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众筹:前景无限还是昙花一现

Kickstarter网站于2009年正式建立。在这个平台上,企业家,制造商和普通人可以展示自己的产品和项目创意,以期待其他投资者可以提供资金来实现他们的创意。截至3月3日,该平台保证金已达10亿美元。据网站介绍,这些资金的一大半是在过去的仅仅在过去的12个月内发生的。

Kickstarter和其它像Indiegogo之类的众筹网站允许项目发起者为自己的创意进行筹资活动。投资者提供资金帮助创建者实现筹资目标,而投资者通常会获得与项目相关的各种奖励。筹资活动完成后,项目发起者用筹集到的资金(假设筹款成功)运营项目。当然,大多数情况下,并不会这么简单。

众筹行业

把众筹称为一个"行业"似乎有些奇怪,但这个与众筹相关的行业已经形成。诸如BackerKit这样的网站,项目发起者通过这种网站组织项目投资者,确认项目落实细节,并在筹资活动结束后提供筹资升级方案,因此这些网站仅为众筹项目提供资源而存在。

现有行业也需要筹资支持。筹资网站帮助多种产品筹资,如:书籍,纸牌,3D打印机,Arduino和RaspberryPi附件,及智能手机或平板电脑上使用的一些小配件。大多众筹的技术产品都需要通过运行苹果iOS或谷歌Android操作系统的设备才能正常运行,包括现在流行的Pebble智能手表,就是通过Kickstarter网站筹资的,仅在该网站上就成功筹资1000万美元,创造了筹资记录。

备受瞩目的项目

一些众筹项目取得了令人瞩目的成功。除了Pebble智能手表,成功技术类项目还包括太空望远镜,发光植物(这促使Kickstarter网站推掉一些未来转基因项目),Ouya游戏机和OculusRift虚拟实境体验装备.

电影业也成功实现了众筹,包括最近新上映的电影美眉校探(VeronicaMars,由TimeWarner的华纳兄弟工作室推出当天数字下影院发行),还有ZachBraff的电影WishIWasHere(由美国Comcast的环球影片公司FocusFeatures发行)

众筹滥用

当然,随着众筹的普及,也会存在问题。有些人认为利用像Kickstarter这样的网站为名人项目筹资(尤其抵制Braff的电影),就是滥用了众筹网的最初意图,批评家则声称最初意图是帮助那些没有足够资金实现项目的发起者提供资金。但是,名人项目滥用众筹仍没有发展到最糟糕的程度。

一些项目发起者拿着筹得的资金未能做成任何事,使满怀期待的投资者一无所获,无从炫耀投资,求助的选择也有限。还有些项目成果与项目发起时声明的用途完全不同(常常比较差)。有些项目生产"新潮"的iPad配件,却使用廉价的硬纸板或者"标准的教学书"制作,所以最终只有一份37页的PDF文件,提供了这个话题的总体概览而已。

诸如项目推迟,目标延展或实施成本超过项目预算等都变成越来越普遍的问题。奖励列表中的项目预期落实时间都只是预期,有些投资者觉得最好假设项目会远晚于预期的估算时间,要不就会很失望了。

众筹会成为行将破灭的泡沫?

有些人认为像Kickstarter这样的众筹网站都只是一时的狂热,由于骗子及不符合承诺的产品失信于投资者,众筹泡沫注定要破灭。从一定程度上,我同意上述说法;众筹行业还很年轻,随着时间的积累,它会发生变化,发展也会放慢。一些这样的变化已经发生:糟糕的投资经历让投资者在选择新的投资项目时更加小心谨慎。

在过去的几年里,尽管Kickstarter及与其相似网站筹资活动不断增多,网站间的竞争和发起者利用众筹优势诈骗的可能性会最终将这些增长蚕食掉。众筹的项目有时候需要数月,甚至数年才会有成果,所以即时回报的缺乏也会冲垮众筹的流行性。我们不一定看到像大多"泡沫"那样的瞬间破灭,众筹更可能会趋于一种稳定状态,原来的风靡消失,迅速增长状态也会停滞。

众筹行业的未来

谈及众筹行业的未来,Kickstarter很可能在某种意义上成为众筹的eBay网;成为最大最知名的众筹网站。众筹很可能会实现从一时的狂热到这种现状的转换。该网站可能会成为eBay及其Paypal支付服务的收购标的,或者可能是Amazon的,因为Kickstarter已经在利用Amazon支付来作为现在的支付处理解决方案了。

随着众筹越来越被普遍接受,它也可能会沿着其他的路径扩展。证券交易委员会已经着手让创业公司进行公开众筹,一些公司已经开始主持自己的众筹活动,在不通过那些主要的众筹网站情况下,让潜在客户能够提前预订开发中的产品。最终,众筹行业不大可能像泡沫那样破灭…它会逐渐成熟,在狂热阶段结束且一些法律障碍被清除后成为另一种常见的筹资渠道。

Kickstarter, the site launched in 2009 where entrepreneurs, makers, and everyday people can take product and project ideas in hopes that others will help provide the funds to make those ideas into reality, reached $1 billion in pledges on March 3. According to the site, more than half of that amount was pledged in the past 12 months alone.

