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Pozible, Crowdfunding and the Emerging Writers’ Festival

Zora Sanders and Lisa Dempster September 08

I chatted with Lisa Dempster, director of the Emerging Writer’s Festival about their partnership with crowdfunding website Pozible, and what the implications of crowdfunding might be for the arts in Australia. .



Zora: Could you tell me a little about what the Digital Writers’ conference is aiming to do, and why you chose Brisbane for the location?

Lisa: Digital Writers is a conference aimed at equipping writers with ideas and inspiration about writing and working in the online space, including writing for digital media, marketing and making money. This conference will take place on Saturday 15 October, 12.30-6.30pm.

The writers' conference is one of the core events of our annual Emerging Writers' Festival in Melbourne, it is something we do well and we know our audience of writers get a lot out of attending it. We wanted to take the writers' festival concept and make it more focussed, looking at one topic in particular, and Digital Writers makes perfect sense, because the online space is still being opened up and in particular emerging writers are using that space to make get started in their careers.

Brisbane was the perfect place for a Digital Writers event because there is so many excellent digitally-focussed organisations located there, including our partners If:book Australia, Queensland Writers' Centre and The Edge.


Zora: Why have you gone down the Pozible route? Is funding harder to come by than it used to be, or is crowd sourced funding straight-out preferable to traditional fundraising or government support?

Lisa: Funding support is always difficult for small organisations to come by, really. We certainly value the government funding that we get, but it is a time consuming process. The EWF at the moment is, like many other arts organisations, looking into how we can bring in a variety of different funding streams to help us do what we do. For example, in addition to government funding we have strong educational partnerships in place, we have a little advertising and box office income, and we are exploring philanthropic models as well. So doing something like crowdfunding is just one kind of funding we are seeking, and is in no way preferable to other kinds of fundraising.

The EWF is interested in Pozible because of the potential we see in it for writers. Elmo Keep recently did a fantastic job crowdfunding a journalistic adventure, and I think a lot of individual artists will be able to use crowdfunding successfully to reach potential patrons of their work, which is something that we haven’t seen very much of in recent years. It’s certainly an exciting platform for writers, and as such the EWF developed a partnership with Pozible. The partnership is in place to ensure that writers across all genres and mediums have access to the information, tools and assistance needed to launch their own crowdfunding projects. (Emerging Writers’ Festival artists will also be able to access special discounted service fees on the Pozible site.)

Our decision to try crowdfund Brisbane came out of that partnership. I’ve always been interested in exploring new ways of doing things, and as we will be a Pozible partner it seemed sensible for me to be able to have hands-on experience with crowdfunding, if we wanted to encourage our audience to consider it.

Plus, it seemed like as good a way to try and raise the cash as any! We have partnerships in Brisbane that are helping us fund the way, but have had a shortfall that we need to make up in order to be able to bring the EWF north. By crowdfunding the shortfall, rather than seeking out government funding or advertising, for example, it’s a good way for us to get a sense of whether there is even any desire in Brisbane to bring the EWF to their city! One of the rewards for the crowdfunding campaign is a ticket to our Digital Writers event. If enough people purchase their tickets through Pozible, we will know that there is a desire from Brisbane writers for us to run our event!


Zora: Do you think Pozible represents a fundamental shift in the way the arts are being funded? Is there a lack of public money and will to support the arts? Is this the future?

Lisa: I don’t think crowdfunding represents a fundamental shift in the way arts are being funded. Not for organisations, anyway. And not yet – it’s still early days in terms of people using and thinking about crowdfunding as a model.

I think the potential for individuals to crowdfund money to create art projects is far bigger than that of arts organisations. The potential for connection between individual creators and people who will consume their work is pretty exciting, however, there are larger challenges for arts organisations. Crowdfunding is best used for project-based campaigns rather than for operational funding, so arts organisations will always need to consider bringing in diverse funding streams.

