An Ambivalent Political Economy of Kickstarter

Aaron Heresco


A critical political economic analysis of Kickstarter highlights the ambiguous nature of contemporary media financing; it simultaneously furthers the incursions of yield-hunting capital yet, at the same time, opens up finance itself as a new site of resistance. The financial backing of media production, most often in the form of debt and/or equity financing, often positions media products as investment vehicles before they are consumer goods. To this end, Kickstarter, the internet-based crowdfunding platform, serves as a useful case study to consider the promises and problems associated with new forms of financing media creation.

In addition to the analytical categories of production/distribution/exhibition, media finance is also a site of power and leverage. As some Kickstarted projects have shown, Kickstarter can be just another financial mechanism that makes the world safer for capital - using public donations as a means of de-risking media investment. Crowdfunding also captures something of the spirit of neoliberalism by disintermediating civic projects, and the people involved with them, while allowing donors the opportunity to fund beloved shows or major music, film, print, or video game projects. Seen from this vantage point, there is nothing alternative about Kickstarter, indeed, it is perhaps even insidious as it asks citizens to participate in their own expropriation. However, a full consideration of Kickstarter reveals that the platform also offers an escape from the confines of capital and the limitations of the value chain. From the frivolous (a Robocop statue) to the serious, (documentaries regarding neoliberal education reforms or Walmartization) Kickstarter offers an alternative vision - one in which profit isn't a precondition for production and gatekeeping is relatively democratic. Crowdfunding also asks us to take account of the relationship between the political economy of media institutions – specifically the capitalist logics that drive them - and the cultural economy related to affective financing of media products.  From this perspective, Kickstarter highlights both points of resistance to a capitalized public sphere and the importance of finance as a site of critical inquiry and intervention.

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