Penny Arcade Asks Kickstarter Users for $250,000 to Go Ad-Free
You can thank crowdfunding site Kickstarter for many things: Helping the creation and publication of an all-female anthology, say, or allowing your favorite creator to self-publish a print collection of their webcomics for the first time. That's what Kickstarter is there for, after all; to help new ideas deal with the financial realities that might, otherwise, prevent them from existing. So what is the already-existent, already-successful Penny Arcade doing asking for $250,000 on the site?The answer is, apparently, getting back to its roots.
"It is at its core a return to the concept we had eleven years ago," co-creator Mike Krahulik explained on the Penny Arcade site. "I don't want you to get the idea that Penny Arcade is any kind of trouble. Honestly if this Kickstarter doesn't work nothing here will change. The reality is that we can continue working for advertisers but if we can, we'd rather work for you."
What Krahulik and Jerry Holkins are offering in return for their quarter of a million dollar goal is a year of Penny Arcade without advertisements. It's an idea that offers more than just not having to deal with banner ads, they explain on their Kickstarter page:
Not only would you no longer have to look at advertising when browsing Penny Arcade, but not having ads would create a chain reaction that would lead to a bunch of other interesting stuff. Without the almighty "pageview" to consider, why not populate the RSS with full comics and posts? Why not enable and even encourage apps, first and third party, for people to read it however they damn well please?
It sounds like an interesting experiment, in theory, but there's a lot about the execution that's troubling many people, not least of which being the amount of money being asked for. Not only does $250,000 seem like a lot of money to operate Penny Arcade for a year -- although, as they admit, it's not a two-person operation anymore; the Penny Arcade empire includes podcasts, games, apps fro mobile devices, conventions and even a charity -- it's also not all they're theoretically asking for. According to the legend on the Kickstarter, it'll actually take $525,000 to remove all ads on the site, and $999,999 before we end with "All of Penny Arcade, ad free." The FAQ on the site states that the money will be used to replace ad revenue that paid for "rent, wages, health insurance, utilities, all the normal stuff that you pay for when you have fourteen souls working together. That money keeps the lights on while we do the things people expect from us: thrice weekly content drops, two annual shows, the scholarships, Child's Play, etc."
Another sticking point for some observers is that Penny Arcade is already a successful business; it doesn't need Kickstarter to survive, and in fact, this use of the service would seem to in direct contradiction of the Kickstarter TOS that state that "Kickstarter is not a place for soliciting donations to causes, charity projects, or general business expenses." When asked about that seeming conflict by Kotaku, Penny Arcade business manager Robert Khoo said that, having checked with Kickstarter before launching the campaign, "What it came down to was to pretend that no Penny Arcade existed, and what you were doing [by paying into the Kickstarter] was paying for a new comic strip for one year. The only difference is that we were coming from the flip side of that coin. Projects like this are already on the service, so we really didn't see this deviating from that." Well, aside from the fact that, as an existing business that offers more than comic strip and has an inbuilt fan base already, it's actually very different from that example, of course.
We shouldn't be surprised by this, of course; Top Cow, another successful business, has also turned to Kickstarter to crowdfund a project it could, in theory pay for through advertising and few people batted an eyelid; Boom! Studios has also used the service to fund publications. What Penny Arcade is doing may seem outrageous at first glance -- especially coming from the people behind this comic -- but it's really just another step in what is the strange evolution of Kickstarter from outsider fund source to co-opted publisher alternative revenue stream.