Which one if either? A Kickstarter trilemma

Regular readers (if such an animal exists) will know that I’ve been enthusiastic about two research projects, both related to public libraries, either of which involves money issues and either of which could potentially be funded via Kickstarter.

[There's also The Librarian's Guide to Micropublishing, which could leader to speaking invitations, and Open Access: What You Need to Know Now. And, for that matter, Successful Social Networking in Public Libraries, which will emerge from ALA Editions later this year. That last is directly related to the first of these two projects.]

There are still other possible routes through which I could get enough funding to maintain some level of research (and keep my hand in librarianship, including attending at least one conference a year most years), but there’s no real progress on those routes.

So I’m at a decision point of sorts–a trilemma: Do I try for a Kickstarter project on the first project, the second project or neither?

Here’s how I see the situation right now. Your advice & suggestions are very much invited. You might find this post to be useful overall background, although it preceded the preliminary example of the second project.

Update, Tuesday, June 19, 2012: Given the new American Libraries Summer 2012 Digital Supplement, “Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2011-2012,” and given responses to this post to date (none), I now believe that Project One is off the table. The study doesn’t cover quite as many libraries, and I’m not sure I believe the 70%-social-networking figure (that represents enormous growth in the past eight months, or maybe the other 12 states have 100% participation to balance the just slightly over half of libraries in 38 sates), but I just can’t see people contributing to an expensive survey that slightly extends a freebie. The 38-state study formed the basis of what I believe will be a good book; barring miracles, I’ll leave it like that. So the question really is:

Is it plausible to attempt a Kickstarter project for #2, or isn’t it?

Silence constitutes a perfectly reasonable answer: It isn’t.

Project One: Social Networking Survey

Background: Primarily this prospectus, with additional notes here and here.

Short version: The first year of a possible ongoing external survey of all public libraries in the U.S. (systems and standalone, not branches) and their social networking activity, specifically looking at Facebook, Twitter and Google+, including (for the first year) changes over time for libraries in 38 states. Also, as part of the first-year project, gathering “library mottoes” that appear on library websites toward a little “A library is…” book.

Size: The Kickstarter project would need to be for $18,000 to make sense, given the overhead of Kickstarter itself and the incentives needed; the idea would be to net $15,000.

Results: A booklength study of the results, plus an available spreadsheet. The spreadsheet would be CC 0 (it’s data in any case, even though it springs from hundreds of hours of labor); the PDF of the book would be free or nominally priced, while the print version (or EPUB version if done) would be priced so as to yield some revenue for a second year’s study. Also, the “A library is…” book.

Incentives: Probably a free PDF version of “A library is…” for sub-$100 levels, probably a print version for $250, a signed print version (or a hardcover version) for $500, and a signed print version and $500 discount on a future speaking engagement (if desired) for $1,000 or more. Alternatively, print versions of the study itself could be offered.

Pluses: The output would carry forward and enhance what I believe will be a worthwhile book (based on the 38-state 2011 study); this would be interesting and possibly worthwhile documentation on how (and the extent to which) public libraries are using social networks and how that’s changing over time, which should be useful to public libraries; the “A library is…” would, I think, be charming and fun, although perhaps not deeply meaningful.

Minuses: It’s a huge amount of work–data gathering alone would involve several hundred hours of the kind of work you can’t keep doing without lots of breaks. And, frankly, it’s never been clear how many public libraries are interested in studies of change over time or of having actual objective evidence of their use of social networks.

Project Two: Give Us a Dollar…

Background: The best background is the preliminary edition of the book itself, Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four. But there’s also a four-part post (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), the fourth part of which suggests an alternate vision for the next time around. (Note: These links do work–the Tuesday one was mangled in Part 3 and Part 4, and those have also been fixed.)

Short version: This study would happen after IMLS releases the 2010 public library database. I’d massage the data, creating a benefit ratio and several derivative measures, and prepare a book-length study that should allow libraries to help prepare their cases for better funding (or at least to avoid funding cuts), by showing that they’re good stewards of public funds, how they compare with “similar” libraries and where they could provide even better value through added funding.

Size: If I used Kickstarter, it would be to create an ebook (yes, I’d get it into EPUB format) that was available at nominal prices (the least Lulu would allow for distribution purposes, and free as a PDF from Lulu itself) and a print book (priced to yield about $1.50 net per copy). I’d say $8,500: Basically, a dollar for each library fully included in the study (assuming that about 700 libraries fall out in 2010 as they did in 2009). Note that this price includes my promise to email data lines for libraries on request; I don’t want to mount the whole database because I’m not interested in making it easy to do invidious comparisons.

