Kickstarter delivery charges


Art by The Mycoleum

This is a controversial take, so bear with me; games publishers: please include up-front delivery costs with your Kickstarter campaigns.

That’s the way Kickstarters always used to work, but in recent years most campaigns have switched to third-party services like Backerkit. When using Backerkit, delivery costs are not factored in when someone backs a campaign; backers are told that they’ll be charged some unspecified amount at some point in the future, once the product is ready to ship.

As a result you may, like me, get hit with a $20 delivery fee on a $20 zine that you backed 12 months ago (and then forgot about). The result of that is that I can’t back any more US-based campaigns unless they collect the mailing fee up-front.

The argument against up-front postage fees is that prices change. The zine that today costs $20 to post from the USA may, a year ago, have cost only $15. If the creator had charged $15 postage as part of the campaign, 12 months down the line they’d be taking a $5 hit per item sent internationally. And, given the current state of the world economy (in particular the UK economy), predicting prices a year in advance is far from easy.

But it’s not only mailing costs which are subject to fluctuation. Production costs are too. When I ran my first Kickstarter, I was quoted £300 for printing my zines. Just 3 months later, when I printed them, paper prices had gone through the roof. I ended up paying £500.

Obviously adding more uncertainty to your prices by predicting both printing and mailing costs is not what a small creator wants. All the same, somebody is going to have to pay the increased cost. Using Backerkit, the burden is shifted from the creator to the backer.

This seems crazy, as the creator is the person best placed to plan for fluctuations in both production and fulfilment costs. Stop trying to shift the burden to your customers!

Building in flexibility to allow for inflation does not mean you need to pump up the cost to each backer, just in case. When you set up a Kickstarter campaign you need to enter a funding goal. If the project doesn’t hit that goal, the backers don’t get charged anything. If your funding goal barely covers your expected costs then you are not acting responsibly.

The funding goal for my first campaign was approximately 200% of predicted production and delivery costs. I didn’t charge any extra to my backers, I just made sure that I had twice as many of them before going into production. As a result, I was able to absorb the extra £200 printing bill. Even if my costs had shot up by 100%, I still wouldn’t be out of pocket (I’d just forego any profit). 

(Admittedly the balance of local and international backers can skew postage costs, but the principle remains the same: build the uncertainty into your funding goal, don’t pass the buck on to your customers).

Setting higher funding goals may mean that fewer projects get funded, which is a shame. But that’s how crowdfunding works. Kickstarter is not a shop, it’s a platform for funding hoped-for projects, and there is always a risk that these projects will fail to deliver (incidentally I am still waiting on delivery for the first Kickstarter project I ever backed, almost 13 years ago).

By refusing to commit to prices from the outset, you are doing both your backers and yourself a disservice. Your backers may not be aware that there will be future costs (I realise that these costs will be pointed out somewhere in the original campaign blurb; but most Kickstarter campaign pages are the length of novellas, and if 28 years creating “content” for the Internet has taught me one thing it is this: people don’t read things [except for you; you have already read 5 paragraphs of this post; including this torturously long sentence; but then, you’re weird; you already know this]). Even when the backer is aware that they will be billed for postage somewhere down the line, they are more likely to under-estimate than overestimate; I mean: $20 postage on a $20 zine??? Come onnnn!

The negative impact of all that buyer confusion and disappointment is, for you the creator, two-fold.

Firstly you will waste a lot of time and stress batting away complaints from disgruntled customers. When Patrick Stuart’s recent Demon Bone Sarcophagus Kickstarter went into delivery mode, I witnessed Patrick respond to numerous complaints about postage costs, even though the original campaign description included a VERY CLEARLY LABELLED SECTION called THE HORROR OF POSTAGE. Seriously, I wouldn’t wish that kind of stress on any content creator

(I myself vented my spleen at the folks whose insane delivery bill recently emptied my wallet; when they subsequently [and very politely] replied to me, I checked: it really does cost almost $20 to ship a small zine from the USA to the UK! Sending an identical zine in the other direction costs me around $7. Crazy world!) 

Secondly, you will lose future custom. Like I said, I will not be backing any US projects for the foreseeable future. I simply can’t afford the postage. Perhaps I wouldn’t have backed this particular project in the first place if I’d known how much the total cost to me would be (perhaps I should have visited the US Postal Service website before placing my pledge), but at least I’d have made an informed decision.

You probably disagree with me. Most indie gaming content creators do. Meh, old man shouts at clouds.

But I give you this pledge, my dear once-and-future backers: I will always state my delivery charges upfront. No Backerkit for this old man.

In March I will be launching a Kickstarter for King Arthur vs Devil Kitteh, an illustrated retelling of a bonkers medieval tale. Find out more here. Postage included.

PS. Come to think of it, what happens if Backerkit increase their charges in between the KS campaign end and the delivery phase? …oh, ignore me, not a problem: your customers will pick up the tab.



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