Kickstarter vs NEA with Real Numbers

Kickstarter by the Numbers

Yancey posted a response to my post about the NEA and Kickstarter, and in it he states my numbers are inaccurate.

First: they’re not inaccurate for what it says they’re representing. The design category does represent the largest portion of the top ten highly funded projects on That’s what it says in the article. It does not mention that it’s representative of the corpus of Kickstarter as a whole. The reason? Well, at the time that was what I thought was the best way of making the calculation as I don’t have access to all the data. But that’s wordsmithing – though I was clear on what the methodology was, it’s now clear they weren’t accurate. I knew they weren’t going to be precise. They’re based on a model that wasn’t great because I didn’t have all the data.

Yancey has the data though, of course. And here’s what he’s got to share: Kickstarter has disbursed 93.3 million dollars to “core arts projects” since April of 2009 – over the course of 3 years. Here’s what Yancey’s data says:

In the comments of the last post, Yancey stated that 70% of Kickstarter’s disbursements happened last year. So from that we can estimate that 2011, Kickstarter disbursed 65.5 Million to core arts funding. Less than half of the NEA’s budget. The point of my original post stands: it’s not close. While my numbers were wildly off, so was comparing Kickstarter’s arts funding to the NEA’s.

Also: while Yancey’s data is clearly more accurate than mine, I wonder if it is representative. I asked Yancey several times to provide YTD data for this year, and to date he’s only provided data from 2009. How have the percentages changed over time? In the past 3 months, Kickstarter has seen a surge of new interest in designed products for people to buy.

Things like the Elevation Dock for 1.5 Million dollars or the Hidden Radio & Bluetooth Speaker are not only new – they represent people purchasing an item before the item’s being released. They’re new. Recent. This year. And if 70% of Kickstarter’s funding came through in the last 12 months, how did the categories change in those last 12 months. March 2012 Kickstarter is a different Kickstarter than even June 2011 Kickstarter.

The site’s more popular. It’s had an influx of media mentions, popularity, and cash contributions. As it has explosive growth, is it safe to assume people’s interests changed? My bet is yes. And my bet is, as it continues to grow, more people will be interested in getting a great new dock for their iPhone than they are funding an awesome sock-puppet performance of Into the Woods (which was quite good, by the way).

That’s the point: these things are not the same, and that things change. The NEA’s job is to fund things that might not be popular, but are still worthwhile for our culture. Kickstarter’s job is to make it easier for creators – whether they be entrepreneurs, product designers or artists – to raise money from “crowds” in order to make things that are interesting. The NEA’s job isn’t generally to take “what’s popular” into account. When it comes to art, they’re both useful. And completely different. All you have to do is take a look at the Most Funded Kickstarter Projects and compare it to the NEA’s Grants and you can see it.

Finally – if you don’t see yourself as a replacement for the NEA, why even make the conclusion in the first place? Why not say you’re on track to dole out more money than, say, the Knight News Challenge or something less politically charged than the NEA.

sidenote: There’s other interesting things in Yancey’s numbers to share. We can, for instance, see where unsuccessful projects are happening, or at least where the largest gap between what people are pledging, and what kickstarter is disbursing is. I wonder what’s up with Games?

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