Kickstarter Project Doomed

Despite a lot of support—130 people promised $9435—my Kickstarter project is obviously going to be a bust. There are 50 hours to go, and the rate of pledges has simply seized up.

So what went wrong? It’s anybody’s guess. Among some of the conjectures I’ve heard are:

The economy is shitty. Kickstarter is oversaturated. Without being highlighted on the site’s front page, it languished. Certainly there was zero support from the blogosphere, which no doubt considered this idea too radical for them. My fans are tapped out by my auctions, computer fundraiser and previous (Afghanistan) Kickstarter.

Who knows.

This is bittersweet for me. It’s great to know that so many people are able and willing to help support what I do. My readers are the coolest, smartest, sanest people around. So generous, it’s amazing!

But I despair for the future. Political websites and leftie blogs have refused to hire cartoonists or writers, or pay outrageously low rates that are impossible to live on. Print media is firing, not hiring. The only thing left is direct support from the public—and if that doesn’t work, well…

now what?

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About Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.

8 thoughts on “Kickstarter Project Doomed

  1. Ted,

    When I look at all the posts at DailyKos, RawStory, HuffPost, etc., I come away with what I call the Watergate Effect. News that causes seismic change (e.g., the resignation of a president) requires deep pockets for two reasons: one, you need to research the story, and that means you need to be allowed to follow it free from the normal constraints of the workflow; and, two, you need to be able to show that you have the backing of someone with deep pockets because the simplest way to win a case (or block a story) is to simply force the other person to spend themselves into bankruptcy or make it so expensive that they have to abandon the effort in the first place.

    If I were a dictator, I would, infinitely, prefer 10,000 individual bloggers to 10 organizations with 1,000 people in each one, because most of those 10,000 bloggers, I could shut up with almost no effort at all: a letter, a visit from the police, a notice from Child Protective Services, whatever. But with an organization, I’m screwed; I can’t threaten the New York Times’ children.

    DailyKos, RawStory, HuffPost, etc., don’t do the kind of stories that make change happen. No. They don’t. Sure, an Internet site can run with something like Anthony Weiner and his naughty pictures of himself, but that story wasn’t the result of dozens of FOIA requests, dozens of interviews, and hundreds of hours of labor. Yes, Internet sites excel at cutting out the summations of all the work (aggregating or stealing, depending on which side of the paycheck you find yourself) done by others, but at actually generating real, in-depth, long-form journalism requiring skill and experience (sorry, as required for an Internet piece, I must now mispel a word because editors aren’t necessary), the Internet is the difference between “lightning bug” and “lightning.”

    I mention all that because that’s where you find yourself now, Ted. The good stuff costs. We’ve all becomed so conditioned to everything being free, we don’t accept Robert Heinlein’s concept of TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). Sites like Kickstarter are simply not going to support journalism because, as you mentioned, the effort didn’t get to the front page. But also because real journalism can’t be piecemeal. “Hi everyone. Yeah, well, I really think I’m onto something, but I’m going to need to pore over records at the courthouse and city hall for about the next four months. Now, that’s gonna cost, and it might not amount to anything, but I’m going to need about $15,000 because I need to get about $600 a week, and I’ll also need enough to cover my health insurance. And there will be expenses, so throw in a few thou extra, call it $18,000. And I might have something really big in about six months.” How many times can you be wrong, or be zealous in your watchdog responsibilities before you end up starved out of the field?

    The Internet has allowed everyone onto the bus, so to speak. The rich, the poor, the homeless guy who stinks to high heaven and who is screaming at his reflection in the window for the whole eight-hour trip, that woman who is yelling into her cell phone for an hour at a time, etc. It is, absolutely, going to be the death of journalism. What survives will be a few colonies, tucked into enclaves, and the delusional will point to the 30 people left making a living at journalism and say, “See? The Internet didn’t kill journalism.”

  2. Ouch… My only thought, would be, is it possible for you and a number of other more controversial reporters/writers/cartoonists to band together and create your own electronic publication? Goodness knows I and many others would subscribe. Strength in numbers, it might attract more of the populous who isn’t too absorbed in and comforted by corporate media propaganda to create enough finantial support for all of you when being independent wouldn’t.

    Beyond that you can tighten free access to your work. Obviously if there aren’t enough free things available new people will stop visiting, which would be very very bad. But that aside, could you put more things behind the Ted Rall subscription service, for instance what about the cartoon, animation, and other archive access?

    Maybe only allow subscribers and blog contributors to post comments on the blog? Obviously this would cut into the free expression around here I know, but if you gotta pay the bills you gotta pay the bills, and if you are indeed reading most peoples comments I suppose you could consider it them paying you for reading/analyzing their thoughts. Goodness knows if you charged per word you would make a killing. I for one probably couldn’t afford to post here anymore.

