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Penny Arcade using Kickstarter campaign to raise $1 million

The Penny Arcade gentlemen, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, are using Kickstarter to take their site ad-free. According to their promotion video, to get rid of all the ads will require them to raise $1 million. They’ve set up a milestone chart with levels of support equating to ads being removed and new features being added to site or offered to fans. The first level, already achieved in the first four days, raised $250,000 would remove the leaderboard ad on the homepage, another $75k will produce an original six page Automata strip. $525k removes all ads from the homepage. All ads site-wide are removed if they raise more than $999.999. Other incentive levels include conducting a webcomic “strip search” and releasing a free Penny Arcade app for iPhone and Android.

Here’s their promo video.

They’ve raised $321k so far with 28 more days to go. The take-away with this and the other high profile, successful campaigns: build your audience.

Community Comments

#1 noah
July/18/2012
@ 2:30 pm

I’m the biggest Penny-Arcade fan of all time, but this whole thing disappoints. I’m a little surprised their existing advertisers haven’t backed out on them over this.

#2 Michael Pohrer
July/18/2012
@ 3:43 pm

Really? C’mon man.

#3 Alexander Hoffman
July/18/2012
@ 6:17 pm

$250,000 to remove one ad on the front page for a year? For a million dollars their site will be ad free…for a year? They must have no shame. Penny Arcade is the standard bearer for webcomics. This not only cheapens the industry, but it will encourage lesser comic artists to e-beg for trivial reasons as well.

The beauty of the internet is that you don’t need to beg for money. Anyone can start a webcomic or a blog and earn a living without the need of distributors or syndicates. If you’re providing good content, ads are the easiest way to get paid while offering readers entertainment. Nobody even cares about ads anymore in 2012. People either have adblocker or they have grown to ignore ads. Removing ads won’t make a comic any funnier, better drawn or appear more regularly. Kickstarter has it’s uses, but this campaign is worthless and these reward tiers are for suckers.

#4 birdie
July/19/2012
@ 5:59 am

This really sickens me. I love reading Penny Arcade and I admire their business practices but why are they begging for money to get rid of ads? This is like Coca Cola saying, “hey give us twenty bucks and we’ll stop advertising that you should drink us anyways.” This isn’t a person anymore. This is a business.

#5 Brian Powers
July/19/2012
@ 6:59 am

More and more businesses are using Kickstarter to fund their endeavors. I’m a big board game geek and am constantly seeing new board games being funded this way. This helps companies not have to take giant leaps of faith with their products.

In the past it seemed that Kickstarter was a place for individuals to pursue an artistic expression that would not be possible any other way. Currently, it seems that Kickstarter is just another piece of anyone’s business plan.

#6 Mike Cope
July/19/2012
@ 7:42 am

I’m not a Penny Arcade reader and can honestly say I’m not sure which one is Mike and which is Jerry. When I first read about their Kickstarter on Webcomics.com, I thought $1M was a pretty big chunk of change for just removing ads.

But then I watched the video. Sure, it’s obviously scripted and a little tongue-in-cheek, but for someone unfamiliar with PA, it quickly became apparent that there’s more than just 2 guys creating a webcomic here.

The rewards are a little superficial, but their business goals seem pretty honest and clear.

Will be interesting to see if this will become a yearly campaign.

#7 Anne Hambrock
July/19/2012
@ 9:48 am

If I understand this correctly the model is “ads are annoying, pay us directly and you won’t have to look at ads”.

Most people would find a youtube video of me playing the bagpipes annoying (largely because I can’t play the bagpipes).

I think I’d like to start a kickstarter campaign and ask folks for $ NOT to make such a video.

Who’s in?

#8 Charles Brubaker
July/19/2012
@ 9:53 am

Don’t most browsers have ad-block add-on or something? That’s what I use (ironic, since my comic does have ad banners, even though I never see them)

#9 Mike Cope
July/19/2012
@ 10:32 am

Anne, I think it’s more than just ads are annoying. Ads put a website at their mercy from both an interface design standpoint to a user experience. Without needing to worry about ads, both the creator(s) and readers can focus on content directly related to the property.

Using crowd funding is a smart option for a strip with a loyal enough fan base. Instead of putting the cartoons behind a pay wall, this is more like offering readers an opportunity to keep the site “free” for ALL to enjoy. But again, the fan base needs to be strong enough.

I’m preparing to launch a webcomic for kids, and have chosen not to feature ads because I want full control of the content in order to keep the site kid-friendly. I don’t want aggressive kid-targeted ads, nor inappropriate content. And so, a campaign like this simply wouldn’t work in the distant future.

However, the promising thing about Penny Arcade’s crowd funding success is that perhaps more of the big name Webcomics willl follow suit and have similar success. If they do, this will be a wonderful turning point for cartooning because readers will begin recognizing the value of online content.

And then, perhaps, newer webcomics will never need to consider ads.

