Idols and the crowdfunding phenomenon

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If you’ve been paying even the slightest attention to internet trends in the past year or two, you’ll most likely have heard of the term “crowdfunding” and the various websites that facilitate it. You know the ones, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe and the like. Basically they’ve become the platform for start-ups, private companies, random crazy people, etc who have a “super cool” or “innovative” idea that they would really like you to help fund for them.

Typically these “projects” have a list of reward tiers that give you something back depending on how much you choose to “donate” (remember that word kids, it’s going to be important later). This can range from a simple “Thanks!” to maybe just getting the actual product, all the way up to tours of game studios, dinner with producers and what have you. Be prepared to hand over an eye watering sum of money for the more exclusive rewards though.

This newfangled crowdfunding thing has been fairly limited to the Americas, Europe and Australia until recently when Japan decided to jump on board and now we’re even seeing idol groups starting to take advantage of the concept. Is it all sunshine and rainbows though? Well that’s what I’m going to attempt to look at over the course of this article.

Okay so, crowdfunding and idols. Where should I even start on this one? Well I guess I can start by providing some examples of the exercise in practice. It’s all well and good to talk about these concepts in theory but why do that when there are actual real world examples that we can look at. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

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So believe it or not (well you’re going to believe because it’s real and I have a link but work with me here), there is actually an English language crowdfunding website that is dedicated solely to idol related projects. It’s run by the folk over at Tokyo Girls’ Update and it’s pretty simply called “CROWD!“.

As you can see, it’s still a fairly new thing. They’ve only done a small number of projects but as of the time of writing this, they have a 100% success rate in hitting funding goals. That’s not a particularly impressive feat given the small sample size but it would suggest that they’re at the very least doing something right.

The only thing with “CROWD!” is that it’s exclusive to actual idol groups, at least right now anyway. There isn’t really a community aspect to the site which does limit the scope but I suppose they’re aiming to be more professional instead of trying to promote any homegrown prospects. It’s a shame but it isn’t my place to tell anyone how to run their business so we’ll leave that thought there.

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I’m now going to risk both my job (it’s not like they pay me anything) at NSK and a whole host of business connections by offering up the recently completed and generally well received Idol Matsuri convention as something that fits more that homegrown feel. They held an Indiegogo campaign to help fund various facets of their convention and as you can see, unfortunately they fell a good bit short of their goal.

I hope no one reading this will think that I’m singling Idol Matsuri or Tokyo Girls’ Update out with this article. They are just the two best English language examples for the points that I’m about to attempt to make. There are of course many Japanese crowd funding websites that host idol related projects, but I want to make everything as easy to illustrate as possible.

With that being said, I think there are a number of things that TGU and Idol Matsuri did well and there were also a number of things that they perhaps didn’t do so well. That’s fairly typical of all things in life though and the actual important thing is we learn from it and try to do it better next time. I’m not going to pretend to know everything about running projects like this, I’m just some guy with a laptop and an opinion. What is about to follow is just how I would personally change things in a way that I believe to be better for both fans and business.

Okay, so probably the main thing that TGU do incredibly well with their crowdfunding website is selling the idea that you’re really helping these idol groups out. A lot of idol fans let their hearts (and other organs) rule their heads so playing into the psychological side of someone’s fandom is really smart. Completely ethical? Maybe not, but you can’t deny that play to people’s emotions works well for business.

Conversely, Idol Matsuri did not do a good job of this. I mean, even if you ignore the fact that they asked for $30k in the first place while never having run a convention before (seriously guys, it looked like a scam), fans are going to see helping a group and helping a convention as two very different things. It very much does come down to how you present things to the faceless masses on the internet.

What I would have done is have at the very least Aither and RYUTist hold separate crowdfunding projects and really have them play up to the fans’ emotions. “Please help us realize our dream to perform overseas!”, stuff like that. Really tug at those heartstrings (and other things?). Idol Matsuri could have then also ran a project for the convention itself and not have had such an unrealistic goal to aim for. There’s aiming high and then there’s losing perspective.

One thing that Idol Matsuri did incredibly well with though (besides the actual convention itself) is their reward tiers. They had a great variety, a lot of stuff that people would actually want which is so important. I don’t know about you guys but I’m more likely to pony up some cash to a cause if I get something sweet in return. Also, almost all of the rewards were relevant to pretty much anyone. You didn’t even have to go to the concert to get something out of this fundraiser. That was a really smart move.

When it comes to TGU, their rewards are for the most part completely terrible unless you either live in or are planning to visit Japan on some very specific dates. It completely shuts down these projects to overseas fans unless the event, like Tokyo Girls’ Style’s is actually taking overseas. Even then, your choices are pretty much $20 for 5 photos or some absurd amount of money to have the honor of handing out sunflowers like a member of staff. Where’s the “Signed CD” tier or something man, throw people a bone.

To close out this point, both examples could learn a lot from each other and I’d like to think that that might happen. The things that I mentioned are what I would like to hope that anyone planning a new crowdfunding project would consider but perhaps I’m way off the mark. If anyone involved in either example that I’ve used would like to exercise their right to reply, please do get in touch.

