Monday, 17 June 2013

Kicking In Part 2

Or why Kickstarter really sucks if you are Canadian.

Kickstarter is, as I am sure everyone is aware by now, a web-based crowdfunding service that allows creators with an idea to appeal directly to their fans for funding. In an ideal world Kickstarter gives unknown or marginalized artists an avenue to bankroll their projects or a means for established creators to fund their most uncommercial dream projects. And there are certainly a bunch of these kinds of amazing projects getting Kickstarted. However, there are also the odd ludicrous ideas, borderline insulting bouts of arrogance, and straight up con-man thievery to be seen too. Kickstarter is a system not without its issues.

I think my biggest Kickstarter issue is the high cost of international shipping to Canada.

Okay, I want to talk about Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett's Kickstarter for Lady Sabre and The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether Vol.1 Kickstarter and how international shipping costs stopped me from participating. But before I launch into a bunch of whining, I'd like to first mention that Greg Rucka has become, over the last year, one of my favourite writers: his prose novels are just these masterwork constructions of suspenseful genre fiction and his comics work is pound for pound as good as anything else I have read. I just finished Stumptown Vol. 1, and it is easily one of the ten comics I would foist on anyone (particularly new readers). Like, I cannot understand why everyone isn't just running around gushing about this comic. Which is all to say I kind of think the world of Greg Rucka as an artist and very badly want everything he puts his name on. In that light, the printed (I am a monster for print media) collection of his and Rick Burchett's Lady Sabre and The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether webcomic (which I have not yet read) is something I very badly wanted.

The Kickstarted itself was made with the intention of collecting the first five chapters (192 pages) of the webcomic Lady Sabre and The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether (which you can read for free in its completeness here) in a prestige book format. Like all Kickstarters there are a number of levels of funding available, although for the purpose of the budget conscious the $10, $20, and $30 levels are the most relevant. At the $10 level, backers receive a DRM-free .pdf of all of the book contents. At $20 funders receive the book plus a bounty of digital extras.  At the $30 level, backers receive the actual physical, hardcover book, plus all of the digital extras. If you live in the United States this includes shipping. And if you think about it, this is pretty remarkably good value.

(The digital options in this Kickstarter are not for me, since buying file-versions of comics available online for free stikes me as not terribly budget conscious, so I will be focusing on the $30 option, which is what I would have participated at.)

But wait, there's more! The Lady Sabre Kickstarter also had a variety of stretch goals, unlockable if the total amount of crowdfunding pledged exceeds certain limits, that increase the value of the book. And Rucka and Burchett delivered a lot of pretty sexy bonuses: there is a paper doll set, pocket guide to the setting, annotated process book, professional grade setting map, and deck plans of Lady Sabre's ship, The Pegasus. The stretch goals also upgraded the quality of the hardcover book to include higher paper quality, end papers, and a cloth-wrapped cover, which if you are bibliophile like me is book crack. The stretch goals also included budgetting for an upgrade in the art hardware of Rick Burchett which would improve the quality of the Kickstarted book, but also invests in Lady Sabre going forward. Which is to say, plenty of value added to an already great deal.

(I would also like to point out that Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett laid out the costs associated with the project and where the money is going clearly, which is something else I quite appreciated.)

If you live in the United States of America, you can pay $30 and have a 192 page, lavishly crafted hardcover comic by Greg Rucka (!) and Rick Burchett (!) delivered to your door. Not only that, but this  lavishly crafted comic will come with a nearly equal weight in bonus material that is included in that $30 cost. Even if all you want is the comic, $30 including shipping is a very reasonable price for this comic.

If you live in Canada, the situation changes pretty substantially. To ship a physical book to Canada via Kickstarter, it costs substantially extra. In the case of the Lady Sabre Kickstarter this extra shipping cost is $20, which makes the hardcover book purchase $50. $50 for a lavishly appointed 192-page comic is pretty expensive, even factoring in shipping. This is mitigated somewhat by all of the value-added stretch goal material: $50 for a hardcover comic and a process book and a pocket guide, and other source material is much more reasonable. Although, at $50 all of this seizes to be bonus material and begins to be an important part of the package itself. Basically, the extra shipping cost changes participating in the Lady Sabre Kickstarter from an obvious choice, to one complicated by cost.

