A new article in the latest issue of Media, Culture, and Society by the Danish academic Inge Ejbye Sørensen challenges this assumption and tells a more complex story about the impact of sites like Kickstarter on the culture industry. Sørensen studied how crowdfunding has affected documentary filmmaking in the United Kingdom. Britain stands out from other countries in that most of its documentaries are produced and fully funded by one of its four main broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5) that dictate the terms to the filmmaker. In this context, crowfunding seems liberating, even revolutionary.
But, as Sørensen points out, this revolution has a few mitigating circumstances. First, Kickstarter might produce many new documentaries, but the odds are that those documentaries will be of a very particular kind (this critique also applies to other sites in this field like indiegogo.com, sponsume.com, crowdfunder.co.uk, pledgie.com). They are likely to be campaign and issue-driven films in the tradition of Super Size Me or An Inconvenient Truth. Their directors seek social change and tap into an online public that shares the documentary’s activist agenda. A documentary exploring the causes of World War I probably stands to receive less—if any—online funding than a documentary exploring the causes of climate change.