Kickstarter.com is a cool new web site that provides “a funding platform for artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, inventors, bloggers, explorers…” Think of it as DonorsChoose for creative types: artists post descriptions of projects they would like to do; visitors pledge donations to support them. The artists might offer any sort of reward they can think of as an incentive to donors. Donors might get updates about the project, say, or dinner with the author, or have their name incorporated into the book. Right now, the site is by invitation only. Not everyone can sign up to flog their project.
But think about the implications for writers. If donors provide the writer’s advance, the upfront payment that supports him while he writes the book; and digital platforms like Amazon/Kindle provide the writer direct access to a free, paperless publishing platform, then what exactly will be left for publishing houses to do in the digital publishing space? Editing? Book design? Publicity?
I am not one of the doomsayers who believe publishing houses will vanish anytime soon, but here is another example of how the web undermines the traditional business model publishers have lived by for over a century. First computers came along and converted text to digital format. Then the web came along and provided a super-efficient platform for the distribution of digital data — free, instant, global — making everyone a “publisher.” Now come the nimble competitors who see and fill the newly opened niches faster than the lumbering old beasts can react.
At the moment, Kickstarter doesn’t look like a giant-killer. But neither did Craigslist, once. The web enables all sorts of disruptive ideas whose significance is hard to perceive at first (Twitter, Boxee). Who knows where this one will lead?