In May of 2013, an indie publisher, Kansai Club Publishing, set in motion a Kickstarter project to fund the printing of a Tezuka classic, Crater. The critics community was pretty excited. We had seen the successful printing of Tezuka’s Barbara, so we knew it was possible. And Tezuka was the font from which a small, independent publisher could drink deeply. The publishing schedule was ambitious, and people were excited.
I was excited. And I, one of Kickstarter’s evangelists within the manga blogging community, was wrong.
The project hit a few “snags” and had a few revelations that pledgers weren’t expecting; and the initial budget request of $3500 was strange, if not comical. At the time these things seemed quaint, a little odd, but not too concerning. In retrospect, these were serious issues that really needed to be addressed, but never were.
President/Publisher Andrew Nevo threw a few curve balls at us. By miscalculating the cost of shipping to non-US purchasers, by changing the size and quality of the books, and by adding “free” t-shirts to each order, he generated for himself numerous headaches. Kickstarter has always been about creating something, and Kickstarters that succeed have plans for 1) what is going to be offered, 2) how to make the thing, 3) how to ship that thing. By going off script, by winging it with updated bookbinding which increased the weight of the book and prevented the use of previously budgeted shipping, the project almost crashed and burned.
July 5th, 2013. The expected release date for Crater in the USA, at Florida Supercon. August 2013, the expected ship date for books. January 16th, 2014. Today’s date. Still no book. Part of creating a successful Kickstarter is building delays and setbacks into your production schedule. August, a mere two months after completion of the campaign, is certainly not enough time to get a book’s translation approved, to get it print, to get proofs, to approve proofs, to finalize print runs, to print books, to ship books to a warehouse, and to ship books to backers. It just wasn’t enough time, it never was enough time. I think many of us understood that, but I have a feeling that some folks were very disappointed when they didn’t get Tezuka manga in the mail in 2013.
I’ve been a backer for projects that have been delayed. I backed Ryan Andrews’ Nothing Is Forgotten, which was almost a year behind schedule. But Ryan was really cool about updating his backers with information about the cause of delays. Printer issues abounded. He went through multiple companies to get the right quality of book. He had to work with companies in Japan as a foreigner, which may have added to his difficulties. But every time he ran into an issue, he sent out an update. I received 25 updates, and he was always available to talk on Twitter if you had questions.
Kansai, on the other hand, fell into radio silence in October 2013 and JUST updated backers in January 2014. Three months of no communication. The Facebook page and Twitter account which were extremely active during the course of the campaign were abandoned shortly after completion of the project.
Part of what makes Kickstarter work is the connection between creator and backer. If those lines of communication go down, the backer feels isolated. They may gather other backers and start complaining. They might even report a project to Kickstarter. All of this happened with Crater.
What does this mean for future manga publishing projects on Kickstarter? While I know I’m going to be more wary of projects in the future, I think the biggest concern is how Tezuka Pro and other publishing companies will understand the issues associated with this campaign. Fumbles like this will make it substantially more difficult for publishers to bring other books to Kickstarter.
Backers need to be more wary of the people they entrust with their money. Known quantities have published books successfully, such as DMP. But as of now, the new guy should be scrutinized carefully.
The project needs to be outlined, budgeted, and any stretch goals need to be preplanned. Don’t play the game without knowing the rules.
The creator needs to communicate regularly.
And we, as backers, need to understand that Kickstarter isn’t a preorder system. You should only be using money to back projects that you can afford to lose. Projects can fail, even with best intentions. We still haven’t gotten Crater. We still might not.