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Order of the Kick(starter)
February 21, 2012 10:38 AM   Subscribe

With 14,952 backers pledging a total of $1,254,120.00, the Order of the Stick Reprint Drive has become only the second project in Kickstarter's history to finish with over a million dollars in funding.

The Order of the Stick is a D&D-inspired webcomic that has been published since 2003 by Rich Burlew, and hosted at his site, Giant in the Playground. At various points in the history of the comic, Burlew has published both compendiums of his webcomic and new, original comics in print form. His Kickstarter project began as an effort to raise $57,750.00 so that he could afford to re-print just one of those volumes.

In the end, the project raised 2127% of the original goal, and met 34 secondary goals which will result in effectively the entire OotS catalog being re-printed, along with a plethora of brand new items such as a coloring book, an expansion to the Order of the Stick board game, multiple PDF-only original comics, and more. In all, over 25,000 books were sold as part of the pledge drive.

Closing in on the final days, the Kickstarter Blog sat down to interview Burlew about OoTS, and what it was like having a Kickstarter project take off like his did.
posted by tocts (36 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Other interviews with Burlew:

Comics Alliance (interview by MeFi favorite Chris Sims)
Geekademia (hour-long podcast)
The Washington Post

Burlew's drive was also the focus of a Forbes article.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:41 AM on February 21, 2012


Ahhhhh a link to Order of the Stick! Well there goes my productivity today.
posted by jess at 10:47 AM on February 21, 2012


It's interesting that Kickstarter is turning into a preorder system for traditional forms of media, with the funding goals set so low that it will almost surely get funded.
posted by smackfu at 11:01 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can see why. I have no direct experience whatsoever with D&D, but I find this comic highly amusing.
posted by resurrexit at 11:03 AM on February 21, 2012


It's interesting that Kickstarter is turning into a preorder system for traditional forms of media, with the funding goals set so low that it will almost surely get funded.

That's been the case for more corporate based comic kickstarters, or in this case manga. Digital Manga Publishing used Kickstarter to fund the reprinting of the Tezuka manga "Swallowing the Earth", and the translation and publishing of the manga "Barbara". Certainly more pedestrian totals than Mr. Burlew's, but also proof that smaller projects can also have success.
posted by zabuni at 11:04 AM on February 21, 2012


Super cunning way he tiered so many bonuses, some of them open and some "limited edition". He knew what he was doing and he knew he'd score well above his overly modest target.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:04 AM on February 21, 2012


It's interesting that Kickstarter is turning into a preorder system for traditional forms of media, with the funding goals set so low that it will almost surely get funded.

Interesting because it gives us real data about how much money these media really need in order to exist.

Interesting once creators see that this is a solution to all the angst about piracy and copyright. If you can make the money you need up front, you can forget about DRM and just give your product away for free, let it be advertising for your next Kickstarter.

I'd love to know if the average person would be more or less likely to contribute to a Kickstarter campaign if they knew that everyone else would get the product for free should the campaign meets it's funding goals.
posted by straight at 11:12 AM on February 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm curious, how much of this total does Kickstarter end up with?
posted by Blasdelb at 11:27 AM on February 21, 2012


I believe it's five percent, and Amazon also take a cut for acting as the payment service. When all is said and done Rich still gets more than a million dollars (before relevant taxes), but not the full one-and-a-quarter.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:28 AM on February 21, 2012


Super cunning way he tiered so many bonuses, some of them open and some "limited edition". He knew what he was doing and he knew he'd score well above his overly modest target.

Almost all of those bonuses were added after he hit the first goalpost. Some of them were added in the last half hour of the project (the $4000 pledge level, for example). This went way beyond his, or anyone's, expectations.

He's said that he hemmed and hawed and worked the numbers for months before posting the project. Initially, he wasn't convinced that he'd make the initial $58,000. Never underestimate the power of irrational exuberance in niche markets.

Me, I already had all the books, so I just bought in for the board game expansions ("The Shortening" and "Sticky Shticks") and added on the print, a patch, and a second coloring book, to go with all of the other promo swag. I would have gone for one of the limited sketch rewards, but none of them included The Shortening, which couldn't be included as an add-on, and I didn't want to have to create a second KS account and third Amazon account just to be able to order two packages.

I'm looking forward to seeing what his next KS project will be. He's got the money now that he doesn't really need to use KS again for books, but there were a lot of merch ideas that came up over the last month that wouldn't have been workable in this pledge drive due to shipping concerns (t-shirts, playing cards, dice, resin or metal miniatures, etc.) But KS would be a great outlet for him to gauge interest in some of these more unpredictable bits of merch.

It's also worth noting that he's made out like a bandit on this. None of the books being sold are selling at a discount, and he's been selling in the comic shop trade for years, giving the distributors a 50% discount. And some of the merch items he's selling have huge margins for him -- those $4.00 patches can be had for $0.50 each. Even if his shipping, labour and overhead is another $0.50/patch, that's still a 300% margin.

