Award-Winning Editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, Forever Magazine, The Best Science Fiction of the Year, and More

The urgency problem

The looming deadline and goal is a key element of a Kickstarter campaign. It’s quite reminiscent of this magazine cover:


The countdown clock on the campaign provides urgency. Act now and get as many people as we can to help us! Save the dog! It’s no wonder that many projects are saved in the final hours. It plays us so well.

I’ve heard some people criticize Patreon for not having that sense of urgency. No ticking time bomb of doom. No dog with a gun to his head. I can always give later. They will still be there.

Yes, Patreon is a very different business model (one could say more responsible, but I don’t want to start that fight… today), but while urgency is not built-in, it doesn’t mean you can’t create it.

To that end, I’m running an experiment. When we created our Patreon account, I set a goal of $1000 to add an original story to each new issue. That still stands. What I’ve done is created two new time-sensitive goals:

  • $500 – New story in every other issue – Must be reached by 6/30/14
  • $750 – New story in three of every four issues – Must be reached by 8/31/14

Let’s see if urgency is as much a thing as people think. If so, maybe we can encourage them to include a ticking time-bomb of doom option for goals.

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  1. ET3D

    Sounds like a bad idea for this model. As I understand it, Patreon’s idea is subscriptions, so the idea of something happening once a goal is reached doesn’t make sense. It makes a lot more sense for something to happen as long as the total subscription value is over a certain amount: if the value drops, then whatever was promised for that level stops being available.

    Putting a time limit in this kind of scenario doesn’t make sense. If you get $500 before the 30th and then for some reason subscriptions drop to $300, do you continue with another story every two issues or not? If you do, then you can put yourself in a bad financial situation (even if $300 is really enough, let’s imagine it drops even lower). If you don’t, then what if it goes back to $500? Do you not reinstate the extra story because it’s after the 30th of June 2014?

    I’m sure it’s easy to answer this by making decisions, but the concept itself, sub value mixed with deadlines, looks convoluted to me.

    The experiment is also not that great. Even if the new goals do bring in more money, you won’t be able to tell if it’s because of the deadlines or because of the intermediate goals (a close goal is always more attractive).

  2. You are missing the point. This is a focus on recruitment. Setting goals with a deadline is a way to encourage people to start supporting you now. If you can get 100 of your supporters to sign up in one month or three, which is better for you? Obviously one.

    You are focusing on retention, which is a completely separate problem and one that happens with or without goals. Yes, retention is important and should be a major focus. Basically, keep your supporters happy and give them a reason to keep supporting you.

    Our goals take both of these into account. For example:

    “For every two months that we meet this goal, we’ll be able to include another original short story in one issue.”

    If we hit goal, but don’t retain our Patrons, the reward goes away until we are back at goal. That maintains the goal incentive pre and post.

    As for “The experiment is also not that great. Even if the new goals do bring in more money, you won’t be able to tell if it’s because of the deadlines or because of the intermediate goals (a close goal is always more attractive)”

    Bingo! A close goal is more attractive. That’s part of the formula for picking goals and setting deadlines. Both provide incentive and combined, I believe they will be more effective.

  3. ET3D

    But if a close goal is more attractive, then combined with a deadline it’s a double edged sword. What if you only manage $499 by the 30th? Then suddenly this goal is gone, and the next goal up is $251 away instead of just $1. Suddenly things look less attractive.

    I also think that this kind of artificial urgency isn’t as effective as the urgency on a Kickstarter project, and it looks bad. It’s clearly not life or death for the magazine (unlike a Kickstarter project), and it’s clear that you could at any point provide this benefit if $500 was reached, so you’re effectively threatening your clients that if they don’t pay you quickly enough you’ll remove a perk that you have no problem giving them.

    • Nonsense. I can name several magazines that have had failed campaigns and are still with us. Urgency in crowdfunding is almost always artificial. The deadlines rarely have substantial meaning. They are there to provide incentive to act soon.

      Short term goals in any crowdfunding provide you will an opportunity to reward supporters for getting you from point A to B in a limited time. Campaigns are often surpassed, but stretch goals missed. The supporters don’t get upset over missed goals. Their main motivation for supporting isn’t the perk, it’s the project and the people behind it. Unlike Kickstarter, no matter what happens, we are still providing content.

      If we don’t make one of the time-dependent goals and some of the people who came in just to get us there drop out, then it isn’t likely that they would have stuck around anyway.

      I’m not suggesting that all goals should be time-dependent, just some to bridge the gap between bigger permanent goals and provide the opportunity for an extra reward when things get done more quickly.

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