Crowdfunding: Put your money where your mouth is

Crowdfunding is going off in Australia right now… here’s why I’m supporting New Matilda, and why I’m not funding Youcommnews or Elsewhere… at least not yet.

One of my passions, as a longtime journalist, publishing employee and more recently, a digital media lecturer, is finding new ways to fund writing online. In fact, I spoke at the Sydney Bloggers Festival on this very topic only last week.  This is why I’m so excited to see so many different crowdfunding initiatives being launched or mooted in Australia right now.

The highest profile, and most ambitious of these is New Matilda. Here’s why I’ve chosen to support New Matilda, and why I’m chosing to pass on the other crowdfunded projects on offer – at least for now.

New Matilda has a track record as a web publisher. We have seen their team, led by Editor Marni Cordell, produce New Matilda over the past few years. They’ve (finally) taken the bold and bloody steps of paring down to a skeleton team, and seeking funding for that team. We know what we’re getting. And I’m confident that they”ll deliver what they promise.

They’re also being quite smart – they’ve resumed their email service during this fundraising period. The website is showcasing their new content, as well as prominently promoting the progress of their fundraising activity. They’ve giving their audience something to talk about and share with others, who may in turn become financial supporters. This is crucial.

I believe it was Cory Doctorow (@Doctorow) who tweeted the other day something along the lines of ‘I like your ideas but if you haven’t run a mag before, giving you $100,000 to do it isn’t going to make it work’. Bingo.

Show the proof, show you can do it, start to build an appreciative audience around that, then the money will follow. Not the other way around.

The recently launched Australian version of Spot.us, Youcommnews has a couple of wildly expensive story pitches up there at the moment. Mumbrella points out that while they’ve gotten one story published, overall they seem to be struggling to attract funding. Seems crazy to go out to the public (even the civic-minded, monied public) asking for $9,500 for an investigative piece on forestry policy on the Solomon Islands, when you are are a new and green publication (or community, if they’re styling themselves that way) in the scheme of things. Surely you need to have built up a strong community of readers/funders to ask for that much? I hope that Youcommnews does build up such a community. But in the meantime, hopefully they’ll do a good job of promoting successes with smaller, cheaper articles, to start building a community which trusts them.

If I ever get my life back from the two (no wait, three if we count freelance!) jobs I’m doing at the moment, I’ll be tending to my new baby, the Digital Writers Festival. This will be a crowdcreated, and hopefully crowdfunded event. But it’s going to start as free media. There’s no way I’d *start* building this festival by going out and asking for $40,000 (or whatever it will end up costing). Show the proof, show you can do it, start to build an appreciative audience around that, then the money will follow. Not the other way around. I’ll be curating the Digital Writers Festival blog, and a Digital Writers podcast. This will help build a participating audience, and show people what kind of event we want DWF to become. Then, I think, we’ll have earned some trust as well as some interest. Then, hopefully, financial support will follow.

So, although I would love to read more from Clem Bastow, and suspect she does have a cool creative team working with her, I won’t be signing up to her newly launched Fundbreak application, to set up a print magazine called Elsewhere magazine. Putting aside the fact that I’d rather be paying writers, artists and photographers for their work rather than for printing a paper magazine, I would just like to see some smaller Elsewhere productions first. I don’t even mind if you want to charge me something for it.  Give me a taster first, please. A website? A fundraising evening at the pub a la Cherchez La Femme?

I wish all these initiatives the best of success. If this post offers up even one small idea for how to make this projects more successful, then I’m really glad. And, I’m still looking for one other person to join me in becoming a New Matilda supporter (they emailed me asking me to find two friends to join up, and I took the request seriously). So if you’re of a mind to join up to support New Matilda, please do so. And, if you’re in Melbourne, I’ll cook you dinner as an added incentive. 🙂

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