Is there a lack of will and public money to support the arts? Well, we know how under-funded the arts are already, particularly compared with things like sport. And how competitive arts funding is because it’s under-resourced. I think we can assume that this isn’t going to turn around any time too soon.

But I don’t think crowdfunding will diminish public resources being directed towards the arts. When applying for arts grants a lot of funders look for organisations and projects that have multiple partnerships and funding streams in place as it demonstrates a capability to spend received funding well, so I don’t think that showing crowdfunded support would hinder organisations applying to government or corporate funding bodies either.

Is this the future? I don’t know.


Zora: Some might argue that Pozible is a kind of privatisation of arts funding, that it allows government and councils to cease funding the arts. For example, when TiNA lost some of its funding from council, Pozible helped make up the shortfall, but doesn’t that also let the council off the hook? Is this a kind of user-pays model of arts funding?

Lisa In terms of arts organisations (not individuals) using Pozible successfully, they have often been in emergency situations – New Matilda, TiNA, Ubud Writers Festival. In those cases, the funding stopped for whatever reason and crowdfunding was able to provide a way to keep the organisations going financially. If crowdfunding didn’t exist, the options for those organisations would have been much more limited – appeal to Council, find a corporate backer, for example – and potentially more difficult. It also allows for individuals to step in and help fund the things they love or believe in. But crowdfunding will always be a stopgap measure for arts organisations I think; doing campaigns like asking for operating costs each year just wouldn’t work.

As far as user-pays, I don’t see it as being very different to organisations running a box office, esp when you consider that most arts organisations don’t rely solely on their box office to raise revenue, but get that funding in from a variety of sources including funding, advertising, philanthropy etc. Because the best crowdfunding campaigns are project-based, I don’t think we’ll see arts orgs trying to get operational funding except in emergencies. But the potential for citizens to fund arts projects that they are interested in seeing get up is an exciting possibility.


Zora: Lastly can you tell us any more about how the Digital Writers conference fits into the bigger goals of the Emerging Writers Festival? Are you planning to have an EWF is every state? Any other big projects underway?

Lisa: Last year the Emerging Writers' Festival began implementing a strategy to turn us into a nationally-focussed organisation. We think there is a great thirst for the kind of programming that we do and believe that we can have a really positive impact on Australia’s literary culture if we can expand our reach beyond Victoria to other states. To that end, we have introduced online programming and are starting to do events in each state as well; in 2010 we did a roadshow in Sydney and in 2011 we hope to get to Brisbane.

That said, these things take time, and there is no plan to have an EWF in every state (not yet, anyway!). The core eleven-day festival will remain in Melbourne, but we will continue to take our writers' conference and events to other states as and when the opportunity (and funding!) arise.

As far as other projects, the Festival currently has two Geeks in Residence working for us, which is a fantastic program sponsored by the Australia Council. Although it’s early days there are definitely going to be some big projects coming out of their involvement with us.

  • Visit the Digital Writers’ Pozible site here

 

Comments

by Nikki
08 Sep 11 at 13:13

I was recently part of crowdfunding a band: the UK band Lamb used pre-orders to fund the making of their latest album. People who pre-ordered the album received a special edition CD or vinyl, which included a poster naming everyone who’d contributed to the album’s funding.

This might be something that only works when an artist already has a fan base – but it does seem conceivable that online discovery of artists/writers by streaming their music or reading samples of their writing could ultimately lead to these types of arrangements, where people who like the samples are then prepared to pre-order a product.

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by Anonymous
28 Sep 11 at 12:08

Thank u EWF for focusing on digital writing and making those lucrative opportunities surface for talented but financially time poor writers.

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by Vivid Publishing
20 May 12 at 23:42

The Pozible concept can really work outstandingly well for emerging authors looking to publish independently. They are able to confidently bump up their print run / production spend through ‘presales’ by Pozible supporters, which slashes the cost per unit. Their books spread further, in higher quantities, at less cost, thus increasing the independent author’s chance of success through profit + exposure. More here: http://www.vividpublishing.com.au/pozible/

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