Should You Buy Photography Products From Kickstarter?

Should You Buy Photography Products From Kickstarter?

The traditional route for startups to bring great product ideas to market was to fund them directly or find willing venture capitalists to invest. The advent of crowd platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have dramatically changed the product funding landscape, and this is as true for photography as elsewhere. So, should you buy products from the likes of Kickstarter?

If you have a great idea for a product, then there can be no better feeling than taking that initial idea through to successfully selling a physical product. Believing in something and then seeing it become a reality must be wonderful, equally as seeing it fail can be heartbreaking. Of course, bringing products to market can be an expensive business, and this is typically funded from your own cash reserves or a bank. If you need more than they can provide, then venture capital and private equity are common routes. However, "business angels" in the form of support groups and investment clubs are increasingly important; crowdfunding broadly falls in this area and Kickstarter and Indiegogo are examples of businesses that allow individuals to directly invest in the products themselves.

Kickstarter and Indiegogo

In terms of bringing products to market, Kickstarter and Indiegogo fund the most and have the biggest reach; it's also important to note that they differentiate themselves from other personal and subscription crowdfunders such as Patreon and GoFundMe, with Kickstarter requiring you to "create" something. Indiegogo is perhaps a little more flexible on this front. Of course, Kickstarter and Indiegogo are different in other ways. Kickstarter generally has higher project standards, requiring an application process with a working prototype in order to launch (not the case with Indiegogo). With Kickstarter, if you don't raise your target amount, you get no money meaning that it should be as low as practical. Indiegogo allows a flexible funding goal. Crucially for investors, Kickstarter doesn't take the money until after the project is funded which means you can pull out before that point.

Types of Project

Within this new ecosystem of direct funding, a range of different projects have sprung up that might not fall within the stereotypical "individual trying to bring a product to market" category that we envisage. In general, I see four broad different types of funding campaigns:

1. New to Market

These are products that we traditionally think of when it comes to crowdfunding. You have a great idea and try to bring it to market. One current example seeking funding is the Reveni Labs Spot Meter, which aims to produce a smaller, better, and cheaper spot meter (see beta reviews), following on from its successfully delivered Light Meter. Or the original Intrepid 4x5 large format wooden camera, which also successfully delivered a new product and was the start of a new business. However, we are also seeing photographers bringing content to market in this manner. Nico's Photography Show produced a video and prints documenting the Intrepid Camera Company or Bicycle Portraits by Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler. In fact, if you search for "photobook" on Kickstarter, you'll find 657 projects of which Like of Pikelet is the most funded. All in all, these types of projects are a great way to support creatives and find new and interesting product ideas. Fstoppers' Dylan Goldby gives some more advice on crowdfunding photobooks.

2. Pre-Production Sales

This is a broad category that I consider pre-production sales for a known brand. One of the problems of bringing any new product to market is cashflow, which can be a risk for the manufacturer. If you are trying to minimize this — particularly if you are a small manufacturer — then crowdfunding offers a route to pre-production income, at the cost of (usually) lower sales prices and the crowdfunding commission. Peak Design and WANDRD are great examples of quality manufacturers that bring a range of products to market in this way, something Fstoppers' Andy Day has commented on. All in all, this is a win-win situation for the manufacturer and backer.

3. Vaporware (Failure)

OK, let's talk about the elephant in the room: some crowdfunding campaigns fail and none more spectacularly than the ignominious Zano drone. This raised £2.3M in 2014 on the back of 14,000 orders, delivering just four to backers. Projects fail. Period. That's the nature of crowdfunding.

4. Scams

Crowdfunding will inevitably attract scammers that lure people in "investing" their money, even if they have no intention of delivering a final product. Kickstarter, through the nature of having an application process and requiring a working prototype, is perhaps a little more resilient to these types of projects, although Canon Rumors reported concerns about the X-Tra Battery.

So Should You Invest in Crowdfunding?

Should you invest through crowdfunding? Fstoppers' Alex Cooke thinks not. As with any kind of investing, there is always a risk-reward associated with a product you back. Just because the project description has a sassy video and images of shiny new products doesn't mean that they will actually deliver anything. Buyer beware — as ever — is the mantra to hold close to your heart. Over the years, I have backed a small number of projects, including the SunDisc portable softbox/reflector and a coin pouch, both of which were delivered to schedule. I also back the Hedkayse cycling helmet and Spooly USB cable both of which overran by some 2 years. These were more complex products and things almost inevitably went wrong: Hedkayse were exemplary in communication, Spooly weren't, but they both did deliver.

In the same way, you might check out a seller on eBay, do the same for crowdfunding, then look at how much you need to invest and what you will get for it. Unlike eBay, crowdfunding isn't a shop window. These are prototypes and will take time to get into production and so delivery. The simpler the project, the more likely it is to complete.

All of this means, if you have a "new to market" project, scrutinize the creator carefully, then look at the complexity and viability of the product. Back as appropriate. If you are looking at a "Pre-Production Sales" project then you are likely standing on the firmer ground; looking at the line of successful Kickstarter projects from Peak Design should fill you with confidence if they seek further funding.

Have you invested through crowdfunding? What was your experience?

Lead image a composite courtesy of Tumisu via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons. Body image courtesy Alexander-777 via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.

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David Anderson's picture

Thanks to crowdfunding affiliate links, those YouTube ‘photographers’ - already very busy spamming the gullible - are going to go into an advertorial frenzy. I predict a wave of BS is about to wash over us.. 😂

Michael Dougherty's picture

It's been a while but I remember paying for some sort of drone that sounded impressive. Never did receive and never followed up. I have never spent any money through Kickstarter since then. Lesson learned. Give me a few more years and I'll probably make the same mistake again. (humor but true)

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Neh. Their discounts ain't worth it. I'd rather wait until the product comes and read/watch reviews before I buy.

Hector Belfort's picture

A lot of scams on Kickstarter. Most projects except for books deliver cheap tacky products. Very few are like Peak Design which at least well made. What I hadn’t realised is sites like this and Canon Rumors and others pick up % of backers spend through affiliate links. The whole thing is rotten from top to bottom. If a project turns bad Kickstarter do nothing, absolute zero about it. My advice is don’t touch anything on Kickstarter if you are not prepared to lose every cent of your hard earned money.

Mike Ditz's picture

I figured KS was for up and coming people or inventors with a crazy idea they want to get to market, but when companies like Peak Design does it, it is not kick starting any thing. Just taking pre-orders and getting the customer to front some of the production cost. So you will get your item when established companies do it. I think...

Stephen Strangways's picture

You don't "invest" in a Kickstarter. That is a terrible misuse of the word and confuses people as to the nature of what it is. In fact, Kickstarter's rules specifically state "Investment is not permitted on Kickstarter."

Mike Ditz's picture

Sort of like when people (other than Leica users) say they are investing in a lens or new camera. ;)

Maksims Ter-Oganesovs's picture

as I see, a lot of negative comments about Kickstarter here..

Viewfinder Journey's picture

I invested in a project in 2020. Still haven't received it. Never again. I am going to purchase something that is already manufactured and in stock.

Alex Herbert's picture

I've bought into 3 corwdfunded projects, all three came to fruition and only one wasn't any good ($28 mouse). But one of them was a control device for photo video editing that has literally changed my workflow. Maybe I'm just lucky but there are good deals to be had on kickstarter

Mike Ditz's picture

Was it one of those control panel thing with dials and sliders?

Alex Herbert's picture

Indeed it was, more dials and buttons though. No sliders

james Tarry's picture

Never again, not after the last one. An insanely popular KS, the product never worked and I've never seen so many complaints if either faulty units/it not fitting brief or never reciving unit on a page..... and yet they've launched a mark2 unit. I think I've had 1 out of 4 that were truely worth it

Roger Botting's picture

I bought a couple of items. One was Timelapse+, it took a while to deliver but worked out well. And the company seems to be thriving.
The other was Astro. It took forever. The product, when It finally arrived, was better than expected but the company eventually failed. But it still works.