New Developments: NYC Opera Kickstarter fails, company folds

In September, the New York City Opera held a Kickstarter campaign in attempt to partially fund its 2013-14 season with a funding goal of $1 million. The opera is filing for bankruptcy after not meeting is Kickstarter goal or securing the rest of the funding it needed.

The Kickstarter campaign made more than $300,000—a considerable amount for a place-specific campaign, but not enough to gain adequate funding.

City Opera’s performance of Anna Nicole, a recent opera based on the life of Anna Nicole Smith, ended its run on September 28, and it will likely be the opera’s final show.

Sarah Joy Miller portrayed the title character in "Anna Nicole." Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich of The New York Times.
Sarah Joy Miller portrayed the title character in “Anna Nicole.” Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich of The New York Times.

In addition to the difficulty of promoting a campaign for one particular geographic area on a website with international reach, the campaign likely faced other problems inherent in using Kickstarter to fund an organization.

As Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic discusses, Kickstarter has tended to prove more successful for company’s selling tangible products than organizations seeking funding for their operation.

The 50 most successful Kickstarter campaigns (all of which have raised more than $1 million) have all been product-oriented. In these campaigns, backers were given products that could be shipped around the world, rather than admission to an event (some backer levels for the City Opera campaign included admission to performances) or general support for the campaign creators.

The "Veronica Mars" movie project is the overall third-largest Kickstarter campaign and largest outside of the technology, product design and video game categories, raising $5.7 million. Image from The "Veronica Mars" movie project Kickstarter page.
The “Veronica Mars” movie project is the largest campaign outside of the technology, product design and video game categories, and the third-largest overall, raising $5.7 million. Image from The “Veronica Mars” movie project Kickstarter page.

Although Kickstarter has reiterated that it is not a store, the funds-in-return-for-an-eventual-copy nature of its most successful campaigns suggests users are looking at it that way, at least to some extent.

For Kickstarter users outside of New York City, the things offered in return for contributions simply did not have enough appeal to get people to pledge their money to the opera campaign instead of something else.

Desktop wallpapers and downloads of recordings from City Opera ($5 and $15 rewards, respectively) are fine rewards, but they could not bring in donations on their own, the way a final product could.

Another important piece of information is most of the million-dollar campaigns were in the technology, product design or video games categories.

This information suggests the audience for high-dollar Kickstarter campaigns skews toward the crowd of technology enthusiasts.

The problem for an opera company (or other fine arts association) is not that people who like technology do not also like the arts, but that the people most interested in using Kickstarter are not the people who love opera enough to back a campaign for it.

Meyer mentions that Kickstarter might bring a certain hip appeal to a demographic affluent young people—an audience City Opera has had trouble reaching. If an organization could not reach the audience most interested in using Kickstarter, then it would be faced with the difficult task of promoting a crowdfunding campaign to an audience unfamiliar with the concept.

A final important note is that Kickstarter might not be a viable platform for organizations needing improvements. Several commenters on the The Atlantic article said nonprofit campaigns had a harder time promoting a message of needing support or stability than a message of wanting to carry out a program.

More bluntly, people are coming to Kickstarter to fund the development of an upstart and buy what it is selling, not to make pledges that will sustain an organization.

Kickstarter is not a store, but it’s not a charity drive either.

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