I wrote Mark Andrew Smith a message on Kickstarter asking what was up with Sullivan’s Sluggers being on Amazon and for sale elsewhere, even though the Kickstarter page says “This book is exclusive only to Kickstarter backers and available here for a limited time.” I was curious and I had a couple friends who were asking me if I knew what’s up, so I reached out. He wrote back asking me if I was stalking him.
I figure it was because I wrote about his kickstarter on ComicsAlliance and talked about the pros and cons? But sure, stalking. Okay. I figured it was him trying to deflect and that I wasn’t going to get an answer, so it was whatever.
Rich Johnston asked the same question on the Kickstarter, and Smith didn’t answer him, either. But he DID answer another backer who responded to Rich and here’s the goods:
@John the book also now is upgraded to an Omnibus Size, with Slipcase, Hardcover, Bound in Ribbon Book Mark, Gatefold Cover, Print inside the front cover, and Baseball Card sheet inside the back cover. It’s really not the same book as it was originally on the Kickstarter and US backers are getting this at essentially $25 plus $5 for shipping and handling.
There were a lot of opportunities to cut corners and cut costs. We never did.
We put $49.99 on the back of the book to reflect the actual value of the book. So while it was listed as exclusive it’s really no longer the same book, and it’s never again going to be offered at the price original backers picked it up at and never sold for less. Aside from that it will be offered on our website at a higher price but shipping after orders go out to backers first.
We did an overprint to raise funds for future projects, and we’re going to offer the book as a reward item from time to time on Kickstarter to raise funds for new projects and the focus really is the creation of more new and original comic book projects.
Lotta mush in here, lotta things to tackle, but I LOVE the idea that because the Kickstarter was such a big success that the book morphed into this big fat other book that isn’t bound by the rules he laid out for the original Kickstarter, and in fact, we should be thankful, because he could charge us a lot more!
But nah, here’s the thing: the book that he’s selling on his site and on Amazon is the book that backers pledged for. It’s not some magical new thing. People pledged money to produce this book, and then they kept pledging to make the book get better, often at Smith’s urging. This fancy technicolor omnibus dolby digital edition is exactly what the backers kicked him almost ninety thousand bucks more than he asked for in order to get.
So to say “the book changed, and that’s why I’m not bound by my word” is more than a little shady. To subtly shame people for getting it cheaper than it’s worth (“the actual value of the book”) when it was your idea to make it a dope package in the first place — c’mon, son. Where are you going with this?
How is this anything but Smith going against the terms of his own Kickstarter? It says in plain language that it is exclusive for backers, right? But it isn’t. If the plan was to sell things all along, just say so upfront! If plans changed in mid-stream, say so! Most people will understand, I figure, especially if the book did change into this whole other deluxe package. If it’s money, if you promised too much, then I bet people would understand that, too. There are hidden fees everywhere and in everything. “Hey, I thought I could print this for X, but I can’t, so it’s going to take longer” is way better than “I’m doing you a favor, have you seen how nice this book is?”
The problem — and this is something I talked about a lot when writing about Kickstarter for ComicsAlliance — is communication. If I say “Hey, I’m gonna do this thing you don’t like” before I do it, then you have a chance to either go “Hey, how about no?” or “Okay, cool, whatever, I’ll get over it.” If you don’t, and then just do things anyway, you look like you’re hiding something. When you take into account the suddenly non-exclusive nature of the book, ComiXology getting the book for non-backers before backers even got their digital PDF, Smith himself putting the book up for sale before print backers get theirs, Stokoe being entirely silent despite being the main draw for the book, and backers who ordered two books having to wait until probably late Feb or March to get their stuff… the project leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
It’s not cheating his backers, not exactly, but it’s definitely shady and frustrating. It’s the kind of thing that makes people look at Kickstarter as a problem, and it kills the faith that people have in the process. Kickstarter revolves around one basic transaction: “I am going to give you money, and you are going to give me what you say you will.” That goes for exclusives, upgrades, and everything else. People back projects because they believe in it or they want the product, and it’s important to keep your word.
I’m not out any money or anything — I paid ten bucks for a PDF and got it; it was pretty — but this is the type of thing that makes me not want to back someone’s projects or pay attention to their work at all. Transparency, keeping things aboveboard and honest, is crucial.