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Inside My Kickstarter Project

by Brian Dunning

December 8, 2013

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Donate As promised to my backers, here is the final accounting for the Kickstarter project to launch my new book, Skeptoid 5: Massacres, Monsters, and Miracles.

The most notable thing about the campaign is that pledges ended up being double the amount I'd hoped for. Let's see how that affected the accounting for everything:

Pledges,"$7,250","$14,959","Yay! I doubled my pledges, but feared the double amount of work." Rightfully so!
Amazon Payments fee,$290,$570,Amazon Payments (mandated by Kickstarter) takes ~4%.
Kickstarter fee,$363,$730,Kickstarter takes ~5%.
Shrinkage,$507 (7%),$355 (2%),"People whose credit cards did not go through, or who otherwise flaked on their pledges."
Totals funds received,"$6,091","$13,303",
eBook Conversion,$700,"$1,080",The final charge was inexplicably higher than the estimate I was given.
Illustrations,$200,$250,Mitsuko did such a great job that I overpaid her.
Number of books,250,540,Double the pledges = double the books.
Proof copies,-,$91,I failed to account for this.
Book printing,"$1,340","$2,681",Double the books = double the printing.
Sales tax,-,$214,I failed to account for this.
Shipping the printed books to me,$175,$219,More books = more shipping.
Packaging materials,$125,$238,More books = more boxes.
Shipping,"$1,250","$3,491","Fully half of the books went to international addresses, incurring postage of up to $60/box. I had figured it was going to be largely domestic. This was really hard to know in advance, and unfortunately my estimate erred in the wrong direction."
Total costs,"$3,790","$8,264",
Net profit,"$2,301","$5,039",
Hours,80,180,"I way underestimated this. The indexing took longer, the packing, shipping, customs forms, post office, and just plain managing everything all took much longer than I expected."
Hourly rate,$28.76,$27.99,"All in all, it ended up being very close!"

There were a number of calls from people saying "Hey, you doubled your numbers, you should write two books instead of one." But the table above does not show one gigantic expense: The actual writing of the book's 50 chapters represented an entire year of full-time research, which had already been done, and was paid for by Skeptoid's regular donors. Quite obviously, from the bottom line shown above, spending an extra year and writing a second book, then doubling all the expenses, would not have been possible. [Think of a car dealership doubling their sales in one month; should they throw in a second model of car for each sale?]

On Kickstarter, such additional gifts offered for a project achieving milestones beyond what was asked for are called stretch goals. Kickstarter discourages stretch goals, because coming up with and providing additional gifts not initially budgeted for make it harder for the campaigner to fulfill the original obligations made to backers. When my backers started calling for stretch goals, because they thought I was swimming in so much extra loot, I began to feel a bit distressed. Rightfully so, as I finally learned.

So my final advice, based on this first crowdfunding project, is to be extremely conservative estimating your costs, and use a spreadsheet as I did. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. And do not offer stretch goals unless you can provide them at no significant cost of time or money: they're bad for the project's viability, and thus bad for your backers.

by Brian Dunning

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