    One absolutely free thing you can do with little effort and no overhaul of your business model is to get your blog behind CloudFlare (you only need their free service, the other services they provide would be overkill for what you need and I would estimate, wouldn’t give you more benefits then their free service but would cost you money monthly). CloudFlare: https://www.cloudflare.com/ Why this might help: about half of your ≈100,000 visits per month (I don’t know your exact hits, so I used a bunch of external means to do a rough calculation of your net traffic) are simply web crawlers/bots/spiders and related mechanized web surfers predominantly which are maleware. CloudFlare will strip out a large % of these leaving far more interested human visitors, and it will also cash your website’s resources both of which together should speed up your access time quite noticeably. The rule of thumb on the web is if your website doesn’t load within 4 seconds, new people won’t wait for it to show up. I have loaded the Rall blog a number of times where it has taken much much longer then that (including occasionally refusing to load at all, which is outright poison for a business on the net). At least part of this delay with your blog’s loading is wading through all the traffic of the spam bots and their mechanized relatives banging at the gates of your website.

    Similarly you have VERY LITTLE linkage to your blog. You have a number of nice links out to related sites on that side bar there on the right, but there are few in. When I was using various tools to try and estimate your net traffic I was shocked to find that none of them could even find any links to your blog or things you are selling. Obviously such links do exist, I have found some manually, but they are so few and far between that the tools designed to locate them can’t seem to find them, that is fatally poisonous for any web based business. It is a bit across the board too. You link out to rude pundit, he doesn’t link back to you. You link out to Stephanie McMillan, she doesn’t link back to you (though she did create a link and a blog post for your kick start campaign, which is important). I only checked a handful of your out links for reciprocal linking, but among that handful only Matt Bors links back. Think of hyperlinks on the net being like blood vessels in a body, any organ that doesn’t have a sufficient number of them going into it will wither and die from lack of nutrition.

    My little investigation suggests that you need some more vessels badly. For instance, one can get this blog to pop up on Goolge by searching for “Rall” or related but that is reflective only of direct searches which are done mostly by people who already are familiar with your blog and other work. But due to the lack of incoming links, typing in terms like “liberal blog” or related search terms on Google that potentially new customers would be using to find find you, basically produces a results list more or less devoid of anything related to you with any number of hit results that a standard web surfer would be willing to wade through. This is very bad for web business, because it means you are basically invisible to new readership and customers. You are discovered only by word of mouth and when people “pan for gold” on the internet, which people are predominately too lazy to do.

    Obviously getting many many more links from appropriate sites and setting up with Cloudflare’s free service will not make money and mana magically rain from the heavens upon you, but for a small and independent blog like this it may be the difference between life and death, if only barely so. Remember the sad reality in this day and age is that quality and volume of work (two things you are very top notch with) mean nothing to success relative to advertising which is the one skill you may not be so proficient with. You don’t need paid advertising, there is a ton of free stuff that is perhaps better, for instance a key part of advertising on the net is just having more hyperlinks even from some friends’ humble little blogs.

  3. @alex: Goodness this again? Summary: “Damn kids get off my lawn!”

    1) This is about helping Ted think of ways to get sustainable compensation for his hard work. Maybe my suggestions are useless, but at least they were well intended suggestions are topic not some meaningless angry rant about the glories of yesteryear.

    2) Teds voice, unfortunately, is viewed by the main stream corporate mediate as no different from the ranting hobo on the bus you describe. Yes, Ted is not being adequately compensated for all the work he dose via the internet, but in an era without it that had as heavily propaganda focused and power concentrated mass media as today Ted would have no audible voice at all and get no money at all for trying to voice it.

    3) Yes good investigative journalism requires concentration of funds, and Sadly so far in his brave experiment, Ted (and possibly others) has shown that Kickstarter does not, at least currently, seem to be a good way to go about doing this. Is this the problem with modern financing, or is modern net financing fine and this more of an indication of moronic detached society more interested in poorly drawn gaming comics then important socio-economic and political discourage and ideas? I would argue the later, and Ironically, I would argue it is the mass media that you pine for over the last decade or two that has directed American values to devolve that way.

    4) Watergate was no magic of investigative journalism. William Mark Felt, Sr. (Deep Throat) was promised a major director position by Nixon who later reneged. So Felt handed over the jist of some dirt and where to look for the clues to prove it to some useful idiot journalists to facilitate revenge that Felt could get away with.

    5) Given point 4 above, when major institutions fund good investigative journalism, how often do they choose to do so in the public favor? While there are notable exceptions, throughout much of the last century the big media empires have mostly created breaking stories out of smear campaigns designed to indirectly promote their monied special interests (but always try to sell it to the public as doing them a favor by shining the beautiful light of free press’ investigative journalism on the ugly underbelly of society for your benefit.) Yes we need to find a better way to amass money going forward to fund important investigative journalism, but the old way was so targeted that one is forced to wonder if it did more harm then good.

    6) Important stories echo through the bloggosphere just as fast as through the major press, and are starting to do so with just as much impact for those watching even a corner of it. A big story appearing on even one of a thousand disjointed blogs will spread to all of them before the end of the week if it is indeed a big important story. More over large media can more easily coerce us by telling us what is important, this is much harder to due with lots of little disjointed blogs.