Incentives: Not clear. If the $8,500 is to free the ebook, then what do I send people that doesn’t wind up chewing up the revenue?

Pluses: I think most public libraries could benefit from this, and for several thousand libraries, it’s a better deal than paying for a consultant or priced library data services. Also, since I’ve already done some of the prep work, it’s not an enormous project–maybe 50 to 100 hours of data analysis and a couple hundred hours to put the book in proper shape. Plus, to be sure, five minutes for each library that asks for a data line…

Minuses: I’m not sure that public libraries are interested. After an initial six sales of the preliminary edition on the first day, there have been exactly zero since, even though the price was as low as $24 for a while–and two open calls to request free PDF review copies have, to date, received exactly one request. If 10% of American public libraries thought this was worthwhile, no Kickstarter or other funding would be required. If 1% (90) were interested enough to try the preliminary edition and provide feedback, I’d probably proceed in any case (if the feedback says I should). On the other hand, if less than 0.1% are interested, well, there’s really no point. Oh, and I’m really not sure what to offer as incentives (other than thank-you notes).

Third Option: Neither

When I was thinking about Kickstarter for the first project, I was also reading Jason Scott’s notes about successful use of Kickstarter, including the absolutely mandatory nature of the “optional” video. That bothered me a little, ’cause I’m not a visual artist or videographer. Sure, I have the minimal equipment (my notebook has a camera and microphone), but…

Then, as I was ramping up to make a decision, I was pointed to this post on “How to Run a Successful Kickstarter Campaign.” Which sets the bar even higher than Scott did–and which seems to be pretty sensible.

Since I’ve been dealing with “four factors” a lot this past week (writing Part 2 of a Fair Use roundup, which will make up most of the July 2012 Cites & Insights), I’m tempted to look at each factor and see where I stand.

  1. Back Other Projects Before You Launch. Fail. I haven’t.
  2. Three Things One: Only a very small portion of your network will back your project on Kickstarter. The author says not to think like “if only half of those who read my blog each month contribute…” and I’ve pretty much learned that already. If only 10% of those who apparently read Cites & Insights kicked in $25 a year, I’d already have enough funding to attend one conference a year; as it is, I don’t have enough this year to cover my domain charges and hosting fees (which total less than $200). And while Walt at Random seems to have between 700 and 1200 readers, I’m not sure that it actually has more than a few dozen. Realistically, the FF LSW community is the closest thing I have to a large network, and that’s only about 700 people. This has always been a questionable aspect for me of Kickstarter–while thousands of library people “know my name,” they’re not really a network. (They’ve already done more for me than I could have ever expected, for which I’ll always be grateful.)
  3. Three Things Two: People will tell you that your idea is stuipid or that you are the wrong person to bring the idea to life. That’s already happened, more or less, with the second project–but most feedback, such as it’s been, has been positive. So I think I’m OK on that one.
  4. Three Things Three: [Paraphrased: Will I do it whether Kickstarter succeeds or not?] A good question. I don’t have a great answer, although for Project One the answer’s pretty clearly “without some form of backing, it’s way too much of a time sink.”
  5. Make a kickass Kickstarter video. Fail, big time. If that’s the rule, and Scott also seems to suggest this, then I’m dead before I begin.
  6. Money, Money, Money, Money. (You need to read the original post–but that’s true anyway!) Not sure what to say here.
  7. Rewards Matter and They Take Time and Money to Fulfill. Understood, and more of an issue for Project Two. In my mind, the biggest Kickstarter funding to date was really a whole bunch of people paying for $100 watches in advance. I don’t have such enticing rewards. Not sure about this one.
  8. Give People a Reason to Trust You. Within the library community, I believe I win on this one–if my reputation for honesty & transparency isn’t clear, it’s too late.
  9. If You Build It They Won’t Just Come. This basically says to me that I need to be an extroverted social network champion to have a chance at this. That’s a big problem.

There are three more discussions, but I’ve probably let this run on too long as is. I see one reasonable win (#8), a couple of big hurdles (#9, #5, #2, maybe #1), and…well…I’m not sure.

Advice? Feedback? Right now, the third option seems most plausible, but maybe I’m overreacting. Not that I would ever do that, of course…



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