Kickstarter raised almost $120m last year

Company's revenue around $6m

Benjamin Jackson at The Next Web has managed to scrape out some numbers from the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, and estimates the company has raised $119m in successful projects in the last year:

That’s almost three times as much as the amount raised during the company’s first two years. Taking into account Kickstarter’s 5% commission, we can estimate that the company took home just shy of $6m in commission revenue in its third year. And it’s not the only one cashing in: with Amazon’s commission of 2.9% plus 30¢ per transaction, the online retailer pulled at least $3m in fees during the same period.

Adding in the figures from last year, it looks like Kickstarter has helped raise a total of $159M since its inception.

Those figures also exclude any project fully funded but not yet completed – including the Pebble watch, the most successful Kickstarter project to date, which has raised over $6m already and has almost a month until its funding period is over.

Jackson also looks at what we can expect from Kickstarter in the future. It's back-of-a-napkin stuff, but if the company keeps growing at the apparently exponential rate that it is now, it will hit half a billion dollars raised towards the end of next year.

Two questions follow from this: Where now for Kickstarter, and what does this mean for the wider economy?

The number that jumps out at me from the Jackson's analysis is the profit Amazon is making for processing payments. Kickstarter is fairly strongly tied to the retail giant, which runs the only online payment platform that offers the ability to reserve, but not take, a payment. This is crucial for Kickstarter's model, since it relies on being able to guarantee backers that they won't be charged unless a project is successful, while ensuring that when the time comes to ask for the money, people pay up.

It must be sorely tempting to try to drive down Amazon's share of the revenue, but without any potential to switch to an existing competitor, Kickstarter isn't in a position to drive hard bargains. If it had a cash injection, developing its own may become a possibility – but even then, it appears to have higher priorities, like expanding outside of the US (anyone can back a Kickstarter project, but only American citizens can start one).

What about the other way round? Amazon has retail expertise, close ties with the company, and already runs most of its infrastructure (as well as payments, Kickstarter is hosted on Amazon's cloud computing platform). Could Kickstarter be an acquisition target? Maybe, but there is a risk of slaying the golden goose. Amazon already makes millions from Kickstarter for comparatively little effort; unless that money is at risk, Amazon would be well advised to sit back and rake it in.

More broadly, it may seem strange to talk about what a company through which "only" $100m passes annually – a rounding error in the American economy – but that isn't how Congress seems to view it. A key provision in the recent JOBS Act allowed Kickstarter, and companies like it, to give backers not only rewards, but actual equity in the companies they choose to support. The act was subject to a lot a criticism for these measures, including by supporters of the "crowdfunding" model, but even if the implementation was shoddy, there is no doubt that it reflects a broader trend. Soon, we'll all be venture capitalists – and Kickstarter will be the middleman raking in the fees.

The Pebble watch, the highest funded Kickstarter project to date.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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A Fox among the chickens: why chlorinated poultry is about more than what's on your plate

The trade minister thinks we're obsessed with chicken, but it's emblematic of bigger Brexit challenges.

What do EU nationals and chlorinated chickens have in common? Both have involuntarily been co-opted as bargaining chips in Britain’s exit from the European Union. And while their chances of being welcomed across our borders rely on vastly different factors, both are currently being dangled over the heads of those charged with negotiating a Brexit deal.

So how is it that hundreds of thousands of pimpled, plucked carcasses are the more attractive option? More so than a Polish national looking to work hard, pay their taxes and enjoy a life in Britain while contributing to the domestic economy?

Put simply, let the chickens cross the Atlantic, and get a better trade deal with the US – a country currently "led" by a protectionist president who has pledged huge tariffs on numerous imports including steel and cars, both of which are key exports from Britain to the States. However, alongside chickens the US could include the tempting carrot of passporting rights, so at least bankers will be safe. Thank. Goodness. 

British farmers won’t be, however, and that is one of the greatest risks from a flood of "Frankenfoods" washing across the Atlantic. 

For many individuals, the idea of chlorinated chicken is hard to stomach. Why is it done? To help prevent the spread of bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter. Does it work? From 2006-2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an average of 15.2 cases of salmonella per 100,000 people in the US (0.015 per cent) – earlier figures showed 0.006 per cent of cases resulted in hospitalisation. In 2013, the EU reported the level at 20.4 cases per 100,000, but figures from the Food Standards Agency showed only 0.003 per cent of UK cases resulted in hospitalisation, half of the US proportion.

Opponents of the practice also argue that washing chickens in chlorine is a safety net for lower hygiene standards and poorer animal welfare earlier along the line, a catch-all cover-up to ensure cheaper production costs. This is strongly denied by governing bodies and farmers alike (and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who reignited the debate) but all in all, it paints an unpalatable picture for those unaccustomed to America’s "big ag" ways.

But for the British farmer, imports of chicken roughly one fifth cheaper than domestic products (coupled with potential tariffs on exports to the EU) will put further pressure on an industry already working to tight margins, in which many participants make more money from soon-to-be-extinct EU subsidies than from agricultural income.

So how can British farmers compete? While technically soon free of EU "red tape" when it comes to welfare, environmental and hygiene regulations, if British farmers want to continue exporting to the EU, they will likely have to continue to comply with its stringent codes of practice. Up to 90 per cent of British beef and lamb exports reportedly go to the EU, while the figure is 70 per cent for pork. 

British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths says that the UK poultry meat industry "stands committed to feeding the nation with nutritious food and any compromise on standards will not be tolerated", adding that it is a "matter of our reputation on the global stage.”

Brexiteer and former environment minister Andrea Leadsom has previously promised she would not lower animal welfare standards to secure new trade deals, but the present situation isn’t yet about moving forward, simply protecting what we already have.

One glimmer of hope may be the frozen food industry that, if exporting to the EU, would be unable to use imported US chicken in its products. This would ensure at least one market for British poultry farmers that wouldn't be at the mercy of depressed prices, resulting from a rushed trade deal cobbled together as an example of how well Britain can thrive outside the EU. 

An indication of quite how far outside the bloc some Brexiteers are aiming comes from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's current "charm" offensive in Australasia. While simultaneously managing to offend Glaswegians, BoJo reaffirmed trading links with the region. Exports to New Zealand are currently worth approximately £1.25bn, with motor vehicles topping the list. Making the return trip, lamb and wine are the biggest imports, so it’s unlikely a robust trade deal in the South Pacific is going to radically improve British farmers’ lives. The same is true of their neighbours – Australia’s imports from Britain are topped by machinery and transport equipment (59 per cent of the total) and manufactured goods (26 per cent). 

Clearly keeping those trade corridors open is important, but it is hard to believe Brexit will provide a much-needed boon for British agriculture through the creation of thus far blocked export channels. Australia and New Zealand don’t need our beef, dairy or poultry. We need theirs.

Long haul exports and imports themselves also pose a bigger, longer term threat to food security through their impact on the environment. While beef and dairy farming is a large contributor to greenhouse gases, good stock management can also help remove atmospheric carbon dioxide. Jet engines cannot, and Britain’s skies are already close to maximum occupancy, with careful planning required to ensure appropriate growth.

Read more: Stephen Bush on why the chlorine chicken row is only the beginning

The global food production genie is out of the bottle, it won’t go back in – nor should it. Global food security relies on diversity, and countries working and trading together. But this needs to be balanced with sustainability – both in terms of supply and the environment. We will never return to the days of all local produce and allotments, but there is a happy medium between freeganism and shipping food produce halfway around the world to prove a point to Michel Barnier. 

If shoppers want a dragon fruit, it will have to be flown in. If they want a chicken, it can be produced down the road. If they want a chlorinated chicken – well, who does?