After the 5% he pays to KS, the 2.9% he pays to Amazon, his domestic shipping costs (which largely come out of his pocket), labour costs (there's no way he can ship 15,000 packages himself), and the cost of production, he's going to make close to $400,000 in profit, pre-tax.

Which is awesome in so many ways.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:30 AM on February 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's interesting that Kickstarter is turning into a preorder system for traditional forms of media

I worked for a novelty tchotcke inventor one summer when I was in college (Remember those frogs that croak when you walk by them? That guy.) and we'd take orders over the phone and then submit to the credit card companies for those orders immediately, and ship the boxes of croaking frogs a week or two later or whenever we received the shipment. Except the credit card companies didn't like us to do that, because we were basically taking someone's money and then using that money to cash flow the operation. The credit card company actually sent the cops to raid the operation one Tuesday morning. We fixed the way we charged people after that, and no one went to jail or anything, but lemme tell you -- that was not a fun day at work. Also weird when my boss offered the cops a bribe -- this was Chicago after all -- and they handcuffed him and put him in the patrol car. Wait a second -- that wasn't weird. That was sort of hilarious.

Amazon doesn't charge until they ship a preorder. Gamestop takes a nominal fee. I guess I paid for that couch last year before it was ever even built, which is the same thing -- but it's all sort of semantics when Kickstarter makes you an 'investor' and you get 'rewards.' Brilliant, really.
posted by incessant at 11:38 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder if any portion of this is stuff he bought himself so he can resell it later? Anyway, interesting use if kickstarter.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:54 AM on February 21, 2012


Except the credit card companies didn't like us to do that, because we were basically taking someone's money and then using that money to cash flow the operation. The credit card company actually sent the cops to raid the operation

I can see why that business model might make the credit card companies nervous, but I'm surprised it's actually illegal.
posted by straight at 11:54 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if any portion of this is stuff he bought himself so he can resell it later? Anyway, interesting use if kickstarter.

I believe that a fair amount of the print runs are actually to be sold to distributors and for future use, so yes, he did.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 11:57 AM on February 21, 2012


I wonder if any portion of this is stuff he bought himself so he can resell it later? Anyway, interesting use if kickstarter.

I'm not sure what sense that would make. The entire purpose of the drive was to fund full print runs of the books above and beyond what was sold as "rewards" to Kickstarter contributors (which means that the $400,000 profit will eventually be more, since much of that will be turned into books that he'll sell either directly through his online storefront or to comics retailers and game shops) - how would that be any different from him just putting his own funds in with the Kickstarter money after the fact?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:57 AM on February 21, 2012


I am just happy that enterprising creative types have new ways of making a living / subsidize their creative output.
Between easily publishable ebooks, all sorts of creative great kickstarter projects, youtube breakout stars making a grand or two each week, indie producers getting tracks on Beatport, bands on bancamp, etc, it's pretty exciting.
I don't know many people that quit their day-job because of it, but the barriers to making these things more sustainable have dropped so quickly in the past 5 years. Exciting.
posted by Theta States at 12:14 PM on February 21, 2012


And of course I missed the deadline by like 10 minutes because of procrastination. Sigh... On the plus side: Huzzah for Rich Burlew!!
posted by Vindaloo at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2012


Theta States: I don't know many people that quit their day-job because of it, but the barriers to making these things more sustainable have dropped so quickly in the past 5 years. Exciting.

I don't even try to track webtrends, so most of my exposure is from MetaFilter and a few places for music, so it's interesting to see what takes off enough to get posted to MetaFilter. This one is huge - the Forbes article on this OotS KS success noted that with 23 hours to go, Rich Burlew's project had $1,072,528. That's almost $200,000 in less than a day.

Kickstarter (and similar pledge-your-support sites) only work if you have a following, or a story/product to generate news coverage. OotS has a following, and that following has friends, and all those folks have money. I'm not trying to downplay that success, but noting that this is an exception, like Radiohead and Trent Reznor selling their albums for any price you pick.

As for the music scene, Bandcamp is getting big. NPR even had a Top 5 Bandcamp albums segment in December 2011, including Fela Soul.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:32 PM on February 21, 2012


Order of the Stick Reprint Drive has become only the second project in Kickstarter's history to finish with over a million dollars in funding.


(its actually the third behind the Elevation Dock and Double Fine Adventure (which is now the only $2M project)
posted by bitdamaged at 12:35 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Second to finish, bitdamaged.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 12:43 PM on February 21, 2012


Hope he doesn't forget that a significant chuck of that $1m needs to go to income tax...
posted by PenDevil at 12:49 PM on February 21, 2012


I think that was the part of the drive were he had the "adjusted overhead costs" goal, PenDevil. From the sound of his posts, he had an appointment with an accounting firm or some such and then realized that he needed to fix the numbers. A million plus has hella different tax risks than 57K. But there was enough of the drive that was just extra that he should be okay even if the tax numbers were miscalculated (or the sales tax -- he apparently only realized very late in the game that they needed to add sales tax for some backers.)
posted by tavella at 1:10 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


While it is a much more modest project, R. Stevens* of Diesel Sweeties' Kickstarter is also doing some very interesting things with its rewards (make a vegetarian eat bacon?) and has gone more than 11X its original goal with half a month left.

