3 Thoughts About Improving The Kickstarter Experience After 2 Successful Projects

Earlier this week Kickstarter sent out a survey asking project creators like us what we liked and what we would improve about the entire crowdsourcing process. It was a fairly extensive set of questions, and it was clear that there are certain areas that their staff are focused on (particularly offering an integrated shipping option, and being able to raise funds in USD across the board no matter where the project creator is located), in addition to wanting general feedback about aspects of the entire Kickstarter ecosystem.

It’s been a few days since I filled it out, and it’s still tumbling around in my brain and causing me to ponder several things about the Code 45 Kickstarter experience. Although I was asked to provide details to flesh out my answers on more than one occasion, the survey itself was mostly done in a multiple choice / ‘rate these answers’ style, which meant I couldn’t offer direct feedback as much as I would have liked.

If I could take it again, with a clean slate, here’s what I would tell them are three of the things that we found the most challenging about crowd-funding the Code 45 comic.

1. Reward Tiers Can Get Really Complicated, And They Aren’t Flexible

One of the common questions we regularly heard from backers this past year was whether they could pledge for more than one rewards tier. A good example of this was during our first campaign when we offered a sticker-and-pin tier separately from the Code 45 book itself. Many people wanted to both buy the book AND add extra stickers and pins to their order, but the way Kickstarter is set up, it’s single tier-only.

The Kickstarter survey touched on this by asking us if we were interested in having an ‘add-ons’ process during check-out, where supporters could add items to their pledge after having selected their initial tier. It wasn’t clear how this would work – if this meant we would group certain items to be selectable individually like a shopping cart, or if it simply meant adding a second rewards tier – but it seems like it could be a step in the right direction if there was a way to explain it beforehand.

Personally, I think it’s much easier to just allow multiple pledges per supporter. In our second Code 45 Kickstarter we split things along two lines: one set of rewards for people who had already purchased Issue 1, and a second set for those who were buying Issue 1 for the first time alongside the current issue. Doing this meant creating double the rewards tiers, which were identical aside from the number of issues being pledged for. This was not a problem from a technical standpoint, but having such a long list of rewards tiers that are essentially the same feels more complicated and confusing for supporters than simply saying ‘Pick an issue, pick a print, pick a pin, and we’ll send them all to you.’

2. The Lines Of Communication Between Backers And Creators Could Be Improved

I love creating project updates. They’re a fun way to keep people in the loop about what’s happening with our book, and it’s great when people respond to them and we get a conversation going about Code 45.

Most of the rest of Kickstarter’s communications system, however, is not that easy to use. This is especially true with Backer Surveys, which are a total mystery to us after they are sent out. They don’t show up in the Messages section for either us or any of our supporters, existing only as a one-and-done email.

We have had many people who regularly get our updates tell us that they never saw  their back surveys, which is truly puzzling. Since we’re unable to do any kind of technical diagnosis on our side, we’re left in a frustrating position: we can’t help our backers find the surveys that were already sent, and we can’t re-send them once they’re out in the world.

I would love a ‘re-send’ or ‘reminder’ button for the Backer Surveys so I could help all of the people who have reached out to say that theirs never arrived.

3. Kickstarter Takes A Cut Of Shipping, And Really Shouldn’t, But I Don’t See How They Could Fix This

Shipping costs are one of the most difficult things to calculate for us when creating a campaign. The reality is, in Canada the costs can vary wildly, even within the same province. The same book that costs $10 to mail within the city of Montreal can cost 50% more to ship another 20 miles outside of the city. Likewise, shipping across the country can have the same effect, if not more, in terms of increasing postal charges, in some cases costing more to send a book to western or eastern provinces than sending one to Australia or Russia. In the U.S., fortunately, costs are more uniform and easier to plan for.

Kickstarter does not offer a system to charge more of less based on what part of the country we are shipping to. We have to choose a single rate for an entire country, which means we take a loss on a number of the packages we ship out. This wouldn’t be so bad if Kickstarter didn’t take a cut of all of the postage we collect from our backers as part of their overall fee structure.

In some ways, I get it. If Kickstarter’s fee only applied to the amount pledged for a rewards tier, and not the postage, then some creators could theoretically charge $1 for a reward and $50 for postage to game the system. It would also make it difficult for those who wanted to include postage in their rewards pricing.

Still, in a world where we’ve been trained to pay nothing for postage by major retail corporations who can absorb those costs, it’s a real challenge to come up with a shipping rate that is both affordable and realistic in terms of breaking even. Sending a percentage of that rate to Kickstarter compounds that challenge.

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