Amanda Palmer: When Good Things go Bad

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Amanda Palmer 2012 (photo from article on Digital Trends)

Singer/Songwriter Amanda Palmer’s main claim to fame may be her marriage to author Neil Gaiman. But, she was also half of the cult music group The Dresden Dolls. Yet, Palmer is probably most famous, or infamous, to those who know about, and possibly participated in, her Kickstarter campaign. Labeled by many as a hypocrite and the most evil person on the Internet (Clover, 2012), Palmer has created a controversy about whether musicians deserve to get paid for their work.

In April of 2012, Palmer launched her Kickstarter, here’s her promotional video for the campaign:

(*Warning there is adult content in the video, so watch at your own discretion.)

The campaign was for what she called “help to launch her new album” with a new band called “Grand Theft Orchestra.” Palmer had just left her label and had decided to go independent with a new band, but she needed funding. She claimed going independent cost her a lot. She even asked for musicians to join her new band. If you go to Palmer’s Kickstarter Campaign on the Kickstarter website, she promises all kinds of gifts and rewards, including a special book written by her husband and a colleague if people donated.   She even advertised for “professional-ish” musicians to join her band, she needed string instruments and more orchestra-based musicians. She would buy them food, beer, and offered them other sundries, but… she couldn’t pay them. Her reason behind not being able to pay them was that Palmer spent all of her funding on producing her album, as well as the fact that she needed money for things like airfare, mailing costs, and all her personal debt, and so she couldn’t afford to pay anyone (Clover, 2012).

Chicago-based musician Steve Albini was infuriated by Palmer’s request. In an article written by Michael Nelson on the music website “StereoGum,” Nelson shares what Albini told Palmer – Albini called her an “idiot” for thinking that she could ask for professional musicians to work for free. Palmer did not respond directly to Albini, but she did give the New York Times a statement by saying, “To me it seems absurd. If my fans are happy and my audience is happy and the musicians on stage are happy, where’s the problem” (2012)?

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Cover Poster on Palmer’s personal website

Palmer didn’t realize that there was a problem and only saw this as a win/win for herself and her fans, which tends to be the case with many of the promoters of fan-based types of crowdfunding campaigns. According to Graeme McMillan, a writer for Digital Trends, an online tech magazine, Palmer managed to take advantage of her online fan-base by having them fund all of her own work and also decided it was not wrong to ask musicians to play for free (2012). The irony was that Palmer thought it would be a privilege for local musicians to come and play with her for free, and in so doing, she saw herself as a benefactor to musicians because she was offering them more musical experience. Palmer was able to make 1.2 million dollars on her Kickstarter, yet she couldn’t seem to pay the musicians she invited to come and play with her.

Certainly this led to a huge backlash for musicians who are paid for their services and how crowdsourcing/funding may need to be regulated. Yet again we get into the conundrum of fan agency and labor. Supposedly no one was twisting Palmer’s followers to pay or play; they did this of their own free will, and this is the excuse that Palmer gave readily. Something that McMillan points out is that the fan agency idea is a cop out; professional musicians who were asked to come and play with Palmer are just that, professionals, and they should be compensated for their labor.

Palmer did eventually send out a rather passive/aggressive retraction stating:

I’m sad to realize that our creative intentions of crowd-sourcing – something that I’ve done for years, and which has always been an in-house collaboration between the musicians and the fans, never a matter of public debate or attack – are getting lost in the noise of this controversy (McMillan, 2012, p. 1).

Palmer also went on to add that she would be paying her musicians after all, but by then it was too late; she had musicians angry with her. There are still many of her critics that are outraged and find her words insincere and disappointing. Many people no longer believe her, and because of this, she’s lost a lot of fans.

This incident of Palmer’s opens up the issue of outsourcing to people who will work for less because it just makes them happy to do it (remember the affect theory), but it is an issue between what fans are willing to do and the labor they provide. I believe McMillan says it best when he mentions fan labor in his article in The New Yorker:

Ideally, you don’t even know you are working at all. You think you are keeping up with friends, or networking, or saving the world, or jamming with the band. And you are. But you are also laboring for someone else’s benefit without getting paid. And this, it turns out, was exactly Amanda Palmer’s hustle (McMillan, 2012).