*MeFi's Own clango
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:21 PM on February 21, 2012


I have no connection to this story, other than being one of the play-testers to the board games (free copy!) and helping out in the warehouse of the principal merchandise distributor during a couple of rush times.

One of the big frustrations that a number of us on the "outside" have had is just how much money Rich has left on the table over the years, because of how conservative he's moved with merchandise projects at times. So it makes be super-happy to see that a) he committed to this project and b) it succeeded at a ridiculous level.
posted by parliboy at 1:28 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Laundering meth money, amirite?

http://www.savewalterwhite.com/
posted by rusty at 2:35 PM on February 21, 2012


There's a lot of euphoria about Kickstarter but both Burlew and and Schafer+Gilbert had a ton of goodwill from their communities. I hope the rising tide lifts Brian Fargo's attempt for a Wasteland sequel.
posted by ersatz at 4:32 PM on February 21, 2012


oh my god BRIAN FARGO IS LAUNCHING A KICKSTARTER TO FUND THE SEQUEL TO WASTELAND

ersatz, today you are my favorite mefite. thank you SO MUCH for this news.
posted by radiosilents at 4:42 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think he went a little overboard with the pledge rewards. Seriously, 64 different options?!
posted by ymgve at 4:48 PM on February 21, 2012


That comes from his aforementioned habit of underestimating how much people want to give him money. When the drive started, he was only planning for one book to get reprinted, so he was only set up for pre-orders on that book. And every time he passed a goal and got near the threshold for another book, he'd add that one, and only that one, to the rewards list, along with a set of combo packs for all the different combinations of books people might want. Then he'd get near another goal, and add that one and another, ever-larger set of combo packs. And Kickstarter doesn't let you go back and edit or remove goals that people have signed up for, even if they've become outdated. The whole thing could have been much more streamlined if he didn't keep assuming the donations were about to plateau out at any given second.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:19 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is great on many levels, but for us it was an opportunity to actually give Rich some money. My partner and I have been reading OOTS for...at least six years, but have never actually bought any merch. So we may have splurged a little, and contributed enough to get three books and the games...

Totally worth it. And I love the opportunities this (and the Double Fine Kickstarter) makes obvious for other artists, game developers, producers, etc.
posted by belissaith at 7:26 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


oh my god BRIAN FARGO IS LAUNCHING A KICKSTARTER TO FUND THE SEQUEL TO WASTELAND

ersatz, today you are my favorite mefite. thank you SO MUCH for this news.

I really, really that Kickstarter takes off. Considering he was involved in the best rpgs of the 90s and had two great franchises in the 80s, it'd be a shame if he didn't succeed. You might be interested in this if you liked his games.
posted by ersatz at 4:29 AM on February 22, 2012


I found the Order of the Stick Kickstarter via one of the deleted Metafilter posts, but researched and contributed to it only after the Double Fine Adventure drive broke my crowdfunding virginity.

I was not previously familiar with the webcomic (nor with any webcomic, except perhaps the ubiquitous Penny Arcade and XKCD), but was intrigued by the mention of continuing storylines. I'm a sucker, you see, for anything serial, and comics are no exception, so after reading perhaps ten or so comics on the website - enough to confirm that the initial reliance on Dungeons & Dragons jokes and references was not grating - I decided to spring for a "The Whole Story" reward package, for $222.
posted by The Confessor at 5:07 AM on February 22, 2012


And another webcomic Kickstarter reaches its original goal in less than one day.

This one may be especially significant because Jon Rosenberg's "Goats" had a deal with a conventional publisher to do a series of books from the serialized/epic/sci-fi/fantasy/comedy/adventure/satirical/talking-animals-and-vegetables comic. After three books of a planned five, the publisher decided it wasn't worth their while, so no more "Goats Saga". Without the book income, Rosenberg put the comic story on Permanent Hiatus and started a gag-a-day comic with a similar sensibility "Scenes from a Multiverse" to better support his family and bad habits (like breathing). Now, encouraged by others' success, Jon has put the planned 4th Book up on Kickstarter and, since it has reached Minimum Funding Level lickety-split, he's not only going to definitely publish #4, he might just finish the Saga and make book #5.

Again, NOT enough demand for a regular publisher, but plenty for an independent creator, even after giving Kickstarter and Amazon Payments a slice of the revenue. THIS DAMN THING WORKS.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:22 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is this why there has been an avalanche of OOTS pages recently?

It is a great pity the Concerned book never met the light of day.
posted by asok at 5:20 AM on February 23, 2012


Yeah, one of the donation milestones involved Rich posting a new comic every day (or as close to every day as possible without losing his digits or sanity).
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:14 AM on February 23, 2012


Who says MAD Magazine is irrelevant? (1) they have a blog and (2) they use that blog for The Least Funded Kickstarter Campaigns Ever.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:30 PM on February 23, 2012


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