Crowd Power to the Women in the Media

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The Chanel show at Paris Fashion Week in September 2014 closed with a mock feminists' march.

Instagram user @kikkamonaco

The Chanel show at Paris Fashion Week in September 2014 closed with a mock feminists' march.

Women looking to finance their media projects have a better investor than venture capitalists to turn to: you! Crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter are allowing more media-related projects to spring to life, and women are proving rather successful in obtaining this funding.

“We received a $10,000 donation to our @BinderCon @kickstarter and so I sat down and cried for 5 minutes,” said a post on Twitter by Leigh Stein, one of the organizers of the conference “Out of the Binders: Symposium on Women Writers Today,” which was made possible thanks to crowdfunding. Posted as a Kickstarter project, it has far exceeded its goal of $40,000, receiving $55,393 from439 backers, including the Financial Times.

Many of Kickstarter’s categories are related to such media as photography, film, video and publishing. The website eventually created a journalism category last June. According to Kickstarter, its journalism community involves 1,529 projects seeking pledges for a total of $4.64 million, of which 423 have been successfully funded and 118 are still pursuing funds, with an average success rate of almost 30 percent, somewhat lower than the website’s average of 41 percent.

"Out of the Binders" Kickstarter campaign page

“Out of the Binders” Kickstarter campaign page

Women Kickstart Better Than Men?

Regardless of the specific categories, a recent study conducted by researchers at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania show that women actually outperform men in raising money via crowdfunding websites. The study randomly selected 1,250 proposed projects from 2010 to 2012 in five categories: gaming, technology, film, fashion and children’s book publishing. “The study found that, overall, women are 13 percent more likely to meet their Kickstarter goals than men, and the effects are most evident in areas like technology,” The Washington Post reports.

In the non-virtual life, women looking for venture capital investment are not as successful. At the New York Venture Summit 2014, where 90 companies made presentations, only about 5 percent of the presenters were women. Mary Lincoln Campbell, managing director of EDF Ventures, told Forbes, “Women give up too easily when seeking venture capital.”

She added, “Some women think, ‘I won’t get funded by VCs so I am not even going to try.’ Or they try and give up after a few rejections. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

It’s also a prophecy supported by data showing that it is harder for women to secure venture capital, given the male-dominated and even sexist character of the angel investment world. Crowdfunding websites, instead, allow women to break that pattern and put them in touch with other women willing to sponsor their project.

Kimberley Weisul, co-founder of One Thing New, a digital media startup that provides an email newsletter, agrees that women’s chances of successfully getting funded on Kickstarter are slightly higher than men’s. One of the mainreasons, she said, is that “there are more women on Kickstarter than in other funding arenas. And women will invest in women.”

Alicia Robb, a senior fellow of the Kauffman Foundation, supports this view. “You want to be around people that are like you,” she told The Wall Street Journal. This also seems to explain why so few women acquire venture capital investment, simply because of the smaller number of women investors, and vice versa, in a vicious circle.

Another crowdfunding website, Indiegogo, shows a similar trend. Women are 61 percent more likely than men to meet their financial goals on the site, and female-led projects account for 41 percent of small business, technology and other entrepreneurial campaigns that meet their funding goals, according to the Wall Street Journal’s report.

Why Crowdfunding?

Besides their mainstream role as a fundraising platform, crowdfunding websites serve as a free advertising platform for project starters.

Sophie Elliott founded the Parallel Magazine project, which aims to be a new women’s magazine that promises to “focus on life through a feminist lens.” For Elliott, Kickstarter is “a good way of getting a hype before the magazine is actually released, instead of working quietly on a project and then suddenly launching it out of nowhere.” Last year another project of hers, Ugly Girls Zine, was also successfully funded on Kickstarter.

“I didn’t want the magazine to be too commercialized, so I didn’t want to just stick with trying to find advertisers,” said Elliott, “and by getting donations from the public, it means that they are really involved in the process of making the magazine.” She added that most of those who have backed Parallel are women. “Being a woman fundraiser is quite challenging, especially when your project is explicitly ‘feminist’—it puts a lot of people off, especially men.”

She also chose Kickstarter because she wanted to try to create a sense of community, which is exactly what a crowdfunding website could provide. “A nice thing about being a woman fundraiser, and being in a team of women, is that there is a great sense of community,” said Elliott. “The feminist community online is amazingly strong and close anyway, and they’ve all kind of rallied to our side to help out and promote us where they can.

This community also provides a word-of-mouth reference system encouraging new projects to be advertised on the platform. Phoebe Solomon, founder of the No Books, No Sex project, said she “heard about Kickstarter as a fundraising platform because one of my favorite podcasts had one a few years ago, and I knew it as a good platform for creative projects specifically.”

Solomon’s project is a photo book featuring bookshelves from around the world and interviews with their owners. Initially, she began posting pictures of well-stocked bookshelves she has come across in her life, and she encourages others to send her pictures of their own bookshelves. After receiving positive feedback and interest, Solomon realized she could take the project a step further and publish a real photo book with pictures of bookshelves, the owners and their stories.

As of this writing, Solomon had reached a donation total of $1,400, more than double her initial goal. “I was so set on getting a project funded that I chose a lower number than what I was comfortable with as an initial pledge amount,” she said. “And now I’m on my way to almost triple that amount!”

No matter the degree of success, for some the issue of women obtaining investment money remains a gender issue at heart. “I think that in general people are taking men more seriously when it comes to issues like how people will spend donors’ money,” said Carolyn Bick, founder of I Am Not a Fish” a multimedia project on Kickstarter that aims to shed light on issues surrounding AIDS care access, especially for the LGBTQ community in Jamaica.

“We have yet to move away from thestereotypes of the ‘helpless woman’ trying to survive in a financial situation,” Bick said. “This has nothing to do with Kickstarter, this is [what has been happening in] hundreds of years of the society in general.”

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