But it all goes back to that loyal fan base.

#10 Stephen Beals
July/19/2012
@ 10:46 am

So they’re going the NPR route? Interesting. Nothing beats a fan base that will pay to not have an ad near their eyes. They are actually popular enough to get the money for a paywall without having a paywall.

At first I thought this was crazy, but how much money would HBO raise if it was on your cable whether you donated or not? This is new territory.

#11 Stacy Curtis
July/19/2012
@ 11:10 am

It would seem to me, using Kickstarter to remove ads from your website does not qualify as a Kickstarter project:

“Kickstarter Guidelines:

1. Funding for projects only.
A project has a clear goal, like making an album, a book, or a work of art. A project will eventually be completed, and something will be produced by it. A project is not open-ended. Starting a business, for example, does not qualify as a project.”

#12 Mike Krahulik
July/19/2012
@ 11:18 am

The advertising model worked well for us for almost a decade. At this point we bring in well over 1.4 million in advertising revenue a year. But that money comes with price. The price is advertising on the site and Tycho and I spending hundreds of hours producing work for video game publishers. Penny Arcade is a company of 14 people now. We put on to conventions every year that draw an average of 70k people. We have our own video games and comic books. We need the money that comes from advertising to help fuel the company we’ve built

But we wondered if we could get by on less money and ask for it directly from our readers. The result would be an ad free website and time for Tycho and I to devote to our own projects. So far our readers have been very excited by the idea. We’ve raised just over 325k as of right now and we’re still going strong.

I recognize that we’re trying something new and not everyone is going to like it. I figured other artists would at least find it interesting though.

#13 Rich Diesslin
July/19/2012
@ 12:28 pm

Ditto Stacy and Anne. Mike it is interesting and if you make the goal says how loyal your fan-base is (and how good your product is, etc.). It still does not seem to qualify as a kickstarter program but obviously kickstater felt it did. Is the “clear goal” a web site without advertising? At any rate good luck with it.

Anne I might support the no bagpipe project!
(http://www.the-cartoonist.com/vault/otl/otl_2012-07-11.html)

#14 Anne Hambrock
July/19/2012
@ 1:40 pm

@Mike Cope

I hope I didn’t sound dismissive – I’m a fan of subscription models and have never liked ad clutter on sites. My own sites don’t have ads because A) I don’t like to clutter up the visual and B) I don’t generate enough views to make it worth an advertiser’s time :-)

It just struck me that if we can start asking folks for money to take away annoying things, I want to get in on the ground floor :-)

@ Rich – Love the ‘toon :-)

I’ll keep you posted – trust me NO one wants to hear me play the bagpipes.

@ Mike K.

I do indeed find this approach interesting. As a kickstarter survivor especially :-)

#15 Scott Metzger
July/19/2012
@ 2:27 pm

As Stephen said, it?s the Public Broadcasting model. I think it?s an interesting thing to try out. The campaign seems to be working well even though people don?t get tax-deductions for their donations.

Rich ? That cartoon is great (and I love bagpipes).

#16 Mike Cope
July/19/2012
@ 2:48 pm

@Anne … Not dismissive at all :)

Admittedly, I’ve always been skeptical about the “ad supported” business model because, to me, it not only devalues the content, but also raise an eyebrow with respect to the pay-per-click loyal audience.

If any (and I stress any) cartoonist has a loyal enough fan base and each one of those readers clicks a well-paying banner ad only twice per year … Not only would that probably go under the Google Ads radar, but to me, it doesn’t ad any value to the feature. It’s an easy way out for the reader to show their support.

Of course, some ads pay well just to be seen by a wide audience, which is more like how a television commercial works.

What I like about the crowd funding model is that it allows readers to offer whatever amount of financial support they can, unlike a subscription model that comes with a flat price tag. Seems a lot more admirable than under the table clicks.

#17 Andrew Farago
July/19/2012
@ 3:09 pm

It’s depressing that I’ve seen so many projects where creators were making new content fail outright, while an incredibly successful group of creators are raking in big bucks which will allow them to replace other people’s ads with their own ads. I’m not seeing much development of content here as a reward for backing, which feels like it runs counter to what Kickstarter is all about.

Helping the little guy self-publish a book so that he doesn’t have to go to a major publisher (or hasn’t gotten interest from a major publisher), I can absolutely get behind that. Helping a massively successful hit property offer a slightly better version of their website to people so that they can get ad money from their readers instead of video game companies? Not so much.

#18 Tom Racine
July/22/2012
@ 10:52 pm

I think Andrew summed that up nicely.

#19 Michael Pohrer
December/7/2012
@ 5:26 pm

I thought I would check back in on this. Poof! Still ads on the Homepage. They raised over $525.000. Doesn’t it say that there would be no ads on the homepage at that point of the goal? Plus they are boasting about purchasing actual Gold on the first post of the homepage at an auction. HMMMMMMMM? Just something to think about.

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