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The next point that I’m gonna talk about isn’t really one that I personally care too much about. It needs to be mentioned though because lord knows this fandom is capable of just anything and a similar situation could come up in the future.

Oculus VR was once a little project with big aspirations. They made a Kickstarter that went pretty well by all accounts. Development was going along and making progress and then Facebook were like “We’ll give you a bajillion dollars for your company” and like any sane people would, the developers cashed in and now probably don’t have to worry about money for the rest of their lives.

Well the people who backed the Kickstarter sure weren’t happy about this. They seemed to think that they’d bought shares in the Oculus company and couldn’t quite grasp how they weren’t getting a cut of that sweet, sweet money pie. Well, they didn’t buy jack in reality. A “donation” (there’s that word kids) is very different from actually holding a stake in a company, much to the dismay of many people who thought that all of their Christmases had come at once.

Relating this back, there are some people that I know personally who think that what some of these idol groups and agencies are doing is rather shady. In the case of Super Girls and Yumemiru Adolescence, you’re paying to help them make a video. You’re technically “investing” in the production but you’re not going to get any royalties from the video (what that would even amount to is anyone’s guess).

You’re also shouldering most, if not all of the financial risk. It’s a pretty interesting thing to consider but like I said, I’m super bothered about that side of things. At the end of the day if I’m giving money to something like this I’m not expecting anything in return. It’s all very much a grey area that we can go around and around in circles over all day and not reach any kind of agreement.

What I do find incredibly questionable though is the types of idol groups/agencies that are using crowdfunding. I’m not trying to vilify people but to use the examples at hand, do Super Girls and Tokyo Girls’ Style who are both signed to the incredibly affluent Avex Trax really need to crowdfund for tens of thousands of dollars? The Super Girls project is even more bizarre because they’ve managed to do it before without any funding, as you can see in the embedded video above.

The cynic in me thinks that Avex knew that people would just throw money at this kind of thing. There is a saying in business that goes something along the lines of “never leave money on the table”. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone saw an opportunity to get something done essentially for free and just ran with it all the way to the bank.

As far as groups like Yumemiru Adolescence or Aither or RYUTist go, let them use crowdfunding if they need it. They’re not signed to massive labels as far as I’m aware so they probably genuinely need the money. Of course, maybe Super Girls and Tokyo Girls’ Style need the money too and while unfortunate if true, it would be more of an indictment of Avex’s management and budgeting than a case for charity in my opinion. This little tangent obviously goes against my appreciation of “appealing to the heart” from earlier but I can only praise things so much. That kind of discussion can get a bit messy once you start trying to quantify levels of “need” though so perhaps that rabbit hole is best saved for another day.

 
Ultimately, crowdfunding and the people/idols/whatever who use it are still trying to find their feet. The concept is still fairly new and people are of course testing the boundaries to see what they can do. Also, not that it needs to be said but I’m not here to tell anyone how to spend their money. It’s totally down to you if you want to support an idol crowdfunding project or any crowdfunding project for that matter. I just hope this article might have made a few of you think about the points I raised and maybe we can have a discussion about your thoughts in the comment section.

 
What are your thoughts about idols using crowdfunding or crowdfunding in general? Leave a comment and let us know!

About NSK

New School Kaidan is a community-focused website for the Japanese idol industry international fan base. Between podcasts, broadcasts, events, and analytic articles, New School Kaidan aims to bring an understanding of idol culture to the masses.

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4 comments

  1. cool article

  2. Good topic for discussion.

    Both Tokyo Girls’ Style and SUPER☆GiRLS want to use their crowdsourced funds to enhance their already scheduled events. The TGS J-Pop Summit performance and the iDOL Street Obon themed PV are both happening regardless of the outcome of the campaigns (both campaigns are successfully funded). So, if the US performances and the PV were never in danger of cancellation, why are we contributing?

    Well, I contributed to the TGS campaign.

    I didn’t do it because I thought the fate of their performance hung in the balance. I didn’t contribute because I wanted the bonuses (although, a handshake and mini-concert from TGS would have been a sweet bonus if I lived in Japan). Like you state in your article: the campaign played on the heartstring of a hopeless wota (me) who wanted the girls to have a memorable time in the USA and possibly return to the states in the future. Sadly, I often feel obliged when the opportunity to “put my money where my mouth is” arises. Well, at least there are some bonuses attached to the project. Basically, I think I contributed with my eyes wide open, and I was comfortable with my contribution.

    The problem, which I’m not sure you articulated in your informative article, is that when more these crowdfunding projects become successful, there is a real fear that unscrupulous record and management companies will use these income streams to greater leverage. I worry that the financial burden that labels and management have traditionally shouldered will be passed to the consumer with greater frequency. One day, it may no longer be enough to buy CDs from your favorite idols; PVs, concert tours, and fan events may need successful crowdsource funds or risk cancellation. I, for one, do not want to foster a system where the consumer gets less and less for his/her yen/dollar/pound/euro.

    • Garry MacKenzie

      Thanks for the comment dude. Regarding your last point, I think I kinda alluded to it in my third to last paragraph but didn’t extrapolate it quite as far as you did. I totally agree with you though, the more success that this kind of things sees, the more management companies will use it to save money.

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