The Problems with Kickstarter: My Thoughts on Brandon Sanderson’s Record-Breaking Kickstarter Campaign

On March 1, 2022, fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Sanderson released a video called “It’s Time to Come Clean”.

In the video, Sanderson said that he secretly wrote four novels over the past two years. He announced his plans to release those novels to his fans through the crowd fundraising platform Kickstarter and his company Dragonsteel Entertainment.

If you pledge $40 USD or more to Sanderson’s project, you will get all four of his secret books in eBook form. One eBook will be delivered in every quarter of 2023. If you pledge $500 USD or more, you’ll get quarterly eBooks, quarterly audiobooks, quarterly exclusive hardcovers, and eight swag boxes. And there are all sorts of tiers and rewards in between.

Lots of people are interested in Sanderson’s rewards, so much so that in one day only, the campaign raised $15 million. It’s on its way to becoming one of the most funded projects ever on the site. As I’m writing this post, over $18 million USD (from a goal of $1 million USD) has been raised with 71,000 backers. And the project has 28 days to go!

For Sanderson, this project has been a huge success. As a well-known and respected author, I am confident that he will be able to deliver on his promises, with the backers receiving what they were promised.

However, if more authors start releasing their books on Kickstarter, I think they and readers should be aware of some of Kickstarter’s problems before committing to using the platform. I think the downsides of Kickstarter have been glossed over in the discussion about whether Sanderson’s campaign could be a game-changer for other authors.

Scams and Kickstarter’s lack of accountability

There are a lot of Kickstarter projects where creators haven’t delivered the rewards promised to backers in a timely fashion – or they haven’t delivered them at all.

Image from Skarp Technologies’ Facebook page

Take the example of the Skarp Laser Razor. Skarp Technologies raised over $4 million USD for the “first ever razor, powered by a laser” before the project’s funding was suspended by Kickstarter. There’s a problem: this product doesn’t exist. It’s 2022 and the Skarp Laser Razor still isn’t a thing! It might not ever exist. As noted in this 2015 article by Eric Limer, Kickstarter cancelled the project and refunded all the backers.

The people who backed Skarp Laser Razor were lucky to get refunds. Others, not so much.

Many of the people who backed the Coolest Cooler, one of Kickstarter’s most funded projects, never got what was promised to them.

Picture from the Coolest Cooler Kickstarter

This project raised over $13 million USD for a portable party cooler. However, as described in a 2019 article by Kurt Schlosser, over 20,000 backers did not get their rewards after five years of waiting. The company behind Coolest Coolers settled with the Oregon Department of Justice over many consumer complaints, with the agreement giving some compensation to some backers who never got anything. But Kickstarter never refunded them.

Kickstarter actually notes that they “do not issue refunds”. Or, to be more precise, it usually doesn’t issue refunds even in the case of scam projects. While the creator is responsible for completing the project, Kickstarter does not enforce this. Kickstarter states that it isn’t responsible for creators that don’t complete their projects

Like I wrote earlier, I think Sanderson will follow through with his project and his backers won’t be disappointed because of how well-known and respected he is. As far as I know, there haven’t been any problems with him and his business practises.

But in the unlikely case that things go horribly wrong, the tens of thousands of people that backed his project aren’t really protected by Kickstarter, as demonstrated by the two cases I discussed.

Kickstarter and the blockchain

In December 2021, Kickstarter announced it was going to move its project to the blockchain. Oh boy. The blockchain is a doozy to define, but Wikipedia describes it as “a decentralized, distributed, and oftentimes public, digital ledger consisting of records called blocks that is used to record transactions across many computers so that any involved block cannot be altered retroactively, without the alteration of all subsequent blocks.” You might have heard this word before in relation to cryptocurrency and NFTs.

Kickstarter went back on this plan recently after a lot of backlash, but only kind of. They’re still moving forward on integrating blockchain into their website, just with a lot of consultation. To me, this is a sign that they aren’t really listening to the creators and backers who use their platform.

This Mashable article by Jack Morse, this article from The Verge by Jay Peters, and this article from Dicebreaker by Chase Carter all provide information on what went down if you’re interested. In short, there are some serious problems with moving to blockchain from the environmental to the ethical and beyond. What does Kickstarter need blockchain for anyways?

I know many people are not interested in buying products from, or supporting companies involved in blockchain technology, so this is also something to be aware of.

All this is to say, if you’re considering backing a Kickstarter project, be careful.

Do your research on the project and consider whether you’d be okay with losing the money you put into the project should it fall through. Know the risks that come with backing something on Kickstarter. It doesn’t hurt to be more aware of Kickstarters’ business plans regarding blockchain either.

Sanderson’s Kickstarter will probably work out fine and many readers will be happy, but that’s not true for every project on the site.

I think it’s important to note Kickstarters’ problems before the book community gets too excited about how game-changing Sanderson’s campaign could be. I hope that potential authors who are thinking about doing a similar Kickstarter campaign will think deeply about the risks before proceeding. And it’s something for us as backers to keep in mind before we pledge our money to creators on Kickstarter.

Personally, I am concerned about the lack of accountability on Kickstarter and their blockchain policy (which was a big motivation for writing this discussion post). I think it’s great that people have Kickstarter as an option to raise money for their projects, but I won’t be backing them.

Have you ever used Kickstarter before? Do you think it’s something other authors should explore?

5 thoughts on “The Problems with Kickstarter: My Thoughts on Brandon Sanderson’s Record-Breaking Kickstarter Campaign

    • Mint March 7, 2022 / 9:24 pm

      I just don’t see the need for books and blockchain to go together. I don’t see the need for blockchain for most things, to be honest.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Celeste L March 7, 2022 / 9:11 pm

    Ok, so I admit I haven’t watched his video, nor have I read any of his books. But I understand he’s a well-known writer. Why is he using Kickstarter for this? Does he get more profits this way? More freedom to publish what he wants? I’m kind of confused by all of this, but again, I haven’t made much of an effort to understand what’s going on because I have a large TBR to get through.
    -A Literary Escape

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mint March 7, 2022 / 9:26 pm

      Honestly, I don’t know. That was one of the questions I had too. I’d think he’d make more money if he made his own website to sell this product because Kickstarter takes a fee from all transactions – that way, he would avoid that fee. But maybe they’re better at organizing certain logistical information? Because of how well-known he is, I’m sure he’d have the ability to choose other platforms.

      Liked by 1 person

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