**Update: March 16, 2015. Amanda Palmer is crowdfunding again, this time on a crowdfunding site called “Patreon.” It’s a site where artists can go and receive funds from patrons to continue to create their artwork. Her Patreon campaign is a bit different from her Kickstarter, she wants to produce art now. The video in her campaign is similar to the one up above, and she has a rather long diatribe as to why she’s an artist and why you should support her and her art. She started the campaign. As of March 26, 2015 she’s got 3925 patrons, earned $29,139.25 and has produced only one “thing,” a single for her new album, but the single is not quite ready yet, so the thing isn’t quite a thing yet.

 

References:

Clover, J. (2012). Amanda Palmer’s Accidental Experiment with Real Communism Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/amanda-palmers-accidental-experiment-with-real-communism

McMillan, G. (2012). Kickstarter Queen Amanda Palmer, Meet Your Internet Backlash.
Retrieved from http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/kickstarter-queen-amanda-palmer-meet-your-internet-backlash/

Nelson, M. (2012). Where’s the Beef? Steve Albini: Amanda Palmer Is An Idiot. Retrieved from http://www.stereogum.com/1151562/steve-albini-amanda-palmer-is-an-idiot/franchises/wheres-the-beef/

Crowdsourcing: A Brief History

Journalist who coined the phrase "Crowdsourcing"
Jeff Howe

As I mentioned in the introduction, in 2005 journalist Jeff Howe coined the phrase “crowdsourcing.” Howe, along with his editor from WIRED Magazine, Mark Robinson, realized that businesses were soliciting on the Internet and outsourcing work to different individuals. Howe and Robinson came to the conclusion that those businesses were outsourcing to the crowd online, hence the new “crowdsourcing” platform (Wikipedia.com, 2015).

In the 2000s, crowdfunding is about gaining capital more so than gaining or sharing knowledge. In February of 2008, Daren Brabham, PhD, one of the first academics who published a scholarly report on crowdsourcing, stated that it was an “online, distributed problem-solving and production model” (Wikipedia, 2015, p. 1). Brabham also wrote a book called Crowdsourcing (2013), and he shares that crowdsourcing is the collective intelligence of online communities for a specific purpose set by the organization seeking the crowdsourcing (Brabham, 2013). I like what Brabham says about collective intelligence, which reminds me of what historian Pierre Levy shares in his book Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace (1999). Levy mentions the new knowledge space (in this case the Internet) and how it is created by a collective intelligence, or rather a group of people sharing and interacting within a technological arena (Levy, 1999). Levy believes that with this knowledge space, the collective of the people will continue to help those involved to grow intellectually and socially. I’m not sure Levy had crowdsourcing in mind when he pursued his theory of collective intelligence, but crowdsourcing does share several commonalities to Levy’s knowledge space.

So how does crowdfunding work?

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 12.32.11 PMBelieve it or not, crowdfunding is not anything new. The Jerry Lewis Telethon broadcasted on television in the 1960s clear through the 1990s, but crowdfunding has been at work even longer than that. As far back as the 1700s there were models of crowdfunding. Many companies of the time held contests for prizes to obtain information or services for a product. For example, in 1714 the British government tried to find a way to measure a ship’s longitude. The government was at a loss as to how to do this and decided to hold a contest offering 20,000 British pounds to the winner who could solve this problem and create a method of accurate measurements (Wikipedia, 2015). Companies, non-profit groups, and the government have all used a crowdfunding model.

Here’s a great video that explains in better detail just how crowdsourcing works and it’s history.

Currently there are four types of crowdfunding models. In Gary Spirer’s book, Crowdfunding the Next Big Thing (2014), he explains the different types:

1. Strictly donate your money. With this model the donator donates with no regard for reward, only the satisfaction of sharing and offering help.

2. Donate it for some reward. In this case, there is a reward basis for donating and the rewards can be simple to extravagant.

3. Donate it for an advance purchase of a product. This is similar to the reward-based funding, but this is more for those wanting to offer donations for a product. For example, if one wanted the new Apple watch, one would offer their donations, and Apple would allow the new donator an early release and delivery of the product to that person. The idea is to receive products or services before the general populace.

4. Or, soon, buy part ownership in the company to which you give money (called equity-based crowdfunding, still being defined by the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC)
(Spirer, 2014, p. 2).
Note: Equity-based crowdfunding has begun since the date of this publication.

The market for crowdfunding is an undeniable trend that will continue to grow as new platforms are developed and others are expanded. Spirer goes on to say that there is a risk for every kind of investment and a return on investment could be detrimental. He continues by saying that following the crowd can lead to losses (Spirer, 2014). I know Spirer means capital losses but I believe the fans lose more than that at times, and I will discuss this in more detail.  As Spirer says in his book, we need to be cautious and aware before investing. I hope we can remember that issue when we are investing our money into a crowdfunding campaign.

