about this. Read his post first… I’ll wait.
Done? Good, cause some of this won’t make sense unless you read that.
I think a platform for crowd-funded content, also contributed to by the community (in the sense of ideas, direction, and content), is excellent. Clearly this is something a lot of users can get on board with, as indicated by Chris and Penny Arcade’s case studies above. Who wouldn’t want the content they love, without all the advertising and detractors they hate?
The balance, I think, is that the community is given some control and extra emotional buy-in in exchange for their financial buy-in.
Jason’s current approach was suggesting almost complete control to users. The site itself would serve as a neutral platform for publishing content, and the content could be on essentially any topic nominated and voted through by the users. I feel like this has potential to end up too open and thus never going anywhere. There’s no topic to be passionate about. As a contributor, your content could get lost in amongst other completely unrelated content, readers who are there for other content aren’t interested in what you’ve written. Also as a user, the same goes, you can’t guarantee what you find is anything you care to read. This is where I would suggest a different approach, so what follows is my suggestion.
Disclaimer: It’s quite possible the things I’m about to suggest are things Jason already thought of, or intended, but I didn’t read them in his post so wanted to get them down somewhere.
The site, isn’t just one site. The site is actually a network. It may start out as one site, it may start out as two or three, but each site is focussed on a particular broad topic. For the sake of argument, let’s say three topics: Gaming, Comics, Tech Industry. True, I’ve chosen topics where there’s a lot of cross-over, but if the network had a fairly generic name, there’s no reason you couldn’t spin up a new site on any topic.
Having a topic gives each site a purpose. Contributors know what general content is expected, and readers arrive with a specific expectation. There’s also the benefit of organic growth by having a cohesive theme running through the posts on a site: users know they can read and contribute there, the name becomes associated with that content, and the more automated consumers (such as GoogleBots) also have an easier time of it.
At some point, this network would have many sub-sites, and be covering such a wide range of content that it would essentially be that neutral platform for publishing content. But I feel having more focus in the beginning will give it its best chance to get started and grow big enough to handle that.
This whole concept actually really excites me. I think it could be amazing, and from various things I’ve read around the web industry, it’s definitely the direction things are moving.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Feel free to leave a comment here, or over on Allegedly Interesting, as I’ll be keeping tabs there too.
Jason: Aren’t you glad I didn’t leave this big post as a comment on your post? ;)