Kickstarter and other crowdfunding websites like Indiegogo allow project creators to create fundraising campaigns for their ideas. Backers pledge amounts to help the creator reach his or her funding goal, typically in conjunction with various reward tiers related to the project. When the campaign ends, the creator gets the pledged money (assuming that the fundraising was successful) and gets to work on the project. As with most things, of course, it's not always that simple.

The crowdfunding industry
While it seems a bit odd to think of crowdfunding as an "industry," an industry has built up around it. Websites such as BackerKit, an online service that project creators can use to organize backers, confirm shipping details, and offer pledge upgrade options after the campaign has ended, exist solely to provide resources for crowdfunding projects.

Existing industries are fed by crowdfunding as well. Crowdfunding sites help fund a wide range of products including books, playing cards, 3D printers, Arduino and Raspberry Pi accessories, and a number of gadgets that are operated from a smartphone or tablet. A number of crowdfunded technology products require devices running Apple's iOS or Google's Android operating system to function properly, including the popular Pebble smartwatch that set a fundraising record on Kickstarter after raising over $10 million on that site alone.

High-profile projects
Some crowdfunding projects have succeeded spectacularly. In addition to Pebble, successful technology projects have included a space telescope, glowing plants (that prompted Kickstarter to disallow future genetic modification projects), the Ouya game console, and the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Feature films have found funding success as well, including the recently released Veronica Mars movie (which Time Warner'sWarner Bros. studio distributed for a same-day digital and theatrical release) and Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here (which is being distributed by Focus Features, a division of Comcast's Universal Pictures.)

Crowdfunding abuse
Of course, as popular as crowdfunding has become, it isn't without its problems. Some have cited the use of websites like Kickstarter to raise funds for celebrity projects (with a particular backlash against Braff's film) as an abuse of the original intent of crowdfunding, which critics claim is to raise money for projects that the creator couldn't afford to make a reality otherwise. Celebrity projects are not even close to the worst abuse of crowdfunding, however.

Some project creators simply fail to develop anything with the funds they receive, leaving expectant backers with nothing to show for their investments and limited options for recourse. Others produce results that are significantly different (and often very much inferior) to what the project claimed would be produced. Some projects have seen "cutting edge" iPad accessories being made from cheap cardboard or "full-length instructional books" resulting in 37-page PDFs that provide only general overviews of a topic.

That isn't even getting in to more common problems such as project delays and stretch goals or shipping costs pushing projects over budget. The expected shipping date included in most reward listings is just an estimate, and some backers feel that it's best to assume that the project will go well beyond that estimate to avoid being disappointed.

Is there a crowdfunding bubble?
Some believe that sites like Kickstarter are a fad, and that the crowdfunding bubble is doomed to burst as consumers lose confidence due to scam artists and products that don't live up to what the project promised. To an extent, I agree; crowdfunding is still young, and as it ages it will see changes and its growth may slow. Some of these changes are already occurring, as bad experiences tend to make backers more cautious when choosing new projects to support.

Though Kickstarter and sites like it have seen an increase in activity over the past couple of years, competition among the sites and the potential for scammers to take advantage of crowdfunding will eventually see this level off. The lack of instant gratification since crowdfunded projects sometimes take months or even years to produce rewards will also chip away at crowdfunding's popularity. While it won't necessarily see a massive collapse like most "bubbles," a plateau is likely where it loses some of its faddish nature and its rapid growth evens out.

The future of crowdfunding
When this happens, it's likely that Kickstarter will become somewhat of the eBay of crowdfunding; being the largest and most well known of the crowdfunding sites, it's the most likely to survive crowdfunding's shift from fad to status quo. It's possible that the site might even become an acquisition target for eBay and its PayPal payment service, or possibly for Amazon since Kickstarter already uses Amazon Payments as its current payment processing solution.

As crowdfunding becomes more commonly accepted, it will likely expand into other venues as well. The Securities and Exchange Commission is already working on opening crowdfunding up for business start-ups, and some businesses have taken to hosting their own crowdfunding drives to allow potential customers to preorder products that are still in development without the use of major crowdfunding sites. In the end, crowdfunding isn't likely to burst like a bubble... it will simply mature and become another common funding source once the fad passes and a few legal hurdles have been cleared.


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