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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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.