But beyond the simple arithmetic of costs, it irks me. If I lived an hour south of where I currently live, on the other side of a... imaginary, philosophical line, my book would cost 2/5's less. Instead I have to pay substantially more for the exact same thing. Which is pretty annoying. Not only that, but it costs the same under this Kickstarter setup to ship to Vancouver, Canada (a location closer by distance to where Greg Rucka lives than the majority of major American cities) than it does to ship to England or India or anywhere else in the world. Which is kind of crazy nuts. Like, I objectively understand the reasons for this... but, man, it just irritates me in the common senses and is contrary to how I would run the world were I its glorious dictator.

Now, whining aside, I don't blame anyone for this. Kickstarter as a service is about getting money to creators and not functioning as a publisher/courier to distribute funded projects. Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett are also blameless: shipping is expensive and even with a large print run, they lack the order sizes to get vastly discounted shipping (a la Amazon). And, because I am a wanker and actually checked this, even if Rucka and Burchett were to set up Canadian distribution by using a Canadian intermediate, flatrate shipping of their book would still run ~$15 by Canadapost. So I in no way blame the creators for this $20 shipping fee. It's really just a shitty element of a relatively new system that has not yet found a way to contend with shipping limitations. It just sucks because I don't get to be a budget conscious comics fan and play with Kickstarter as much as I might want to.

(Perhaps there is a business to be had for someone to establish a Canadian distribution hub for Kickstarters that moves enough combined material to get cheap shipping? Or maybe we are stuck until 3D printers become ubiquitous?)

In the end I decided that what I was really interested in was the Lady Sabre comic and not the bonus material, and that I couldn't really justify spending $50 on a single comic (especially in light of some rather large purchases my partner and I have had to make recently). The good news is that I can rescind my productivity-based embargo of the webcomic and read it online, and if they ever release Lady Sabre as a collected edition via a publisher in a non-prestige format I'll scoop it up then. So, at the end of the day, I'm glad the Lady Sabre Kickstarter was funded and I am super jealous of all you Americans with your reasonably priced shipping.

But hey, my universal Healthcare is fucking sweet... so...


  1. Hi Michael, Eric, the lesser-known person behind Lady Sabre here. I wanted to let you know I appreciate the piece you've written, and want you to know that we agonized on our end over shipping costs as well. It seems to be the shortcoming of most Kickstarter campaigns, and ours is no exception (and if we overcharged for Canada, we undercharged for the rest of the world, so we're anticipating a big hit there, likely to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars).

    As you say, though, we had to cover the costs of our stretch goal books too -- and those won't be just tack-on bonus items, but pieces designed to enhance and enrich both the book and the story that we tell from here on out.

    We're also looking at more options for publishing digitally. While I'm sorry we couldn't convince you to become a backer, I'll be glad to have you as a reader on the site. Your business idea is sound, and I think someone will bring it to fruition in the future. I know there's a similar European effort underway. Kickstarter, even though it's been around for a few years, is still young. The problems with shipping are a drawback that will hopefully be ameliorated in the future.


    1. Hi! Thanks for responding, and apologies for not replying sooner. (It has been crazy-pants at work lately...)

      I really think you guys put on a terrific, and high value Kickstarter. I have strict comics-budgetting rules, and for me to consider participating in Kickstarter for a print of an essentially free comic series speaks to the quality of the comic and the exciting bonus material. And the transparent way you presented your costs up front was nice, since Kickstarting is this weird quasi-consumer, quasi-investor system of financing projects. And international (or even domestic shipping within Canada) is a total-crapshoot. I don't think team Lady Sabre could have done a better job with this.

      But, at $50, this Kickstarter represents in excess of 1/3 of my monthly comics budget. And that means choosing between having enough comics to suit my reading habits and having this book.

      But yeah, I am super excited for my next stuck-on-a-microscope-for-5-hours experiment, since I'm saving the online comic for downtime there. And I will definitely buy any collected edition that comes out via a traditional publishing system (where shipping costs are invisible).

      Congrats on the successful campaign.