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.

Getty
Show Hide image

How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.