Kickstarter, Heart and the union

So, let’s talk about Kickstarter.

When we were preparing to launch the Heart campaign, the news broke about Kickstarter’s alleged union-busting activities, including the firing of two employees who were active in attempting to organise.

At the time, that prompted us – along with a lot of other creators – to seriously consider our position. Some people took the decision to delay or cancel launches; others pointed out that boycotting before a union is formed can be actively harmful to organisation efforts, as the instability plays into the hands of management, who can then paint organisers as adversaries rather than engaging in good faith.

We came to the conclusion that the most important thing to do was to listen to the people who are directly affected by the issue – current and former staff, those who are still trying to unionise – and take our cue from them. They said, on Twitter, that they were not formally calling for a boycott. So we made the call to go ahead, but to clearly state that we stand in solidarity with the nascent union, to sign the petition to support them, and to do what they recommended – which at the time was not to abandon planned or live projects.

Last night, news broke on the Current Affairs site of a discussion that their editor had with the Kickstarter CEO. From the statement, which was later posted along with an FAQ on the Kickstarter blog, it appears that the company will continue to oppose the formation of a union. This is obviously extremely disappointing to all of us, and we know that many people, both creators and backers, will choose to withdraw their funding from the platform. 

However, we still believe that the most important voices in this situation are the ones that are currently the least heard: we want to know what the workers organising the union need from us, and since the tweet embedded above – at the time of writing – there has been no update. There has not been a union election yet, and we know that early action can be deeply damaging to organisation efforts; it’s not entirely clear what the demands are that accompany the boycott, given there is currently no union to be recognised. So we have reached out to the organisers both by email and on Twitter, and we hope that they will update or reiterate their advice for creators. We encourage you, as the CEO suggests in his blog post and as we have done, to email thoughts@kickstarter.com and tell them your opinions. While we understand (and feel!) the desire to act immediately, we do not want to cause harm while meaning well, so we are waiting for an update from the organisers before taking further action.

That said: if your personal moral stance is that you do not wish to give any of your money to Kickstarter right now, we entirely understand and support your decision. We are working with Backerkit to ensure we can launch our pre-order store there as fast as possible once our campaign ends, and we will be updating everyone via our social media accounts and our email newsletter when pre-orders go live. Another option is to back at the lowest £1 level, meaning you will still have access to all our updates and will be automatically grandfathered in to the Backerkit in a way that enables you to upgrade your pledges later without giving a larger fee to Kickstarter. To support that choice, we will make it possible for Kickstarter backers to upgrade to custom content levels in Backerkit for at least the first two weeks post-launch – that might push our schedule back a little, but it means if you want to back at a high level but don’t want to give Kickstarter a cut, backing at £1 will give you the option of an upgrade later.

Assuming the union does not call for a boycott, this is the approach we will follow. However, if the union does call for a boycott to begin before our campaign is scheduled to end, we will take down the current Kickstarter project and re-start it elsewhere. At the moment our best next option appears to be Indiegogo, and we’re getting everything prepped to launch there if we need to. If this happens it will be severely disruptive, and will cost us a great deal more in terms of time, effort and money than it will cost Kickstarter by comparison. Our business is tiny in terms of Kickstarter’s funding, but Heart is the biggest project we have ever worked on; it’s been in the works for 18 months, and at its current level it could fund our next two years of development. It’ll be difficult to get books out on the original plan, and it will require us to fund again, which means asking all of you to get out your bank cards and engage with a whole different website in order to get your books. That, honestly, would suck.

But it would also be the right thing to do, and we’re prepared for it. We stand by our principles, and we believe in supporting people who are trying to organise for better and more equitable working conditions. We are frankly astonished that Kickstarter, a public benefit corporation seeking to do good in the world, would set fire to its reputation and damage its communities of workers, creators and backers simultaneously in such a short-sighted way. We do not support the company’s actions.

Most importantly, we stand in solidarity with Kickstarter workers. When they tell us how best to support them, we will act accordingly. Until then, we’re watching.

3 Replies to “Kickstarter, Heart and the union”

  1. “Another option is to back at the lowest £1 level, meaning you will still have access to all our updates and will be automatically grandfathered in to the Backerkit in a way that enables you to upgrade your pledges later without giving a larger fee to Kickstarter. ”

    Why aren’t more creators doing this now, if only to increase the amount of available funds dedicated to their own project by reducing KS fees? I presume that to do so, and advertise such to potential backers, would be a violation of ToS and subsequently the project would be subject to suspension.

    Anyone who actually believed that KS would act in a manner consistent with a PBC should not be surprised. There is a fundamental conflict of interest a privately held, for-profit organization that simultaneously claims to advance a progressive agenda. TBH, there were issues with KS long before any employer even considered forming a union- patent disputes, the “visionary founder myth” and immature vetting of projects to reduce copyright infringement, misuse of collects funds and blatant fraud. The FBI has taken increasing interest in examine some projects that appear to be vehicles for money-laundering.

    One of the confounding issues is that there really aren’t any alternatives that are fundamentally better than KS.

    IndieGoGo? Oh wait, you were serious?

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