I just came back from the post office and delivered the last of the Kickstarter rewards for my 2014 Contradance Calendar project. It's a good time to review how it went.
This is the third year that I have published this calendar. It's a showcase of my dance photography, and it has acquired a place in the subculture of contra dance. It is a wall calendar, however, which is an increasingly anachronistic product. It's going to be hard to sustain demand if I keep this up.
The first year I was wildly optimistic about prospects for sales. I had a non profit partner who would help, I hoped, get the product out there, and they were going to share in the profits. It didn't turn out that way, and I lost about $6,000 in the venture. Fortunately, my business had had a good year, and I could absorb the loss.
Devon Leger, a music promoter, gave me the best take on that: "Every band has boxes of their first CD in the basement." The next year I dialed it way back, and used Kickstarter to raise about half the production funds. I barely broke even by the end of the year, though one of my customers, the CDSS bookstore, took a big loss.
This year I raised my Kickstarter ask to cover everything. Quality is a big piece of this project for me, and that's where the money went--high end printing, high-end file conversions, and a low press run. My Kickstarter goal was $11,200, which I just made.
Kickstarter is a ton of work. I've been strategically building up my Facebook presence the last few years, and that was my primary tool to get the word out. I had to become a one-person NPR pledge drive for the duration. I posted daily, minimum. I felt like I had to be super annoying. I leavened it with lots of posts about other stuff, and I had to generate news so that it wasn't all-beg-all-the-time. I had dance photos to share. I linked to cool stuff I found. I released a how-to-take-dance-photos video that I had prepared for the project (in addition, of course, to the pitch video. Which wasn't slick, but it got the point across).
The big takeaway of Kickstarter, and the part I most like about it, is that I am now socially connected and indebted to everyone who supported me. This really is their project, and they valued my skill to produce it enough to pay for it. It represents what my photography of this subculture means to me--I am reflecting back the joy and the community that gives my life such meaning.
So, the budget. After Kickstarter took their share I had $10,400. I spent $450 to promote the project: the bulk of it printing and mailing flyers to a lot of dance organizations, and $100 for Facebook advertising. The calendar production itself cost $8,840. Reward fulfillment cost another $1,500, and took easily 50-60 hours. I printed only 800 calendars. It's not a cheap product.
I'm only $170 in the hole now, and I have nearly 300 calendars left to sell, so I'm actually going to show a little profit this year. It'll let me travel to some places that have been left out of the project up to now, like the South and the Midwest. It's a great relief to have that covered, but I worry about hitting the community with another big Kickstarter ask next year. I'm thinking of making it a subscription product, pitched to the fans I already have, and using Kickstarter to make up the difference. Ideas anyone?