 

References:

Brabham, D. (2013). “Crowdsourcing.” MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. Retrieved from  http://site.ebrary.com.libproxy.utdallas.edu/lib/utdallas/reader.action?docI D=10692208

Levy, P. (1997). “Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace.” Persius Books, Cambridge Mass.

Wikipedia.com (2015). “Crowdsourcing.” Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing

Crowdfunding and Fandom: An Introduction Part I

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Jerry Lewis Telethon 70s logo

As a young girl I remember staying up late to watch the celebrities come out and perform on the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon (Lewis, 1973) on television. Every year Mr. Lewis took two days on a national television station, and all their affiliated stations, to air this telethon to earn money for a debilitating disease known as Muscular Dystrophy. I was fascinated with the idea of those big Hollywood stars of the time like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and John Wayne coming out to perform and answer phone calls just to collect money for “Jerry’s Kids.” I would watch as each star was introduced and led by Jerry to go and sit down at a table full of phones and wait by those phones for someone to call and pledge their money for the cause. I loved John Wayne and really thought I’d get to talk to him if I called in. I was young, only 11 at the time, and very impressionable. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t get to talk to John Wayne. I called in to the local number they had on the screen, and instead of Mr. Wayne, a volunteer operator took my call and my donation. I was a bit deflated, but it was for a good cause, so I was okay with it.

Actor/Comedian Jerry Lewis was collecting donations around the country for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and using the airwaves of television.  He used his celebrity status to send his message across the nation for funding purposes (Lewis, J., 1973). ). As I have gotten older, I have come to realize that this was a version of crowdfunding.

Television is not the only medium for such charitable organizations. Currently, people, namely fans, are giving their hard-earned dollars and, often, their time willingly to entertainment crowdfunding campaigns online on websites such as Kickstarter.com. From those early telethon days, we have come into the 21st century where crowdfunding for the film industry has been growing in popularity over the years and has been helped by the growing fan base for certain types of film, music, and television projects. While film and television are not the only industries seeking an audience with its fans, they are the most prominent.

A good example of this is the 2004 television series, Veronica Mars (Thomas, 2004), which aired on the UPN/CW network from 2004 to 2007. In 2013 the cancelled series was going through a facelift and a new home on the big screen (imdb.com, 2014). The creator, Rob Thomas, wanted the network to help him turn the show into a movie, but the network didn’t think it had the viewership to become successful at the box office, so they passed. The fans wanted a movie, and at their urging, Thomas started a Kickstarter campaign to see if he could get the project off the ground. Because of the fans, the Kickstarter campaign was the most successful yet for the site. The campaign earned 2 million dollars (Thomas’ original goal) within the first 12 hours. The most interesting aspect of the campaign was the fact that it was completely funded by fans. The final tally for the movie campaign was 5.7 million, and it became the first big successful campaign for Kickstarter (McMillan, 2013).

The fans for Veronica Mars were singular in their determination and surprised the network and Rob Thomas with their loyal following. Surely, the movie’s success was a fluke? With this case, I realized something important – were all the entertainment and fan-based campaigns that successful and if so…why? I have been trying for a while now to understand this kind of fan loyalty. I want to know why fans give. Many campaigns have come and gone since Veronica Mars. My research blog will focus on the entertainment-based crowdfunding campaigns, and how they possibly fool the fans into helping them promote their campaigns. I plan on sharing several case studies on fan labor, agency, and exploitation, including more details on the Veronica Mars movie. I will also show how the hierarchy of fandom and the devotion of those fans plays a part in why fans give of their time and money and how crowdfunding has created a new and more tangible way in which fans can contribute.

 

 

References:

Lewis, J. (Producer), & Lewis, J. (Director). (1973, September 2). The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon (Television Broadcast) Las Vegas, NV. American Broadcasting Company.

McMillan, G., (2013). Veronica Mars KickStarter Breaks Records, Raises Over $2M in 12 Hours. WIRED. (13, March 12). Retrieved November 26, 2014, from   http://www.wired.com/2013/03/veronica-mars-kickstarter-record/

Thomas, R. (Producer). (2004). Veronica Mars (Television Series). Hollywood, CA:United Paramount Network/Central Broadcasting Service and Warner Brothers

Veronica Mars (TV Series 2004-2007) – Trivia. IMDb. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412253/

Wikipedia.com (2015). “Crowdsourcing.” Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing