Kickstarter Guidelines Bulk Rewards Controversy

To prevent mass duplication, I am writing this once and will direct everyone to this discussion via url.

This post is about my query into the Kickstarter Guidelines Bulk Rewards controversy:

Kickstarter changed its guidelines on July 10, 2012 to remove bulk quantity rewards. They didn’t announce this change, and they didn’t quantify the term ‘bulk’. They also offered no explanation for the reason behind this guideline change. At the same time, there were multiple live projects that were offering bulk rewards.

In late July, I attempted to launch my first project (PodKit Watch + ClipClok) on Kickstarter, but was rejected because I had bulk rewards in my project (July 28, 2012 2:42:31 AM GMT+08:00):

“Hi there,

Thanks for submitting your project to us for review! Everything looks good except for one thing: your $498, $2,498 reward tiers fall outside of our Project Guidelines.

This is a new addition to our guidelines, so you may find past projects on Kickstarter that conflict with these rules. Apologies if this led to any confusion — we’re making tweaks as we learn and grow.

If you think your project would be the same without this reward tier, just remove it and let me know. I’d be happy to take another look.

Thanks,
Kickstarter”

I contacted Kickstarter and asked them to quantify the ‘bulk’ term, and they responded that they didn’t quantify it because they felt it was contextual, or in other words, subjective. Further, they said that they couldn’t retroactively enforce this new guideline onto projects created prior to the new guideline (August 1, 2012 12:30:51 AM GMT+08:00):

“Hi Simon –

Thanks for the inquiry. Yes, this guideline was added in the past month and is only applied to projects launched after its addition. Previously launched projects are not affected by this change.

We’re constantly assessing activity on Kickstarter and making adjustments to ensure the best possible environment for backers and creators. In the case of the recent development of projects offering “bulk” rewards, using Kickstarter as a means of business-to-business product distribution is not a good fit for our focus on creative projects or our one backer/one pledge foundation. There is no hard-and-fast number when it comes to what comprises bulk. Every category is different.

We thank you for abiding by the guidelines when using Kickstarter, and appreciate you making those changes. It looks like everything on your project falls within our guidelines. Hooray! That means that whenever you’re ready, you can hit the green launch button and make your project live. There’s no deadline to launch, though, so take your time.

Some last-minute tips before you launch:

*Check out other projects in your category, and back one to get a feel for the experience.
*Visit Kickstarter School: http://www.kickstarter.com/help/school.
*Use the Preview button to see what your project will look like when it’s live, and share it with friends for feedback.
*Add a video, if you haven’t already! This is really important. Here’s why: http://www.kickstarter.com/help/school/making_your_video.

You’ll do great! We can’t wait to see your project live.

Best,
Kickstarter

Important Reminder: Our review process is not an exact science. When we find things that are objectionable, whether they were missed during review (we’re sorry, but it happens!) or they were added after the fact, we remove projects from our site’s browse functionality until they’re fixed. In extreme cases, we remove the project altogether. That’s unpleasant for everyone, so just be sure everything’s within code before you launch.

Your project:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/simonkwan/57810419/edit?ref=email”

My thought was that this was logical but still unfair, as many successful projects relied on bulk rewards to get a quick boost towards reaching their funding goals, or to quickly exceed their goals. Good design + bulk rewards = rapid success = newsworthy = marketing = more interest = even more financial success. Losing bulk rewards was going to make things a lot harder. Oh well, I have to play by their rules, so what the heck…

My project ran for 33 days, and I canceled it before it ended due to lack of success. I don’t blame Kickstarter one iota, and I’m so happy to have tried it because I learned so much in the process. Imagine, however, my surprise when I saw projects that were launched AFTER my project… some launched even after my project had ended, that were OFFERING BULK REWARDS. I had a WTF? moment and decided to investigate.

It turns out that on August 3, 2012, Kickstarter posted a clarification to quantify the term ‘bulk’ to mean no more than 10 items: http://www.kickstarter.com/blog/bulk-quantities. You should read through the comments for insights into how the community is responding to this.

Oh great, that doesn’t help my project that was handicapped and forced to remove even a 5 set friends and family award. Did Kickstarter message me and other project creators to tell us about the updated guidelines? NOPE. If they had, you better believe I would have added the friends & family set reward back in. It should also be noted that there was no announcement of the guideline change on July 10, 2012, that is referenced in the August 3 blog post.

I sent Kickstarter another message on Sep 06 22:15 (EDT):

“Hi Kickstarter,

I’d like you to please clarify why it is that several newly launched Kickstarter projects have been able to violate your no ‘Rewards in bulk quantities (more than ten of an item) guideline? When I launched my PodKit Watch project more than a month ago, your team forced me to remove my bulk quantity rewards… even the one that was a friends and family pack of 5. Back then, you didn’t quantify what you meant by ‘bulk’.. if you check your records, you’ll see I specifically questioned and challenged this point. Now you have a quantifiable definition – great. Yet, how is it that Instacube has a ‘Baller Pack’ 9 pc reward, STACT has multiple rewards with 50 or more units, FLOW has a Baker’s dozen 12+1 pc reward… need I go on? 

My intent is not to single out specific projects. The creators are not at fault if Kickstarter has allowed them to knowingly or unknowingly violate or circumvent the Kickstarter Guidelines. My concern Is whether Kickstarter is electively discriminating against certain project owners while promoting projects it thinks will gain Kickstarter better marketing with large successes? I’ll be posting this query on blogs and tweeting, so I expect your reply to be public and transparent to the community of backers and creators. If Kickstarter’s guidelines are not consistently and universally applied, then the system smacks of corruption and discrimination. The community deserves to know what’s going on, and for ALL stakeholders to be treated equally and fairly in accordance with your published guidelines.

Thanks in advance for your swift attention and sincere consideration.”

I posted my message to Kickstarter on several LinkedIn Groups, Kickstarter’s Facebook Page, and also tweeted about it. To their credit, Kickstarter staff did reply quickly, and I found the following response in my inbox the next day Sep 07 15:09 (EDT):

Hi Simon,

Thanks for writing in to us. When we originally introduced the bulk quantities change we weren’t specific about how many of a reward constitutes a “bulk quantity.” This caused unnecessary confusion, and we apologize for it. We posted an update to the guidelines and a blog post explaining it back in August. You can read it here: http://www.kickstarter.com/blog/bulk-quantities

That said, Instacube’s 9 piece reward doesn’t violate the updated version of our guidelines as it’s a quantity less than 10. For things like dice, miniatures and other items that come in sets or can only be properly utilized in large quantities, this rule does not apply.

For any projects that don’t fit the above criteria and thus violate our guidelines, please report them via the grey “Report this project to Kickstarter” button at the bottom of the project page so we can look into it. We vet all projects to make sure they meet our guidelines prior to launch, but creators are able to change or add rewards after approval. We do our best to keep on top of things, but may not catch everything as there are thousands of projects live on site at any given time. The Report this project tool is a useful way for the community to help police itself.

As for your project, if you’d like to launch it again, you can have as many as 10 of the watches in one reward tier and remain within our guidelines. Once again, sorry for the confusion. We hope you continue to be a part of the Kickstarter community.

Best,

Aurora”

Before I go on, I also want to make it crystal clear that my concern is not for my own project. Regardless of whether or not I relaunch it, or launch another project, all I want is to ensure that I get the same treatment as everyone else… nothing more, nothing less.

OK, so Aurora corrected me about the Instacube… yes, 9 is less than 10, my mistake. Notice that she didn’t address the other projects that clearly ARE offering bulk rewards in excess of the 10 unit limit. In addition to STACT and FLOW, there are several other projects that appear to be either in violation of or exception to the bulk rewards rule: CineMoco, Zyroshell, Arm-Adillo… there may be others, but I obviously didn’t search through every single project in all of the categories. I limited my search to a couple of major projects in the Product Design category that seemed to have been created and / or launched after the bulk rewards guideline revision.

Kickstarter’s reply to my concern feels like a bit of a cop out: they’re depending on the community to self-police. Well, I for one don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to scrutinize every project I encounter against Kickstarter’s guidelines. If you want me to act as the police, then let me and my fellow creators write the rules. You make the rules? YOU do the enforcement! I don’t even support this bulk rewards rule, so why would I ‘rat out’ other projects. I HATE even having to mention the names of the projects that appear to be in violation of the guidelines, because I honestly like these projects, I admire their creators, and I want them to succeed. I mention these projects, however, because we can’t have this discussion based on ambiguous or hypothetical concerns; I name the projects as concrete illustrations of a current and existing condition within the Kickstarter community that raises questions of fairness, transparency, and discrimination. It’s Kickstarter’s responsibility to ensure that projects which THEY evaluate and THEY approve are in accordance to THEIR policies. The community shouldn’t be burdened with ensuring adherence, and both Backers and Creators should focus on what they’re supposed to do, which is contributing and collaborating in support of creativity.

To further my previous statement, creators should also be unburdened from having to actively attempt to stay on top of Kickstarter’s policy changes. Kickstarter should actively inform creators of policy changes, and inform them of whether or not and how those changes impact the creators’ published and not-yet published projects. I have concerns about Kickstarter’s lack of communication and transparency and these are certainly areas that can and should be improved.

As a Backer, and now having been a Creator, I am still a huge supporter of crowd funding and of Kickstarter. I love the positive buzz and energy and the whole thing has really opened up my world. Any platform that seeks to democratize the funding of creativity is a big plus in my book. That said, Kickstarter in some ways behaves too much like a traditional corporation or bureaucracy, with secret criteria for evaluating projects, and making policy changes without discussing, notifying, or justifying them with the community until Kickstarter is pressured into doing so. I’d love to see a lot more proactive rather than reactive behavior on their part. Ultimately, that’s what all this is about: a more communicative, open, proactive, collaborative, democratic… better Kickstarter.

Comments

  1. Carl Ruzycki says:

    Your response works for me. Thank you, as I now know that Kickstarter does play on a level playing field, the only way for a crowdfunding platform to remain in this game.

  2. Update: As of Sept 20, 2012, Kickstarter has yet AGAIN revised their guidelines: http://www.kickstarter.com/help/guidelines

    This time, they have altogether banned ‘multiple quantities of a single reward’. It’s interesting to note that the LIFX (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/limemouse/lifx-the-light-bulb-reinvented) project is offering essentially UNLIMITED rewards amounts in their last reward tier:
    “Pledge $490 or more: 10+ LIFX smartbulbs. You’ll get everything you need to have 10 or more LIFX smartbulbs working in your home or business. 10+ LIFX smartbulbs – Just pledge $49 per bulb. e.g. If you want 15 smartbulbs. Just pledge 15 x $49 = $735 in the pledge amount field and we will send you 15 smartbulbs. (You just delete the $490 amount and type your own amount). (Includes US/CAN/AUS shipping. International shipping add $50)
    Estimated delivery: Mar 2013″

    Even if the LIFX team launched their project prior to the Sept 20 Guidelines change, they are in violation of the previous guidelines limiting Bulk Quantities to 10.

    So Kickstarter seems rather confused and definitely doesn’t appear to have the necessary person power to ensure that all projects actually adhere to guidelines. I guess with the latest guidelines change, it’ll be a lot clearer: 1 pledge = 1 reward. No sets unless the product is a set of items, like a board game.

    Anyone care to hazard a guess as to how clever creators will be to get around this new guidelines change?

    Oh… and in case you didn’t also read the guidelines update carefully, there will be no more renderings or concepts allowed: only real photos of actual samples and working prototype demonstrations. This, ultimately, is a GOOD thing, as it prevents creators from over promising and under delivering, at least in regards to the actual functionality of their products. If Hollywood movies have taught us anything, however, is that a clever person can fake something quite believably. Still, I hope this new guidelines addition helps to further separate the dreamers from the doers.

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