    7) The focus of sites like the Huffington post on dumb frivolities is again more of a reflection of them giving the damaged and diseased American culture and mindset exactly what it craves and demands as opposed to dumbbing things down or trying to distract us. See point 3 above for related.

    8) If you were a dictator you would be a lousy one. lots of little disjointed blogs are much harder to manipulate then a few major media institutions. If you have five major corporate medias, you may only have to threaten or bribe 10-20 different executives and high level editors to get all you want. For 1000 blogs to silence all of them you have to threaten or bribe all 1000 of them. Much harder even though each of the bloggers individually may be cheaper and easier to bribe or bully then any one of the high level executives or editors.

  4. Its all about awareness and advertising Ted.

    Using the same tools, the estimated web traffic flow to http://www.giantitp.com (where Rich Burlew runs his little gamer comic shindig) is about 17.5 times higher then rall.com. Well that is not so much you say right? Except the issue is that more then half of web traffic is bots and crawlers of various forms instead of people, but the amount of these automations visiting a given site is nearly constant. Thus giantitp.com probably only has marginally more bot traffic then rall.com.

    Given this relatively constant background level of visiting bots and knowing that the majority of web traffic is bots, it means comparatively smaller traffic web sites like rall.com have traffic predominantly composed of bots, while giantitp.com very significant web traffic is probably mostly human. As such real meaningful human web traffic to giantitp.com is very easily 100 times that of rall.com. Multiply your Kickstart results by 100 and you get ≈ 950 000 which is on the same scale of fund raising as Rich Burlew’s comic book fund raiser.

    Also you have a lot of paranoid people moving through your blog (like me) that brows the web rejecting cookies and feeding false information to inquiring scripts including those scripts that are tabulating visits, just to throw off The Man. As such, I alone might look like over 100 unique visitors each month as far as your web-stats are concerned. Take the estimated 100,000 “visits” you are estimated to get a month (obviously only you and your web-host know the real number), remove about 60% due to bots of various forms (51% is net wide average, but that is total traffic which includes very large sites that have mostly human visitors.), then realize that the actual number of visits is as small as 100 times less then what is registering, then subtract the fact that there is at least one paid troll here (probably more), and big brother is most definitely watching and watching hard, and there may be as little as a few hundred actual human and well wishing unique visitors each month. More realistically you probably have in the same rough range as a one thousand such individuals. Getting 133 people out of 1000 to raise a total of $9590 in a fairly short time is actually a pretty big fund raising achievement given what I would assume is the average economic background of your readership (there is probably the occasional well-wishing 1%er here, but lets be realistic.)

    Back when you were in the NYTimes you had free advertising, because it is impossible not to gain attention when you appear in the “paper of record”. Sadly those days are gone. I only found you because I was looking through the mostly disappointing rubbish in a compendium of American political cartoonists, and hit some of your stuff and though “Wow, this is incredible. I need to see more of this guy’s work.” The sad reality being here that, regardless of the quality of your work, you might not have appeared in that compendium of American political cartoonists if you hadn’t once been in the Times. Thus your slump in business since pre-2001 might be directly proportional to the loss of free advertising and visibility you got from the Times. If you could fill that massive visibility gap the income and fund raising capabilities might get back to Times years like levels as well.

    You work like crazy and do phenomenal stuff but currently you are practically invisible on the internet. Unless a person types something direct like “Rall” into Google (implying they are already aware of you) you simply do not appear to any potential fan who doesn’t set about “panning for gold” to find some hidden internet treasure. You need awareness via some form of advertising, and I don’t think web banners will help you (especially since they cost money). Getting copious hot links to the Rall blog even from little meaningless almost invisible sites are a start, but you need to do something to seriously increase your visibility if you want your business model (and yourself) to be sustainable. Everything else you do is excellent, but ironically if everything else you did were base excrement yet you were two orders of magnitude more visible you probably would be making much more money and have far more support then you do now. As Mike Royoko pointed out in a now famous 1973 op ed, the only reason anyone buys or drinks American beer is because it is sufficiently well advertised (and it is not tolerated anywhere it is not advertised, i.e. outside of America.)

  5. I sent a close friend a link to this blog post and he weighed in, without prompting him he thought it was a visibility issue as well. Here are his words (much shorter then my own).

    “Yeah no one knows his name though he is a fantastic artist, satirist, and brilliant mind. Yes he is controversial, and probably not fit for mainstream outlets, like the comics section in newspapers, but with the internet I would think he could find much more popularity. He is they [sic] type of person that should be on the Daily Show regularly as a guest author, but he needs an agent or something to do it for him.”

    • Thanks, @someone, I agree with you.

      However, there are zero agents in the business of promoting people like me.

      There is quite literally no way for me, or people in the same sector as me, to get the word out.

    • Also, parenthetically, when I do have an official publicist working for me–during the launch of new books–they universally get rejected by The Daily Show, Colbert and Maher.

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