The idea of using a crowdfunding platform such as Kickstarter to bring a superhero to life sounds preposterous, right? Maybe as preposterous as a plot dreamed up by a super villain? But, as the summer of superhero blockbusters draws to a close, think about the common plot device in comic book hero films, in which aspiring superheroes naively appear in a city, hopeful of reversing a sudden increase in crime or combating an unimaginable new threat until the real superhero arrives on the scene.
Consider, too, how far Kickstarter (the best-known of all the crowdfunding platforms) has come in just the past 24 months. On an annual basis, Kickstarter now raises more money for independent creative projects than the National Endowment for the Arts. A single Kickstarter project — once it captures the public imagination — has the potential to bring in more than $1 million in less than 24 hours. And, perhaps, just as importantly, we are starting to see the influx of true creative talent into Kickstarter. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, 17 different films — nearly 1 in 10 films at Sundance — started life as Kickstarter projects. When you hear that over 250,000 people have funded film projects on Kickstarter, you know that something big — maybe even transformational — is underway.
With so many kickstarter projects bringing in so many dollars, so quickly — take, for example, The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman’s over $1 million raised in support of a Tesla Museum — it's opening our eyes to what's possible when large fan bases are motivated by what they believe to be worthy causes and brilliant ideas.
At a time when government budgets are pushed to the breaking point and municipalities are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, we are starting to hear about a new willingness by government to consider crowdfunding as a viable way to fund not just projects, but also entire businesses. People may not want their tax dollars going to finance government pork, but they don’t mind chipping in for something that has immediate social relevance.
Even with the rabid support of superhero lore fans, a lot would need to go into crowdfunding the equivalent of a modern-day crime-fighting hero. For one, the project would require a huge budget. It would also require an annual budget for a their secret lair or alternate identity. And it would require the recruitment of the right type of personality — someone up to the task of being a superhero everyday. This wouldn’t have to be a Golden Boy All-American type, far better would be the individual who grew up going to Comic-Con conferences, writing fan fiction and dreaming of saving the world — and with a hyper-disciplined workout regimen.
Clearly, the trend toward crowdsourcing films and a newfound respect for the power of the crowd to accomplish what government cannot speaks to a fundamental shift in American everyday life. We may not trust institutions and politicians acting alone, but we do trust inventors and innovators. We fund so many quirky projects largely out of altruism simply because the idea is “cool,” not because we necessarily want all the perquisites that the creative director is throwing our way. We are willing to pay $15 at the cinema for a night’s worth of superhero-related entertainment, and in 3-D no less. Imagine what would be possible if we used that $15 to fund a Kickstarter project capable of financing a real-life superhero for an entire year — or longer.
Dominic Basulto is a digital thinker at Bond Strategy and Influence (formerly called Electric Artists) in New York. Prior to Bond Strategy and Influence, he was the editor of Fortune’s Business Innovation Insider and a founding member of Corante.com, one of the Web's first blog media companies. He also shares his thoughts on innovation on the Big Think Endless Innovation blog and is working on a new book on innovation called "Endless Innovation, Most Beautifuland Most Wonderful."
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