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.

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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation