Author: Elliot Page
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Tezuka Kickstarters - A Ravenous Blight?
This is an opinion piece (a rant, honestly) and the views expressed here are those of the author and not UK Anime Network.
A few days ago I received twin e-mails imploring me to assist with the currently-ongoing Kickstarter to publish the Osamu Tezuka manga Wonder 3, organised by Digital Manga Publishing. As I watched the campaign launch into a social media frenzy, one that has managed to have fallen on deaf (or at least desensitised) ears, this kicked off a series of frustrated thoughts. I am here to proclaim my position: Tezuka manga Kickstarters, in their current form at least, are a ravenous blight and must be stopped.
This is a strong claim, and so demands clarification: I am not against manga Kickstarters. I am not against Tezuka manga Kickstarters. I am not against Digital Manga Publishing running Kickstarters. What I am roundly sick of is the current unceasing treadmill of Tezuka Kickstarters (ten to date) and how DMP have run them.
The current campaign, Wonder 3, was in dire straights when I started to write this piece and it has now become the the first crowdfunding failure for a single title that the company has experienced, and the second failure after the almost-inconceivably ambitious Tezuka World Release Kickstarter of late 2014.
This is well trodden ground, and people far smarter than I (friend and fellow podcaster Eeper wrote a piece here, and Twitter supremo Mike Toole has also been vocal on this matter) have pointed out the flaws in both DMP’s individual Kickstarters and their overall strategy in the past. The discussion on social media regarding DMP's Kickstarter campaigns has started up once again with this recent failure, and I feel it is important to state my issues here.
First of all, and most obviously, the campaigns themselves are comically badly organised, being at the least confusing and at worst appearing mildly fraudulent if you view the ineptitude as intentionally misleading possible supporters. The reasons are manyfold; meandering copy in the Kickstarter description, confusing reward tiers, too many reward tiers, a lack of reward tiers that offer supporters the focus of the funding campaign, high international shipping costs, bizarre or niche physical extras that bulk out reward tiers, stretch goals that are baked into the main campaign, a lack of transparency for how the funds will be used, poor communication while the campaign is ongoing, and other smaller complaints besides.
A key issue is that it is difficult to get something you want out of these campaigns. This admittedly sounds mercenary, but I believe it should not require the use of multiple paragraphs of text and a pledge tier/rewards matrix to try and figure out how to donate enough and in the right box to get the books that the campaign is intending to bring to life.
The recently concluded Wonder 3 Kickstarter was a great current example of this. Wonder 3 is made up of three volumes - to get these books digitally you have to kick in $38 minimum. If you want the physical books, it gets a little tricky - for $25 you get Volume 1; for $49 you get volume 1 and “a volume of your choice” (which is an absurd half step); to get all 3 volumes physically you have to pledge $70. Oh, but these tiers don’t include digital versions, so if you want those as well you need to pledge at the $95 level. Again, all of these do not include international shipping. It really shouldn’t be this confusing and downright frustrating to figure out how to get the books that are the entire raison d’etre of the crowdfunding campaign. Wonder 3 also had the additional issue, and one that did not go un-scrutinised, that the campaign goal was much higher for this title than previous Kickstarters, both overall and on a per-book basis. With the number of backers for the last 3 campaigns having remained approximately static (~600 backers) a gulf in funding begins to emerge, one that Wonder 3 has fallen into.
These issues are present at the launch of each Kickstarter, and are only exacerbated as it carries on - complexity skyrockets when stretch goals are added, and the addition of more pledge tiers and rewards as the campaign progresses and/or enters the last fraction of the crowdfunding period, taking these already existing issues to exasperating levels. By the it finished the Wonder 3 Kickstarter had 20 reward tiers available, many of which are towards the higher end of the spectrum, possibly aimed at encouraging existing backers to increase their pledge with additional rewards. Also available are manually handled add-ons to tack on to existing or new pledges, the prices of which are roughly in line with going prices on e-manga (digital) or akadot (physical - both part of Digital Manga, Inc). These addons in particular feel like a grab for money to be attached to the Kickstarter total itself to help it over the line so that the campaign actually pays out for the organisers.
Projects also often have the weird sting in the tail of never-ending stretch goals. This gives the campaigns an exhausting, predatory edge that makes them never feel “over”. The Triton of the Sea campaign, one of DMP's earlier efforts, was a horrorshow of feature creep and confusion with additional stretch goals being interwoven into the original campaign, adding on additional pledge tiers of increasing complexity to encompass the ballooning scope of the project. The Ludwig B kickstarter, the first one to go live after the Tezuka World Release debacle, seemed to show that DMP had kicked this habit but sadly they are back to their old tricks with the Wonder 3 campaign, having tacked on an additional title (The Film Lives On) from the very outset, pushing an additional burden onto backers before they even recieve the initial goal.
Another issue, and one that is more harmful on an accumulating basis, is that the campaigns don’t stop coming. By the time one has finished its funding period another is rumbling into view over the horizon, and the overlap between campaigns is almost comical. Those who have kicked in for the last three DMP Tezuka Kickstarters (Alabaster, Clockwork Apple and Storm Fairy) are still waiting for their rewards to pay out, if the public project updates are accurate. If you are hitting the same target audience again and again then surely patience or money is going to run out at some time? In some of these cases, these campaigns have undergone significant changes in delivery date and scope of product in the post-funding period. This is not unusual in crowdfunding, but it can feel gross to backers when they are still waiting for a campaign to come to fruition when they are asked to back again in a new drive. Using existing project updates to signal boost new projects is something that DMP has done multiple times. While also not new in the world of crowdfunding, when you are still waiting for your project rewards to pay out and are asked to support again it can be unnerving. “If I don’t support them again, will I miss out on my previous pledged items?” is a question that can easily be asked when presented with this behavior.