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Welcome to the new Breadpig blog! This is the written version of a talk that Christina gave at the XOXO festival in September 2013 and its subject matter—why we do what we do—seems pretty appropriate for a first post. Enjoy, and give us a follow if you want to see more of this cute little pig in your feed!
I’m not really a creator. I don’t have the compulsion to make things, and frankly I’m not very good at making most things. I don’t even have any inner turmoil! Basically what I’m saying is that my origin story is really boring, so I’ll tell you someone else’s.
James Erwin has been a working author for over a decade, writing things like software documentation, encyclopedias, and reviews, but he got his big break by leaving a comment on Reddit two years ago. Someone had posed a hypothetical question on AskReddit about whether a modern US Marine battalion could take on the entire Roman empire, and he decided to respond with the beginnings of a story.
People were enthralled immediately, so he kept writing. By the end of the day, someone had created a subreddit just for his story. People started contributing art, mock book covers, and even music to accompany the story, which he called Rome Sweet Rome. And in a week, he got a call from Hollywood—they wanted him to turn his story into a screenplay for a movie. This was incredibly lucky and an unbelievable opportunity: he was getting paid! His story was going to be on the big screen! Everyone was interested in his work! The tradeoff, however, was that he lost the creative rights to the story, and can’t even think about writing more for his fans until the movie comes out.
For the record, James doesn’t regret his decision to sell the story—it was definitely a blessing and the right thing to do at the time. But when publishers came knocking at the door to inquire about his next project, he did decide to use his newfound notoriety as leverage to retain control over his next project. He decided to turn to Kickstarter, but he didn’t want to go it alone. He’s a dad with a full-time job, and doing fulfillment for backers and stressing out about running a campaign was just not in the cards. That’s where Breadpig came in.
Since Breadpig was started in 2008 by Alexis Ohanian, it’s gone through a lot of permutations from a collection of philanthropic side projects to a merchandiser to a publisher, a mish-mash of experiments in helping people. Over the last year, though, we’ve finally found the perfect framework: crowdfunding midwifery. We check in with you throughout your creative pregnancy, and then hold your hand and tell you to push, and then we clean up the…fulfillment placenta? ¯\(º_o)/¯
ANYWAY, Breadpig works with creators who want help with any stage of the crowdfunding process—advice, strategy, running the campaign, not losing your mind, production, fulfillment, and customer service. We charge a package rate depending on what you need, payable only when your project succeeds. We allow the creator to retain all rights and full creative control. We do all the things a normal publisher does (distribution, promotion, support), but with a completely inverted power structure. We believe strongly in guidance so that we can cheer you on from the sidelines next time.
What has been surprising is the demand for our services, not just from the big-name creators with big-time logistics problems, but from smaller creators for whom this would be their first or second rodeo. This demand for our services complicates the myth of the DIY creator who wants to go directly to the fans, intermediaries be damned. It’s not as simple as that. The gatekeepers who were exploiting artists were also the ones providing them with camaraderie, management, validation, and guidance. Working alone can be creatively freeing, but it can also be isolating, terrifying, and incredibly difficult. Even Wolverine is more effective (and stable) as a member of the X-Men.
If we want the amazing successes and stories of people here to spread beyond a relatively small group of exceptional people and into the mainstream, we’ll need to shift our focus to creating a whole healthy ecosystem of support for creators. The technological platforms are getting us halfway there—they’re enabling this, but we need other support structures, too: social support, logistical support, mentorship.
It shouldn’t take an epic origin story to make it; becoming an independent (or rather, interdependent) creator should be increasingly mundane. I have an immense respect for trailblazers who jump, not knowing if they’ll land, but it should be a last resort. A system that depends on trailblazing for success will see two groups of winners: a small group of exceptionally talented/hardworking/lucky people, and people who have the privilege (wealth, education, social connections, otherwise) to try stuff without worrying about the full weight of failure. Everyone else, all the creators who are talented but don’t want to or can’t afford to risk everything, will shy away. We have to make it easier to win.
"If the movement is to grow beyond these elementary stages of development, it will have to disabuse itself of some of its prejudices about organization and structure. There is nothing inherently bad about either of these. They can be and often are misused, but to reject them out of hand because they are misused is to deny ourselves the necessary tools to further development."
This is a quote from an essay by feminist Jo Freeman called the Tyranny of Structurelessness. You should read it. Freeman wrote those words about the feminist movement, where she saw the unfortunate side-effects of a well-intentioned wholesale rejection of structure. She argues that when people reject structure, organization, and regulation, they can actually end up with another type of oppression: one that’s more insidious because it’s invisible and unacknowledged.
In the absence of explicit rules, communities will build their own norms and structures. This emergent behavior can have lots of positive results, but it can also lead to invisible, self-reinforcing rules and norms that newcomers have to figure out and assimilate to in silence, or face rejection on the grounds of “culture fit”. The crowds, too, can be a gate. And even though the tastes and social norms of the community can be friendly and well-intentioned, the end result of a growing community unmindful of its culture can be just as Mean Girls as anything.
None of this is to say that we haven’t made tremendous progress in pushing the gates open. We have! But we need to complicate this idea of disintermediation. Power and privilege are not two-dimensional constructs but a complex tangle, and what we need is a constant, mindful dis-(and re-)aggregation of the structures around us. Yes, we have to break apart the antiquated, industrial-sized institutions, but it’s just as important to build up new structures that reflect our values. It requires a whole lot of honesty, critical thinking, difficult conversations, and courage—but doesn’t everything worth doing?