If You Go Indie, Should You Go Indiegogo?

From the it's-a-small-world file, two people I know have recently used Indiegogo to help finance art projects, in one case a book, and in the other case, a short film. (Possibility: the world is not small, zillions of people are using this service, and I'm the one behind the curve.)

So, for those of you who were like me and were, like, "Indigo-what? Isn't that a Canadian bookstore chain?" Here's the skinny.

Indiegogo is one of several crowdfunding services that have sprung up in recent years, the idea being that you use social media to get a bunch of strangers to help finance your project (saving the world, writing a book, paying medical bills). People contribute because your campaign touches them in some way and/or to get the perks that are offered on a sliding scale of contributions.

So why would someone choose to go this route rather than seek a traditional business loan? Is it just about the free money?

Absolutely not, says actress Amy Jo Johnson (Felicity, Flashpoint, the Pink Power Ranger), who is using Indiegogo to finance her first short film, Bent. Rather, she "wanted to create a conversation about Bent, and have people become part of the process with her." While it would be "awesome to raise the budget, I want to give Bent a life. And having people aware and a part of this film is the first step in doing that."

One of the hardest things was coming up with the perks. "I don't like asking people for money, and really wanted the things I offered to be worth it," says Johnson. "I came up with the perks by thinking hard about what people would want and what I thought was fair." Perks in her campaign include: a signed script, her next CD and, for a $5,000 contribution, a dinner with Ms. Johnson.

The small, Canadian, Fierce Ink Press, tried using indiegogo to finance the production of their first novel, The Night Has Teeth. Their motivation was similar. "We knew from the beginning that we wanted to approach funding from a different angle," says publisher Colleen McKie. "We wanted to do something fun and something that would allow us to partner with local businesses. It was also a great way to get people interested in The Night Has Teeth. We're all about engaging with readers, and the Indiegogo campaign let us do that."

But while fun, waging a successful campaign is a challenge. "If anyone is looking for a quick, easy way to fund a project, then they should look elsewhere," cautions McKie. "Having an Indiegogo campaign means a lot of work before, during and after the campaign. If you already have a well-established fan base, mounting an Indiegogo campaign is definitely easier than if you don't."

This might explain the relative success of the two campaigns. With 17 days to go, Johnson's Bent campaign has raised over $12,000 of its goal of $20,000. McKie's campaign, which ended a few weeks ago, only raised a little more than 50% of the $3,000 it was looking for.

But it's not all about the money. "It was our first Indiegogo campaign, so we're very happy," McKie says. "And now we know what works and what doesn't. Besides the money, the campaign was a great way to spread the word about The Night has Teeth and to just let people know, in general, what Fierce Ink Press is all about."

Johnson agrees. Whether the financial goal is met or not, using the service has been "amazing. It's such a great way to meet people who are interested in you, your project, and film making."

So, is the difference in success just the celebrity factor? A quick perusal of the site would point to "no". Obviously, Johnson's 11,000 Twitter followers are a step up, but one of the top campaigns right now is for a guy who's raising money for his debut album, and he's raised more money than Johnson has. Another campaign has raised almost $6,000 for a dog's medical bills. That being said, the site is full of campaigns that have received little to no money. And not for lack of trying on the part of their organizers.

It just goes to show that you never know what's going to capture the popular imagination, or what people will be willing to open their wallets for.