Can anyone ‘do a Radiohead’?

Radiohead really shook things up a bit when they decided to let people pay whatever they wanted for their album, In Rainbows. Although others had used similar models before them, Radiohead were possibly the biggest band to try that tactic and they inspired many more people to experiment with innovative funding and payment models.

But one of the main criticisms of Radiohead’s experiment was that it could only work for bands or artists who already had a following as substantial as theirs. There can be no doubt that the bigger and more committed your fanbase, the more likely an experiment like that is to succeed. But still there remain doubts as to whether the crowdfunding model can work for lesser known creative projects.

One thing that is clear is that many people believe that it is possible, enough to create the infrastructure required to allow people to tap into their communities for support. Since Radiohead’s experiment, several crowdfunding websites have sprung up which make it easy to ask people to contribute financially to different types of project. ChipIn, Pledgie, IndiGoGo and Kickstarter all help people realise their fundraising goals, although no site can short circuit the hard promotional work that users need to do to get word out about their own project.

I have a personal interest in learning more about what’s required to make a crowdfunded project a success, not least because I currently have my own project running on Kickstarter. Argleton combines storytelling, bookbinding and a geolocation game and is currently 27% funded with 49 days to go.

I like to think that I have a pretty well developed network, having been blogging for the last eight years and being fairly prolific on Twitter almost since the beginning. But my network pales in comparison to someone like Robin Sloan, whose Kickstarter project inspired my own. Robin currently has 212,704 followers on Twitter, in comparison to my paltry 3,255. I would imagine that finding enough people to support a project if you have an even smaller network than mine would be very difficult indeed – supporters don’t grow on trees and they don’t magically find out about your project without your hard work and intervention.

And I think therein lies the key. As my friend Lorin said on IM yesterday,

The gift of shameless, classy, effective self-promotion is one of the best super powers going around. I wonder what one needs to be bitten by / exposed to / turned into to get that happening.

Like bands before them, authors are going to need to learn not just how to write but also how to effectively promote their own projects in order to reach enough people. Having a good idea never was enough – life always goes more smoothly for those with the right connections. Now it’s easier to make those connections, although it takes just as much time and commitment to achieve that as ever. Only time will tell if I have the connections necessary to make Argleton happen.